You Say Social Media, I Say Social Network

December 27, 2011

Part of the challenge of transitioning to a new online content model, is that it is constantly evolving. While this gives you the opportunity to shape and influence your market, you still have to know what you are talking about. That seems simple enough, except sometimes it seems like no one knows what he or she is talking about and they rarely agree.

Every day is flooded with an eruption of new terms, concepts and ideas. There is no governing body delivering the word on a standard vernacular or definition, so we ask ourselves: What do we call it?  How do we spell it?  How do we define or describe it? Everyone wants to abbreviate and stylize words and ideas to their own preference or advantage.

Take Social Media and Social Networks, for example. Most people will argue that they are not the same thing, but a few minutes of research will reveal that they’ve both been given the same and different definitions.

Social media is described as both a tool and content. Social networks (like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn) are also described as tools—for social networking.  Yet, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are described as a combo of social media and social networks, as well.

Confusing?  Yes, but one thing is clear:  Social networks are not content. Social networks are the platform on which social networking takes place. “Network” implies a community of interest, focusing on a particular topic/field/organization/business of interest.

It appears that social media is the culprit for confusion. Publishers often define social media as the provocative content that can be disseminated to the broad social environment—with or without specific social networking tools. Yet, marketers and tech-savvy folks may define social media as a tool that allows the broadcast of content.

Regardless, the two – networks and media - are quite intertwined. So, what does this mean for you and your business? You can’t wait around until someone figures it out.

1)    Continue to focus on quality content. No matter how it is delivered, you want your content to engage readers.

2)    Choose a CMS that streamlines how you use social tools and networks currently at the top of the list (like the big 3 we already mentioned)—but also has an eye on the future. Things keep changing, and you want to ride the next wave like a dolphin, not a rookie surfer.

3)    The online world seeks to emulate face-to-face interaction. Increasingly, you see sites that integrate multiple multimedia components, so that visitors get as comprehensive a sensory experience as possible. Whether it’s social media or social networking, it’s social. Site visitors can’t shake hands, or stop and smell the roses on the table in the entryway—but they can see emotion in video or still photographs, they can connect with concise and descriptive text and they can respond to blogs and forums in real-time. Make sure your site provides these components with design and intuitive navigation.

4)    Use your site to give a face to your company. People want to develop a trusted relationship with you. This is still about connecting people to people.  Make sure those who create your content are as comfortable with video, audio and still images as they are with text. They can drive interaction on your site by interacting with readers at all of these levels.

 One thing is clear: you want to build a social environment around your product/company. Let someone else worry about what to call it.