Posted on February 24, 2012
Definition: Social media
I’ve been working on this for a few days. Trying to make it as simple as possible.
Digital systems that enable people, identified by profiles, to share information.
Now, please let me unpack that a little bit:
- Digital systems is another way to say media. I specify digital because I do not include printed and analog production and distribution systems in social media.
- The word media is not equivalent to the word networks. So if we discuss social networks, we are not discussing exactly the same thing as social media. (See below for more about this.)
- If there is no profile linked to the entity who shares the item, it’s not social media. The profile is the unit that enables us to follow/unfollow, “friend,” or — most simply — include/exclude people.
- Share is used here to indicate a two-way flow of information, in contrast to the traditional news media systems, which were (by and large) one-way only. Sharing implies a group orientation. We share within our groups, even though what we share might easily go out beyond those groups very quickly. In sharing, one expects to get something back.
- Finally, information. You might also say messages, “statuses,” news, or data. These may be in the form of images, sound, maps, symbols, video, and so on. And, of course, text. Or links to any of these.
Many things could be added (such as: to share information both broadly and narrowly), but I’m afraid they would just clutter up the definition.
The classic definition of social networks comes from a scholarly article published in 2007. The title is “Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship,” and you can read the full text online.
What makes social network sites unique is not that they allow individuals to meet strangers, but rather that they enable users to articulate and make visible their social networks. This can result in connections between individuals that would not otherwise be made, but that is often not the goal … On many of the large SNSs, participants are not necessarily “networking” or looking to meet new people; instead, they are primarily communicating with people who are already a part of their extended social network. To emphasize this articulated social network as a critical organizing feature of these sites, we label them “social network sites.”
What I find most useful in that definition is the clarity about the network aspect. My interest in social media is not centered on the networks. I am interested in what the mediums make possible. This includes, of course, the things that social networks do, but my interest is not limited to that alone.
Compare: 30 Social Media Definitions (Heidi Cohen, May 2011).