When I first thought about Social Media as a Big Idea, it seemed like a good topic. Until I started to think about it. Because forms of Social Media are ubiquitous – we all use them, so what can I tell you that you don’t already know?
Well, take a look, and find out.
What is Social Media?
We can do worse than start with the words ‘social’ and ‘media’.
- Social – group or community-oriented behaviour, meaningful human interaction
- Media – means of communication
But this is stating the obvious, I suppose. We all know the social media when we meet them: Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter…
Definition of Social Media
But crafting a definition is tricky. Heidi Cohen asked over 60 social media commentators and practitioners, and documented their answers on her website.
Some of those answers are witty, wise, and insightful. Some are clever, some are pithy, and some are dead straight. I had a swing at a straightforward definition of my own
Social media are websites and applications that let us create and share content, build communities, or participate in social interaction.
Features of Social Media
As with most ‘know it when you see it’ things, there is a common set of features from which all examples draw. The core social media have most of these features. The fewer that an application or website has, the less we are inclined to recognise it as a social medium.
Here’s my list of those features:
- Many-to-many communication: not one-to-many
- They facilitate development of social networks. Some mimic ‘real’ social networks, while others create novel social structures that were not possible even 50 years ago.
- Web 2.0 technologies that allow users to generate the content
- The owning company maintains technical infrastructure and environment within which users interact. This gives them ownership (or at least control) of anything users place on their platform
- Users have an account and a profile – that is sometimes an alias, persona, or avatar that represents how they want others to see them, rather than how they are.
- They offer means to quickly show a response to a contribution (like, vote, and comment)
- Automated notifications keep users in touch with contributions of the people and organisations to whom they are connected via the social medium
- The media are multi-platform; you can use them as computer applications, web sites, phone apps, tablet apps, and even on connected devices like watches.
Social Networking is Not New
Social media allow social networking. They are just a new medium for an ancient impulse. We have covered social networking in a number of articles:
- Social Networks – a Short Early History – talks about the contributions of Durkheim, Tönnies, Simmel, and Moreno.
- Karen Stephenson: Social Network Analysis – looks at the contribution of a contemporary academic in understanding social networks in organisations.
- Tipping Pont | Viral Ideas – includes Malcolm Gladwell’s popular and compelling adaptation of Stephenson’s ideas.
- Networking – takes a wide survey of networking from a business, managerial, professional point of view.
Social Networking and Social Media
But social media also allow other activities that are not social networking. This makes for the curious relationship that:
- Social networking is a subset of social media’s capabilities (that include: posting content like articles, images, and videos, private messages, advertising…)
- Social media are a subset of the means for social networking (that include: meetings, telecommunications, events…)
Why Use Social Media?
I could ask ‘why do we have social media?’ But that would be fatuous. We have the technology and humans are a social species. It was inevitable that we’d use the technology for social purposes. Indeed, the whole ‘purpose’ of the internet was for communication.
But, instead, I want to ask why you, as a manager, should use Social Media. Or, more precisely, what for. Because it is, without doubt, one of the most powerful and flexible tools that humanity has created. Let’s list some of the things a professional or an organisation can use it for.
- Informing the public, its stakeholders, clients, and customers
- Public Relations (PR)
- Marketing and Marketing Automation
Personal Professional Uses
- Networking to meet new people
- Maintaining and building professional relationships
- Building your professional reputation (brand)
- Job search
- Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and learning
- Business and professional updates and new trends
- Reports from events you cannot attend
- Inspiration from thought-leaders
- Personal Interests
How to Use Social Media
Everyone’s an expert. And a lot of ‘experts’ are not. Indeed, you should view anyone promising to sell you the secret to effective marketing on social media with suspicion. Many are selling snake oil. But some have good advice.
I’m not an expert. So, I’ve done some research for you. I went looking for good advice on using corporate social media accounts well. Not for spammy sales, but for good reputation-building. As it is often the case that ‘those who know, don’t say, and those who say, don’t know’, it’s been hard to find a set of valuable guidelines that are:
- more than the usual obvious platitudes
- but not motivated by self-interest or an attempt to sell you advice
I think I finally hit gold. A university that has published its best practices for using social media: Tufts. Take a look at Tufts Best Practices here.
The Dark Side of Social Media
I don’t want to discuss this, but we do need to acknowledge that it exists, and represents a huge challenge for society. And it’s a challenge that I suspect will grow and evolve over many years to come.
- Abuse of social media by political bad actors to influence opinion
- … and the whole fake news issue.
- The impact of social media on young people’s social development and educational progress.
- Abuse of social media for all sorts of criminal intent – some, very nasty indeed.
- The dominance of social media firms as monopolies and societal influences
- …and all of the resulting privacy issues.
- Addiction of some people to social media as a primary form of social interaction
- The impact of massive advertising campaigns on social media
- Bullying, stalking, and other forms of personal abuse
What is Your Experience of and Opinions about Social Media?
We’d love to hear your experiences, ideas, and questions. Please leave them in the comments below.