What is Social Media? A not so critical review of concepts and definitions

In 1952 Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn published their seminal work “Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions”. They provided a systematic overview of 164 definitions of this anthropological key concept. I did not find as much definitions of social media and furthermore the differences between definitions social media are far smaller than the differences between different concepts of culture.

What is Social Media?

This is a quick overview of the first 141623 definitions of social media by the following people:

  • Ben Parr: “… the use of electronic and Internet tools for the purpose of sharing and discussing information and experiences with other human beings in more efficient ways”
  • Anthony Mayfield: “… a group of new kinds of online media, which share most or all of the following characteristics: 1) Participation … 2) Openness … 3) Conversation … 4) Community … 5) Connectedness”
  • Clay Shirky: “… stuff that gets spammed”
  • Robert Scoble: “… Internet media that has the ability to interact with it in some way”
  • Brian Solis: “… put the power of media into the hands of the people, which transformed content consumers into content producers” or “Social Media is the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers. It is the shift from a broadcast mechanism to a many-to-many model, rooted in conversations between authors, people, and peers.” (see below)
  • Stowe Boyd: “1) Social Media Is Not A Broadcast Medium … 2) Social Media Is Many-To-Many … 3) Social Media Is Open … 4) Social Media Is Disruptive”
  • Chris Heuer: “… redefining how we relate to each other as humans and how we as humans relate to the organizations that serve us”
  • Joseph Thornley: “… online communications in which individuals shift fluidly and flexibly between the role of audience and author”
  • David Meerman Scott: “… online media with a participatory or interactive component”
  • Ike Pigott: “… strange brew of Technology + People + Organization + Freedom”
  • Deirdre Breakenridge (PR 2.0, FT Press 2008, xviii): “… anything that uses the Internet to facilitate conversations between people”
  • Robert Berkman (The Art of Strategic Listening, Paramount, 10): “Blogs, wikis, digital videos or any other kind of textual or multimedia forms of media and typically generated by ordinary consumers”
  • Beth Kanter: “… a way of using the Internet to instantly collaborate, share information, or have a conversation ideas or causes we care about”
  • Daniel Nations: “… a social instrument of communication”
  • Eric Karjaluoto: “… media that users can easily participate in and contribute to”
  • Louis Gray: “… a loose term that largely relies on user generated content”
  • Marta Kagan: “… people having conversations online”
  • Sarah Worsham: “… it’s about the shared meaning you create with your customers as you interact with them and they with each other”
  • Mark Dykeman: “… the means for any person to: publish digital creative content; provide and obtain real-time feedback via on-line discussions, commentary, and evaluations; and incorporate changes or corrections to the original content”
  • Ashwini Dhagamwar and Sandeep Arora: “… allows people to participate using Media (text, audio, video, pictures) instantly. Social Media is the story about people participation on a scale never seen before. Social Media is the fusion of technology and social behavior”
  • Toby Beresford: “… editorless content prioritised by popularity”
  • Jeff Jarvis: “Play is social. Media is play. Social media is fun”
  • Susan B. Barnes (Understanding Social Media from the Media Ecology Perspective): “… interpersonal media. It supports the sharing of personal exchanges in new and unique ways”
  • Bonnye E. Stuart, Marilyn S. Sarow, Laurence Stuart (Integrated Business Communication in a Global Marketplace): “… a term applied to digital media that enable customers to control content”
  • Wayne Kurtzman: “Social media is the use media, including and not limited to text, video, audio and documents within communities where users can opt to consume or generate content.”
  • Marc Smith: “Collective Goods produced through Computer-Mediated Collective Action”.

I’m planning to put together a systematic overview à la Kroeber/Kluckhohn. But to do this, I’m still looking for further ways to define social media. So, whose definition is still missing?

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Comments (7)

  1. Monika wrote::

    Check out VizEdu’s Visual Explanation of Social Media …

    Friday, November 14, 2008 at 8:32 pm #
  2. Brian Solis wrote::

    Thanks for pulling this together!

    After much analysis, hosted conversations, wrestling matches, and continued research, I proposed the following definitions, which has served effectively for many practitioners still today:

    Short Version:
    Any tool or service that uses the internet to facilitate conversations.

    Longer Version:
    Social Media is the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers. It is the shift from a broadcast mechanism to a many-to-many model, rooted in conversations between authors, people, and peers.

    Friday, November 14, 2008 at 10:35 pm #
  3. Barry Martin wrote::

    To put it as succinctly as possible:
    “Interactive media.”

    Traditional media is broadcast–one way. Social media enables interactions.

    What comes out of those interactions should be described by other terms–conversation, empowerment, marketing, therapy, etc.

    Sunday, November 16, 2008 at 5:56 am #
  4. Benedikt wrote::

    @Monika Thanks for the link. I added their definition to the list.

    @Brian I like your definition. But I’m not sure about the strong focus on conversation. The conversational dimension is very important, but social media also allows for new ways of managing social relationships, knowledge or personal identities. For me, Wikipedia is a very important part of social media. But conversation is just a subordinate element of the encyclopedia. I’d prefer a more encompassing concept of media that is not only about content and conversation.

    Wednesday, November 19, 2008 at 11:02 pm #
  5. Benedikt wrote::

    @Barry I think empowerment is a very important aspect of what social media can lead to.

    Tuesday, December 9, 2008 at 1:31 am #
  6. Chris Heuer wrote::

    Ian Kennedy still has my favorite, Social Media isn’t a thing so much as it is what you do with it…

    Ie, social media is sharing the media, building upon it, improving it, disproving it – an object around which we gather together, for warmth, comradery and connections to each other and the things that matter most to us…

    Saturday, February 28, 2009 at 4:37 am #
  7. Bonnye Stuart wrote::

    Thanks for including our definition of “social media’ in your study.

    Tuesday, March 3, 2009 at 3:03 am #

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