Human beings are social animals, so it is probably no surprise that at the moment wherever you turn there seems to be social ‘this’ and social ‘that’ but what does it all really mean? The terms you probably hear the most are Social Media and Social Networks. Although they sound very similar it is important to know that the two terms are not interchangeable. They do have some shared characteristics but they are not the same thing.
Social Media is the content that we choose to share to those around us. In the times before the internet this may have been sharing a Polaroid of a holiday beach snap with your coworker. Now with the power of the internet and personal computing, coupled with devices such as laptops, mobile phones and digital camera’s. A person can post a pic, upload a song, change a status and write a blog. All of which is part of the concept of social media and the share of it with our friends and family and perhaps even strangers. Put simply social media is communication + publishing. The internet has combined all of these aspects with networking platforms to give us a new way of engaging, with what we now referred to as ‘Social Media Networks.’
Social networks have been around for a long time in fact perhaps as far back as humanity itself. The internet did not invent the concept of social networks. Once humans began to group and those groups began to hold certain characteristics, hierarchies and exclusivity the idea of networking between or inside them came to the fore. Churches, sporting teams, business seminars can all be seen as an example of social networks well before the first PC ever rolled out. It is however the explosion of the internet that created the idea of an online social network and networking. But as people’s ability to move beyond just communicating with one another accelerated, pushing into publishing and media. These new networks have become the platforms for which social media has found its widest audience. So much so that we rarely now refer to them as such, generally we view everything user-generated online as social media regardless of where it came from.
Looking at the proliferation of social media it’s easy to see that our abilities to interact are changing rapidly as technologies improve. However even at this stage there are a certain type of social media and the social networks that it is shared though that can be sorted into categories. For social media probably the most common are:
- Blogging – Just like this site you are reading, where a user can post information, thoughts or opinions and others can read or comment e.g WordPress, Blogger
- Microblogging – Much like the above but the information is restricted as in 140 characters for twitter. e.g Twitter, Path
- Social bookmarking – This is where users can bookmark tag information on the web and share rank and collabroate.e.g. Digg, Reddit
- Media Sharing – Users can upload video for others to view and share e.g. Youtube, Hulu, Vimeo
- Broad Content Sharing – Used for the posting of a more wide source of content like presentation decks, graphics and journals e.g. Scribd, Slideshare
- Forums – Allow for groups to use a hive mind concept to offer solutions and advice e.g. Yahoo Answers, metafilter
- Social News – Services that allow people to post news items or links and then allows them to be ranked and voted on. e.g. Digg, Reddit.
As you can see already each of these types of social media already have several social networks to provide a platform for this interaction. They generally can be classified as Personal networks, which predominately lean towards interaction with friends and family. Content sharing networks which tend to move fluidly between the spaces of private and public, personal and professional. And finally shared interest communities, again both personal and professional but they tend to be tightly focussed on a particular niche interest that all participants will share. Just looking at the types of social media available and then the networks that it can be linked up with shows how vast this area has already become. Looking at the diagram below gives a snapshot of the every changing universe of social media networks.
All of these services, apps and sites hold varying amounts of people with very diverse characteristics. All of which will hold some value to a business or businesses somewhere. This is the appeal to companies not only launching and controlling these social media networks but also to those just wanting to benefit from the social media interactions that these groups of individuals and networks provide. The key for any user of business to understand is the distinction between the two. Social networks have and will also exist so long as people gravitate towards each other and the relationships this brings. The content we create as part of these links has found a new avenue to be shares not only with friends and family but with people all over the world, powered through the internet and Social Media Networks that continue to evolve, rise and fall. Just like the Radio, moved us forward, from print and Tv forward from radio. Social media networks and the internet will bring new opportunities for people to collaborate, businesses to reach customers and boundaries to be expanded. Understanding each’s subtle differences opens up each platforms unique audience.