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January 17th, 2008

What is Social Media? Depends on What You Mean by the Word “is”

Now that we’ve fully jumped into 2008, I thought it would be a good time to take a quick look at what social media is, or has become to this point. You’re probably thinking, “tired topic” or “you’re about a year or more late to the party.” But look, I’m not looking for one final definition of the tools and methods that make-up what social media is in the communication setting. Rather, what I would like is to see how the topic is being talked about generally by those who claim they provide it as a communications service. No, this isn’t yet another post on what social media is, despite the title. The definitions of the tools and tactical applications are many and the many are varied. Below is a small handful of descriptors from other agencies of what social media is or involves from their own unique perspectives.

  • “There’s an evolution going on in the way people access, digest and share information, and we’re developing programs that incorporate new online and digital communications tools like wikis, podcasts, blogs and other new media to reach this ever more elusive consumer.”
  • “From helping to define your social media strategy, to generating online buzz, to monitoring and shaping what is said about your company in the blogosphere, we will help you optimize the PR opportunities of blogs and social media, while minimizing the risks.”
  • “We offer a range of digital tools and programs, from expertise in blogging and online measurement to virtual pressrooms and digital storytelling, to drive and measure successful communication strategies.”

These few short descriptions paint an interesting picture for me where …

  • We can all agree that something has changed. Ok, well, duh.
  • Buzzwords are fun! … Not really.
  • Saying you do social media, no matter how you definite it or what you call it, instantly means you do *it all*.

So, what’s the point? Point is, new media, social media, digital media, whatever word and “media” after it you can think of, is still the new frontier. There still are no experts. There still is no one leader. While we, as an industry, continue to build out and refine our social media programs and services, especially those that may just be getting started, we need to be careful we do it right. Just like with anything else, going too fast or jumping from no experience in social media to actually doing it and doing it well can be a tough proposition. Since many companies are still toying with the idea of implementing social media programs, but are hesitant, we all need to be diligent in our practices and back those practices up with experience.

It’s pretty clear that there is still quite a ways to go until we collectively decide what social media really is. Maybe we never will reach what can be called a consensus. I have a feeling what may be more likely is an ongoing discussion about what social media can be, or become, as the tools and methods continue to evolve and change with time. But no matter how you define it, if you say you can do it, you better be prepared to prove it.

About the Author
Ryan Lack serves as Supervisor on the Voce Connect team, executing on social media programs for a wide range of consumer and technology clients. You can keep updated with Ryan by following @ryanlack on Twitter.

Filed in Social Media

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