Every day you hear more and more about "Social Media". You hear more about what people and companies are doing with Social Media. A lof of the artilces and stories that you see and hear tend to focus on Twitter and Facebook, or how the use of this medium if growing. A recent search for "Social Media" at the American, British, and German versions of job search giant Monster revealed 50, 15, and 7 pages of jobs for those key words, this only goes to show that Social Media is starting to emerge, become more known and in demand. Almost without exception when I mention Social Media, I get a lot of blank faces or people will mention one or two famous Social Media sites, but to those of us that know anything about it how do you explain it to people with limited or no knowledge of it?
I originally wanted to call this article, "Social Media: The Clean Sheet of Paper And a Big Lump of Clay" but soon realized that the title was too long and ackward. Because I see how Social Media can be many things to many people, much like you create all kinds of things based on what you write or draw on a blank sheet of paper or you can mold a lump of clay into an endless possibility of things (artistic and otherwise), I liked the idea of referencing both of those objects. Another thing that I like about the clean sheet of paper and the lump of clay is that there is a certain amount of effort to make something out of either one, they don't just change into something. Upon further consideration I liked the term "amorphous" because Social Media is currently morphing into something yet to be fully comprehended or determined. According to Merrriam Webster.com, Amorphous is having no definate form (shapeless), being without definite character or nature (unclassifiable), lacking organization or unity, and having no real or apparent crystaline form. All of these things fit Social Media pretty well I believe.
So, do you have a good definition of "Social Media"? I would argue that you can come up with thousands, if not millions of definitions of what is it. What I think that we can agree on is that it is "social", meaning that it is meant to be shared between people and that "media" is a form of communication. In the last century we've tended to think of media as being broadcast (television and radio) and print (newspapers and magazines) and that is basis for what is sometimes called the old media. There are a limited number of "distributors" based on some barriers of entry (the largest being cost). As the web has developed and become more accepted, we find the explosion of more and more possibilities for user generated content with very little barriers of entry. There are tons of articles about how more and more people are getting their information from the internet from sources that didn't exist 20 years ago and the landscape of the "old media" is drastically changing. Social Media is allowing companies, organizations, and people to get their "message" out and it is allowing them to make all kinds of relationships and to communicate in ways that weren't possible even 10 years ago.
Occasionally I've heard people referring to Social Media by saying "Oh, we'll just do some Twittering" as if that is really how they think that Social Media should be used. If peoples' rush to join the party, they more often than not don't really think about what they want to accomplish or what Social Media can do. While Facebook and Twitter are very big in the whole Social Media landscape and some amazing things are happening with both, Social Media is so much more than either of them. A prerequisite to "doing" Social Media should be to think about what you want to do and where you want to go. If you know those things you can then start to think about how you can use Social Media to take you there. Social Media can drive what you're doing, if you give enough thought to how you want to use it.
There is something exciting about a clean sheet of paper or a lump of clay that you can mold into what you want or where the possibilities are limitless and only limited by your imagination. I hate to use the cliche about "the sky is the limit" but even that is not truly a limit as man has built planes and rockets has gone into space! How do you define Social Media and what does it mean to you?
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Photo Credit: Dirty Hands courtesy of jzlomek