What is Social Media?

“Social media” refers to online, mobile, and digital tools and networks that facilitate and encourage interactions between people. Some of the most common activities that take place using social media include:

  • Social networking and online conversations.
  • Content sharing including text, images and video.
  • Collaboration and co-creation.

Early on in the development of what would become social media, blogs were developed, turning static websites into more interactive forums with the addition of the comments feature. Blog publishing tools make it easy for anyone to publish online.

While blogs are more social than regular websites, they are less interactive than the social networks that developed afterward. Social networks provide features for people to create online profiles, connect with others, publish multimedia content, and interact with one another including sharing content they compose or find online.

The power of social networks is a person's ability to link to other people through a process sometimes referred to as “friending”. The word “friend” no longer refers to a person who you actually know. These days, a “friend” can be someone linked to you on a social network where you have connected based on shared interests or shared connections. Not every social network uses the same term for “friends”. On Facebook, you have Friends on your personal profile but Likes on your Page. On LinkedIn, you have connections. On Twitter and Pinterest, you have followers. On YouTube, you have subscribers. On still other networks, you have fans or just simply contacts. Different terms, but the same idea.

With the advent of mobile devices, social media now includes mobile versions of web-based social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and applications - or apps - that are mobile-only networks such as Instagram, Foursquare and Snapchat. Many of the social mobile networks include features that tap into the GPS of smartphones to create interactive features based on a person’s location and what - and who - is nearby.

What does social media mean for business owners? Social media helps you reach an exponentially larger audience than you’d reach by simply publishing an article on a website, expanding word-of-mouth about your business through friends, fans and followers. More importantly, social media provides you with tools to better connect to and communicate with your customers and prospects. You can benefit from social media even before building your social media presence online by listening to - or monitoring - what others are saying about you, your company and your products and services, and related topics.

When you communicate with your networks of friends, fans, followers and connections, you no longer reach just those people but instead have the potential to reach their friends, fans, followers and connections as well. On Facebook, for example, most people have at least 120 Facebook friends. A creatively and appropriately crafted post to your Facebook Page has the potential to reach not just your own fans but the friends of those fans.

Social media marketing is the marketing discipline that refers to leveraging social media and mobile tools to reach and influence others. Social media marketing is reminiscent of early digital marketing through online communities but with the added ability to build an online, interconnected presence and publish and share more widely than a single confined forum. Ultimately, individuals have the most control over any message published online so understanding how to properly craft your messages and engage with others in ongoing online conversations takes time, care, and a healthy dose of mutual trust and respect.