What defines social media and what doesn’t? Are blogs social media?

When is social media not social media? Are blogs social media and when did social media start? Was it with MySpace or blogging? Or was it IRC and ICQ that changed the way we shared information?

These are all common questions amongst my social media friends who engage in furious (it’s actually kind of mild) debate on where and when and most importantly what is social media. Brian Clark from CopyBlogger writes in an interesting blog on the  common mis-conceptions people have about what defines social media and what doesn’t.

Quite simply put social media is information sharing and Brian’s argument below outlines some interesting points.

For some reason, people seem to be equating social media with social networking. At the same time, they seem to be treating blogs as something other than social media. I find this very strange indeed. For example, here the author proclaims that he’s quitting social media and gives his reasons why. But he goes on to state that he’ll continue to produce content on his own blog.

So what exactly is he quitting?

At least once a year, various pundits declare ponderously that blogs are dead … usually killed by some platform that we label as “social media.” One year it’s Facebook, another it’s Twitter, then it’s Google+. The platforms seem to change a lot more quickly than the arguments.

Those declarations are built, at least in part, on the mistaken notion that blogging and social media are different and distinct things.

Blogs are social (and alternative) media

First, let’s look at a definition. In the case of social media, I think even Wikipedia can be trusted:

In fact, it’s a fairly easy case that blogs were the first modern form of social media. I say “modern” because many would argue that social media started pre-web with Usenet, Internet Relay Chat, and BBS systems. Heck, the most popular part of lame ol’ America Online was the cyber-sex socializing in the chat rooms.

So in the “modern” social media sense, blogs came way before social networking exploded with Facebook and Twitter. Blogs pioneered social media well before MySpace and Friendster came and went.

(You remember MySpace and Friendster, don’t you? No? Well, they were massive social networks that were far too big, popular, and well-entrenched to ever fail. Ahem.)

One thing you’ll notice in the definition above is the emphasis on content. Not just user-generated chatty content, but the production of content that is an alternative to traditional media AND that benefits from interlinked conversation and comments.

Maybe the fact that “old media” has co-opted those aspects of blogs is the reason that some people no longer see blogging as social media. I think that’s a bit silly.

Media producer versus social networker

Maybe I’ve got it wrong, but the fascinating part of social media to me is not just the social networking.

It’s the fact that anyone willing to put in the work can become a media producer/personality without speaking a word to anyone in the existing media power centers of Los Angeles, New York, et al.

Your own site (on your own domain) is simply the best way to publish new media content. And social media news and networking sites are the ways that your content gets exposure. It’s not money and geography that determines if your content spreads … it just has to be deemed good enough to be shared by regular people.

If you want to become a music journalist, no one in LA or NYC can tell you no. If you want a shot at becoming an actress or celebrity without enduring casting couch sexual harassment, you can absolutely go for it and succeed.

From a more practical standpoint, using social media in terms of “media production” is what content marketing is all about. Producing content and having something related to sell is one way where free content pays for itself big time.

When you think like a media producer in this brave new social media world, it’s your content that social networkers are sharing and promoting, and that translates into your cash. If you’re only social networking, you’re only someone’s user-generated content, and even your digital overlord struggles to make money.

What’s the point?

Honestly, I’m not sure. I just see so much unnecessary confusion out there.

What do you think?

  • Is it because people with vested interests in confusion portray social media as something radically new when it’s mostly an evolution of the old?
  • Should I simply quit worrying about it and stick with those of you who get it?
  • What do you think about tofu? Tasty or nasty?

Cartoon via CartoonStock

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