What is social media?

Dare Obasanjo is asking “what is social media?” Frank Shaw (he’s a VP with Waggener Edstrom and is one of the key people helping Microsoft out with its PR) admits he isn’t comfortable with the “social media” term too.

The best way to understand a new media is to compare it to what’s come before? So, what kind of media do you have lying around your house? Probably these:

  • Newspapers.
  • Magazines.
  • Television.
  • Radio.
  • Books.
  • CDs.
  • DVDs.
  • A box of photos.
  • Physical, paper mail and catalogs.
  • Yellow Pages.

Now, what about the media (my blog) you’re reading right now? What are some attributes of it that are different than any of the “old media” above?

  1. The media above can’t be changed. A newspaper can’t magically change its stories, even if society decides something in them is incorrect. My blog can be updated for all readers nearly instantly if someone demonstrates that I was wrong on a post.
  2. You can interact with my blog. You can leave a comment. Call me an arsehole. Etc. Etc. With the above you can’t interact at all.
  3. You can get some sense of the popularity of my stuff in real time. How many comments does each post get? How many links does each post get? I can see in WordPress how much traffic each item gets. You can visit Digg to see voting on my blog’s items. Or, TechMeme to see which blog items got most links in the past few hours. None of the media above do you have a clue about the granular popularity of any of the items until much later after best seller lists are published.
  4. With the “new media” you can look at my archives and see all posts. Try doing that with a newspaper. Yeah, you can, if you pay the San Jose Mercury News a fee. But it’s not as easy as it is here.
  5. Here on my blog I can mix media. A post could contain text, audio, video, or photos. Not so on newspaper or magazines.
  6. Here on my blog I don’t need to convince a committee to publish. Not true with other media forms. Imagine you walked into CNN and said “hey, I have some cool video, can you publish it?”
  7. The new media is infinite. The media above all has limitations in terms of either length (a TV station only has 24 hours in a day — over on YouTube, I guarantee they publish a lot more than 24 hours of video in a day) or in quantity (try to convince USA Today to publish a 40,000 word article, or, 500 articles on the same topic).
  8. The new media is syndicatable and linkable and easily reused. I can link to your media here, for instance, a few seconds after you publish it. Try doing THAT with any of the above media. Not to mention, my words here kick into an RSS feed which you can then republish using something like Google Reader, if you’d like, or you can copy a sentence out of my post, paste it into your own blog, and say something about what I just said.
  9. The new media can be mashed up with data from other services. Check out that Amazon advertisement over to the right. Did you realize that isn’t on my, or WordPress.com’s, servers? It actually gets served up from some organization I don’t control. Amazon could, if it wanted to, replace the image there with a different book. Or, something else. Many people are putting widgets on their blogs that display various things from places they don’t control. That’s impossible in the older media above.

When I say “social media” or “new media” I’m talking about Internet media that has the ability to interact with it in some way. IE, not a press release like over on PR Newswire, but something like what we did over on Channel 9 where you could say “Microsoft sucks” right underneath one of my videos.

I don’t really care what you call this “new media” but you’ve got to admit that something different is happening here than happens on other media above.

Any other ways that “social media” is different from the older media above?

Maybe we should call it “Media 2.0?” After all, I’m a new member of the Media 2.0 Workgroup (the feed there rocks, by the way).

209 thoughts on “What is social media?

  1. Hi, I just finished transcribing all the interviews for The Social Media Bible (www.TheSocialMediaBible.com). I was hired virtually by the author. I only mention this as a testament to the power of social media, or as I like to call it, Social Media ².

    I urge all to go to and listen to these nearly 50 interviews with the top SVP’s and founders of the major social media companies world wide, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, etc. They are 30+/- minute podcasts about how each social media technology is being used for business.

  2. Hi, I just finished transcribing all the interviews for The Social Media Bible (www.TheSocialMediaBible.com). I was hired virtually by the author. I only mention this as a testament to the power of social media, or as I like to call it, Social Media ².

    I urge all to go to and listen to these nearly 50 interviews with the top SVP’s and founders of the major social media companies world wide, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, etc. They are 30+/- minute podcasts about how each social media technology is being used for business.

