It’s definitely true to say that “social media” is the buzzword of the moment, but few people actually understand what it is, and how important it is to the future of business and communication in general.
Wikipedia offers up this description:
“Social media are information content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies. At its most basic sense, social media is a shift in how people discover, read and share news, information and content. It’s a fusion of sociology and technology, transforming monologue (one to many) into dialog (many to many) and is the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers. Social media has become extremely popular because it allows people to connect in the online world to form relationships for personal and business. Businesses also refer to social media as user-generated content (UGC) or consumer-generated media (CGM)”.
Through social media (a blog), I discovered this explanation by Joseph Thornley which I also like: “Social media are online communications in which individuals shift fluidly and flexibly between the role of audience and author. To do this, they use social software that enables anyone without knowledge of coding, to post, comment on, share or mash up content and to form communities around shared interests”.
As I like to keep things simple, this is how I describe social media: Social media is the collecting and sharing of information via web tools and social/business networking platforms. Simple! … this is why my course was invented, to keep things simple and understandable.
To understand social media, and how to utilise it effectively, you need to understand the distinction between industrial media (such as newspapers, TV, radio etc) and social media. In simple terms, industrial media is a one way channel, while social media is a two-way channel. In other words, unlike TV, radio, newspapers, smoke signals, cave drawings, books, or the many other ways humans have communicated throughout history, social media is fuelled by dialogue and conversations. These are the “currency” of social media, its life blood if you like. We can interact with new media in ways we couldn’t with traditional media – we can reply to forum posts, we can comment on blogs, we can converse in real time on Twitter. Primarily, social media depend on interactions between people as the discussion and integration of words to build shared-meaning, using technology as a conduit. Communities then form around these areas of shared interests, meaning that, despite the vast social media landscape, you can identify niche areas on-line where people interested in the same subject hang out!
According to wikipedia, social media are distinct from industrial media in several other ways. While social media are relatively cheap tools that enable anyone (even private individuals) to self publish or access information, industrial media generally require significant financial capital to publish information. "Industrial media" are commonly referred to as "traditional", "broadcast" or "mass" media. One characteristic shared by both social media and industrial media is the capability to reach small or large audiences; for example, either a blog post or a television show may reach zero people or millions of people. The properties that help describe the differences between social media and industrial media depend on the study.
Some of these properties are:
1. Reach – both industrial and social media technologies provide scale and enable anyone to reach a global audience.
2. Accessibility – the means of production for industrial media are typically owned privately or by government; social media tools are generally available to anyone at little or no cost.
3. Use-ability — industrial media production typically requires specialized skills and training. Most social media does not, or in some cases reinvents skills, so anyone can operate the means of production.
4. Immediacy — the time lag between communications produced by industrial media can be long (days, weeks, or even months) compared to social media (which can be capable of virtually instantaneous responses; only the participants determine any delay in response). As industrial media is currently adopting social media tools, this feature may well not be distinctive anymore in some time.
5. Permanence – industrial media once created cannot be altered (once a magazine article is printed and distributed changes cannot be made to that same article) whereas social media can be altered almost instantaneously by comments or editing.
Essentially, social media incorporates the online technology and methods through which people can share content, personal opinions, swap different perspectives and insights into world issues and generally discuss the evolution of media in itself. It’s highly personal to you and builds up a picture of the kind of person you are, what your interests are, what your values are, what your area of expertise is.
On that basis, people will choose whether they want to exposed to your messages, engage with you, interact with you, trust your advice and recommendations, or buy a product or service from you. An important element of engaging in social media is building up trust on-line. This comes in the form of “contribution currency” where you add value at every interaction with someone, support others, connect people, and be seen to be contributing your expertise, knowledge, and opinion to the on-line community.
Clearly, this takes time, so consistency is a key element of social media success, along with authenticity, and leadership. Social media website content can come in many shapes and forms:
• Text – text is often used to put across opinions or write blog posts.
• Images – images and photos can display anything from holiday photos to shots by professional photographers.
• Audio – social media lets you create podcasts for users to download.
• Video – video sites mean that you’ll be able to record a video of your child’s birthday for friends all over the world to see. Or you can record an interview or business presentation. (You can even have your own TV channel).
The most popular types of social media websites are huge at the moment.
A few examples of these social media websites are:
Social networking – websites that allows you to create a personal profile about yourself then chat, discuss and share information with others such as friends and family. Prime examples of social networking sites are MySpace, Bebo and Facebook. Business networking – websites that allow you to create a personal profile about yourself/your business and discuss and share information with others interested in your area of expertise, or your product and service. Prime examples of business networking sites are LinkedIn and Ecademy, two of my personal favourites. Wikis – wikis are websites that allow you to create, edit and share information about a subject or topic. Wikipedia, for instance, is one of the world’s most popular wikis.
Video sharing – video-sharing sites allow you to upload and share your personal videos with the rest of the web community. A perfect example of a video sharing website is YouTube.
Photo sharing – photo-sharing websites allow users to upload pictures and images to a personal account which can then be viewed by web users the world over. Flickr acts as a great example of a successful photo-sharing site.
News aggregation – news aggregators provide a list of the latest news stories published by users from a range of different websites. Digg, for instance, is one of the web’s largest news aggregators with one of the most dedicated communities.
Social bookmarking – social bookmarking sites allow users to publicly bookmark web pages they find valuable in order to share them with other internet users.
Online gaming – online gaming is often based around communities. World of Warcraft is prime example of online gaming.
Status apps – these websites allow you to post micro blog-like posts to announce what you are currently doing. Twitter is a good example of a Status app. Forums are on-line discussion communities all interested in a particular subject. It might be fishing, it might be property investment, or it could be celebrities and gossip. These forums become communities of people who know each other and interact, often off-line as well!
This list is by no means exhaustive and there are many more types of social media sites available on the internet. And because the social media front is moving so fast, even if it was possible to list all the varieties of social media websites that exist, it would likely be out of date by the time you read this article as new and innovative social media sites spring up nearly every day. In essence, social networking enables you to feel the pulse of a community, nation [even of the world at large] often in real time – perhaps not for everything, but for many things of importance or significance. Hence the inevitable power of Social Media.
They enable people around the globe to know what’s happening and what others are thinking so much faster than could be imagined a few years ago. Examples of this are the Obama campaign which recently took place and the AIG scandal. Greater awareness not only helps people make more informed decisions, and connect with other like-minded individuals, but also helps mobilise people into action. The power of Social Media and its impact on business and everyday lives has yet to be explored fully.
Those who choose to ignore this choose to live in the past. Get involved in Social media here.