A definition of Social Media is a perennial or evergreen topic that reoccurs in people’s quest for online understanding. Here I want to take a tangential look at what it means to YOU: as a blogger, marketer, or other online personality.
Lets take a look at some established online definitions first. This is from Wikipedia:
…Social media is media for social interaction as a super-set beyond social communication. Enabled by ubiquitously accessible and scalable communication techniques, social media has substantially changed the way organizations, communities, and individuals communicate.
This is another take from Gartner blog:
…At its foundation, social media is a set of technologies and channels targeted at forming and enabling a potentially massive community of participants to productively collaborate.
Finally, Econsultancy.com offers 34 separate definitions of which a few are listed here
“A category of sites that is based on user participation and user-generated content. They include social networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, or My Space, social bookmarking sites like Del.icio.us, social news sites like Digg or Simpy, and other sites that are centered on user interaction.” – Lazworld
“An umbrella term that defines the various activities that integrate technology, social interaction, and the construction of words and pictures.” – Anvil Media
All of these definitions and others make the usual and constant comment on the technology or media enabling communication, but for me they mostly miss the point. Limiting the definition to technology or communication is like saying a car is just a tool. A car is a statement, a lifestyle, a force for action and imagination. So is social media.
A definition of social media needs to incorporate principals and philosophies that address not only technology and communication but also branding, social marketing, massively enabled social engagement, and the more obvious aspects of business marketing.
What is a Working Definition of Social Media for Me?
If you ask any private person what social media means to them, you are most likely going to hear:
“Its Twitter” or “Its Facebook.” Some folks simply see social media as a way to chat online. The technology to them is mostly transparent, especially when all they need is a way to keep in contact with uncle bill. As far as it goes, that’s as good a definition as they need.
But what happens to you on Twitter or Facebook if you engage regularly? You make friends, followers, even admirers. Do you gain a network, perhaps? Maybe you become familiar.
You become a “brand.”
Whether you are preaching the virtues of the “purple party” or the awesomeness of futuristic “Transformer” technology, you become representative of ideas, philosophies, or systems of thought. Given enough expertise (and sometimes just bluster!) or energetic conviction social media can be a transformative force.
You become an “icon.”
This is not about technology, it is not the act of communicating. A definition of social media that better captures these ideas is a vehicle for the intellectual and emotional enhancement of the social sphere. A medium to affect human engagement and understanding on a massive scale.
As a single person YOU can command the attention of potential millions to influence perception and action. This influence can be harnessed for private or public good, or it can be exploited for intellectual or business interests. No matter the purpose, this definition more aptly suits the needs of this post: social media is a mechanism and method to affect human thought and perception with massive potential.
So What Should I Take-away From this Definition of Social Media?
As an individual, you may be seeking only to communicate with others. This is certainly a function of social media if not a definition. But whether you are “just talking” or you have a message, you should keep these points in the forefront of your mind:
- What is said on the “Net” is there forever, in one form or another.
- Even though nothing may be said to you, people are listening.
- When you engage across the social media environment, your words have power.
- This power is also wielded by others, good or bad.
- Whether an individual or a business, the social media environment is a powerful branding tool
- To be an icon or even a brand is to be burdened by responsibility for what is said and for actions taken in the light of those words.
You can simply chat or you can invigorate thought. Our definition of social media is a powerful engine to influence, even direct, human conscientiousness and action on a massive scale!