What the Heck is Social Media?

What’s the connection between social media and sex?

Avinash Kaushik, Google’s web analytics guru, published a tweet last year that said, “Social media is like teen sex, everyone wants to do it. No one actually knows how. When finally done, there is surprise it’s not better. 

But while teens might be misinformed about sex, most of them definitely have at least a grasp on social media. But what exactly is social media?

I’ll spare you the convoluted definition posted on Wikipedia, as well as an explanation of the plethora of opportunities provided by tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, YouTube, Linked-in etc. etc. Instead, I’d like to suggest that social media is the media generated by tools and services that use the Internet to facilitate conversations. And yes, while some of those conversations might be rather trite, social media has also resulted in the democratization of information.

Unlike the more traditional media of newspapers, television, and film that pushes out information or messages at people to read and hopefully absorb, social media has meant most everyone now has the capacity, should they choose to accept it, to have their own voices heard as “publishers”. This availability of social media, on a many-to-many basis, much of it free and surprisingly easy to use, has flattened hierarchies as it provides everyone with the opportunity to share conversations, stories, learnings, and resources; create shared meanings; and serve as a catalyst for action and change. All, at lightning speed. 

Not surprisingly, businesses have been the first to see the potential of social media and have used it to reach a larger number of consumers (or in some cases a smaller niche target audience) to market their brand and reputation, gain customer input, ensure more relevant products, generate loyalty, and ultimately increase their profit. Organizations and governments more focused on social rather than financial profit, haven’t necessarily been as quick off the mark. 

So, if you are a business or government or community organization focused on social profit that hasn’t yet tapped the potential of social media, where on earth do you begin? While I could be totally off the mark, here’s what I’ve absorbed as the result of working with an amazing team.

Given privacy issues, new and up and coming social media products, and the fact that you can’t always control the content on sites such as Facebook and Myspace, your efforts might best be focused on ensuring you have a website that creates your own opportunities for the engagement of your stakeholders. There is no credibility without a web presence and you are after all, what Google says you are. Try doing a search on your company or organization name and see what surfaces. The advantage of focusing efforts on your website is that you are able to control its content. Also, since your website is your most vital marketing tool, make sure it is a website that you and your team (not just one webmaster) can access and update on a moment’s notice.

For those interested in social profit, developing a platform that encourages input from your stakeholders is generally a sound option. In our particular case, we’ve learned a lot about the power of stories and as a result have placed a priority on blogs written by a variety of our stakeholders that are then pulled into our website.

When you do venture into using specific social media tools, be clear about where you want to go first.  Know the target audience you’re trying to reach as well as your outcomes. Only then can you select the most appropriate tools. For example the general public - especially teens - are comfortable with Facebook, whereas Twitter is popular among 20-40 yr olds. In our case we’ve made a decision to use Twitter because it fits our demographic and works as a means for driving traffic to our website. 

Don’t forget as well that many of the free social media tools can help you operate more efficiently and effectively. For example we store our videos on viddler.com, and operate our team intranet on google apps (it gives us web-based email for each team member and shared file storage, calendars, and contact information). You can share your photos on flickr.com and powerpoints on slideshare.com. We’re also about to use ustream.com for live webcasting. But, keep in mind there are a lot of other options as well. The choices you make will be easier once you’re clear on where you want to go. Also know there are differing opinions from experts who believe that a sound media strategy is more about using a lot of different tools to establish a web presence.

Is social media complicated? For sure it is. After all we’re talking about a culture shift and totally new approaches to generating business and social profit.  But that’s where social media differs from teen sex. For teenagers sex is an option. Today, none of us really have a choice about whether or not we should be using social media if we’re looking to generate business or social profit. So, even if we comfortable in our horse and buggy, it’s important to drive, or at least test, the new vehicles on the road. Happy travelling.

Posted on 02-21-10


Nice article - and apologies for only getting to read it now! Your advice is sound. Starting with your own website makes absolute sense: it should form the hub of all your online (and, come to that, offline) engagement and marketing efforts. Also, focusing on one or two social media channels - Twitter and Facebook, for example, or LinkeIn for more professional/employment related activities) is a good idea. With so many options, and so much conflicting advice, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and confused. Social media, as you so rightly suggest, is merely technology-enabled conversation. Start with your own website, integrate it with a couple of key social networking sites, and you’ll be ahead of 80% of people out there who talk about social media but don’t make proper use of it.

•Posted by Shaun D'Arcy  on  10/06/13  at  05:30 PM

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