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What is Social Media & what is it all about ?

written by Stefaan Lesage on 02/11/2009

Social Media is hot, everyone talks about it, and everyone is using that phrase lately. But there are still a lot of misunderstandings as to what Social Media actually is, what it's advantages are, what the pitfalls are and how you could use Social Media to your own advantage. That is why I decided to start with a series of articles on Social Media, and this article is the first installment.

Introduction

Social Media is hot, everyone talks about it, and everyone is using that phrase lately. But there are still a lot of misunderstandings as to what Social Media actually is, what it's advantages are, what the pitfalls are and how you could use Social Media to your own advantage. Quite a lot of people seem to thing that Twitter is Social Media, or Facebook is Social Media. Those two examples are actually only part of the equation, and are often referred to as Social Networks.

What exactly is Social Media then ?

Well, in short Social Media is content created by real people, people with faces, opinions and influences. It is actually a term used to describe various activities which integrate technology, discussions, communication and lots more. But the most important thing might be that it's content created by users just like you and me.

Social Media encourages Participation

Social Media is a new form of media (at least when compared to the more traditional forms of media like Newspapers, TV, ...) which encourages participation. Everyone who is interested in the topic is encouraged to contribute and give feedback. This is actually a big difference with the traditional forms of media. In the traditional media communication goes in one direction, which is from the Media to the end user. Social Media opens new opportunities because it allows a bi-directional form of communication. For example, I'm writing this article, and if it would appear in a newspaper or magazine it would be rather static. Giving feedback isn't all that easy using the traditional media.

Instead of using traditional media, this article is posted on a Blog. The blog is open to anyone, allowing any user who reads this article to give feedback, share his opinions and even correct me if I'm saying something wrong.

It's all about Conversation and Communication

Social Media really depends in interaction between people. Wether the topic is Personal or Professional it is always meant to be a bi-directional communication. I could create some content on a Product or Service I'm offering, but if I'm unable to get feedback on it, it's actually pretty worthless to me. Using Social Media I can actually interact with others, hear their opinions about my Product or Service. What's even better is that I can actually use that feedback to improve my Product or Service, and that is actually something which is often forgotten.

It's also about building a Community

Using Social Media it is actually quite easy to quickly build a community which shares a common interest. I could easily be a New Media or Social Media evangelist, but if I'm talking to myself constantly, then what's the point ? Whatever content you are creating, there are people out there who share that interest. And if your content is informative to them, they will probably start to give feedback. After a while you will have a community of like-minded people. If you start to use that feedback you will probably even get better at creating the content and might even gain the thrust of your community.

So, what is Social Media (in 140 characters or less)

At some point someone asked me if I could describe what Social Media is in a single Tweet, which is actually in 140 characters or less. Well, that's actually a bit hard to do, but here is my attempt :

"Social Media is a form of New/Online Media which encourages participation, conversation, openness and a community aspect."

— Stefaan Lesage - Devia

This will probably not cover everything, but I couldn't describe it better in such a small amount of characters.

Forms of Social Media

Now that we have an idea about what Social Media is, and what it is all about, lets have a look at the different forms of Social Media. There are actually a few different kinds of social media, and this list is by no means complete. Due to constant innovation and changes, this list might even get obsolete pretty soon. Still, lets try to give a few examples :

Social Networks

Social Networks are sites that allow users to connect with friends, colleagues and share content with them. There are plenty of those, but the biggest ones are Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Ning, Netlog, ... Each of these Social Network sites might have it's own targeted audience.

Blogs

Blogs are a form of online journals in which the different posts or entries appear in a chronological order. Most of the time they appeal to a smaller niche of users than the Social Networks, although some of the blogs are actually pretty big. Blogs can have one or more authors who create the different entries, but in most cases anyone can post comments and feedback on those articles.

Podcasts

People often tend to forget Podcasts, but they do form a part of what's called Social Media. Podcasts offer similar content to blogs, most of the time in audio or video format. The content is made available to the end user be form of a subscription. In many cases Podcasts also have a website or blog associated to them.

Forums

We probably all know what forums are. They are a form of Social Media, since they actually encourage online discussions. Most of the forums are created around specific areas of interests. Forums actually existed long before anyone used the term "social media", but they are an inherent part of it.

Content Communities

Quite similar to Social Networks, the Content Communities focus around a specific type of content. This could be photos (Flickr), bookmaked links (delicious), videos (YouTube, Vimeo, Viddler, ...). Content Communities allow you to share that specific type of content with other users, and quite often are open for feedback on specific content.

Microblogging

Microblogging is often referred to as a Social Network in which all users can create very small 'blog' posts. These small pieces of content (often called updates or status updates) are available online and offline (quite often there is a mobile phone client). The best example here is Twitter of course.

Final Word

Well, this is of course my view on what Social Media actually is, and what it is about. If you do not agree with my view or have anything to add, please feel free to use the Comments section below this article. After all, we are trying to create Social Media and start a conversation with the Community :-)

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