  3. Hi, I just finished transcribing all the interviews for The Social Media Bible (www.TheSocialMediaBible.com). I was hired virtually by the author. I only mention this as a testament to the power of social media, or as I like to call it, Social Media ².

    I urge all to go to and listen to these nearly 50 interviews with the top SVP’s and founders of the major social media companies world wide, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, etc. They are 30+/- minute podcasts about how each social media technology is being used for business.

  4. I know this is off topic, but I just compiled nearly 50 interviews with the top SVPs and founders of the major social media companies worldwide; Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, etc. for my new book, The Social Media Bible published by John Wiley & Sons. http:www.TheSocialMediaBible.com/download/ They are 30+/- minute podcasts about how each technology is being used for business. I found it really interesting to hear how people and businesses are using these tools directly from the source. The book is due out April 20th.
    Lon Safko

  5. I know this is off topic, but I just compiled nearly 50 interviews with the top SVPs and founders of the major social media companies worldwide; Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, etc. for my new book, The Social Media Bible published by John Wiley & Sons. http:www.TheSocialMediaBible.com/download/ They are 30+/- minute podcasts about how each technology is being used for business. I found it really interesting to hear how people and businesses are using these tools directly from the source. The book is due out April 20th.
    Lon Safko

  6. I know this is off topic, but I just compiled nearly 50 interviews with the top SVPs and founders of the major social media companies worldwide; Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, etc. for my new book, The Social Media Bible published by John Wiley & Sons. http:www.TheSocialMediaBible.com/download/ They are 30+/- minute podcasts about how each technology is being used for business. I found it really interesting to hear how people and businesses are using these tools directly from the source. The book is due out April 20th.
    Lon Safko

  7. Hey there,

    can anybody define the difference between the two abstract terms “Social Media” and “Social Software”? It seems to be quite controversial, since both the terms describe simply one thing, don’t they? Software = Media ? What is exactly meant?

  8. Hey there,

    can anybody define the difference between the two abstract terms “Social Media” and “Social Software”? It seems to be quite controversial, since both the terms describe simply one thing, don’t they? Software = Media ? What is exactly meant?

  9. Hey there,

    can anybody define the difference between the two abstract terms “Social Media” and “Social Software”? It seems to be quite controversial, since both the terms describe simply one thing, don’t they? Software = Media ? What is exactly meant?

  10. Mr. Hurd,

    Unfortunately while we value human relationships our society has been lacerated from them. We instead fill our intersubjective void with consumption.

    (duh) welcome to 1955…

    “social” media will thus fall into the same simulacral logic as other forms of media have.

    Media is coloured by the specific character of the mode of production in which is has been produced.

    Basically, don’t put all your eggs in the social media basket because until we create a much more meaningfully intersubjective society that is less alienated and more self-actualized we’re fucked no matter what the potential of a technology or a method of communication can potentially offer.

  11. Mr. Hurd,

    Unfortunately while we value human relationships our society has been lacerated from them. We instead fill our intersubjective void with consumption.

    (duh) welcome to 1955…

    “social” media will thus fall into the same simulacral logic as other forms of media have.

    Media is coloured by the specific character of the mode of production in which is has been produced.

    Basically, don’t put all your eggs in the social media basket because until we create a much more meaningfully intersubjective society that is less alienated and more self-actualized we’re fucked no matter what the potential of a technology or a method of communication can potentially offer.

  12. Mr. Hurd,

    Unfortunately while we value human relationships our society has been lacerated from them. We instead fill our intersubjective void with consumption.

    (duh) welcome to 1955…

    “social” media will thus fall into the same simulacral logic as other forms of media have.

    Media is coloured by the specific character of the mode of production in which is has been produced.

    Basically, don’t put all your eggs in the social media basket because until we create a much more meaningfully intersubjective society that is less alienated and more self-actualized we’re fucked no matter what the potential of a technology or a method of communication can potentially offer.

  13. Social media is a must if you own a business. It forms true sound relationships and reputation that are valid and reliable sources. If you have become a target for any resaon of unfaor negative publicity then these relatiopnships will prove essential because they will know you and your ethics in business not just something that mindless or malicious people have chosen to write without validity. Bullie Pups R Us owner.

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