The question sounds cliche, especially on a site made by a firm that is dealing with products in the digital space. And the fact that you’re here reading about the question, we feel you’re probably just looking for a definition coming from us, and already knowing a great deal about what social media is.
But we will choose not to define social media. For the very simple reason, that social media cannot be defined in a context, even if it were something as wide as the internet. For many, the ability to send a text via SMS is social media, because as long as you’re interacting with people through a medium, it is what makes you social.
We will instead attempt to understand where you might be confused about your understanding of social media. And that can be because you have met or tried to understand from a lot of different people about different success strategies in today’s day and age, and how people are communicating differently – many using the emerging platforms successfully to scale up new business models. You can often end up wondering, if you could use a platform to further you message, get more people involved and possible make money while doing so.
Resolving the confusion.
Most people understand the underlying concept of social media, the moment they trace the roots to confusion. And in the preceding paragraph, if you have agreed with us on the part, that you have been wondering how to get more people involved with your message, you’ve more or less hit the nail on its head, about understanding what social media is. When you have a medium of communication (where or not in the digital space) that allows people to collaborate, you’re dealing with social media.
One of the most intriguing factors of social media, is that is allows the discovery of messages by new people who are not yet involved. And this phenomenon can be traced to even sending a message in a bottle. You could write a note, slide it into a bottle, cork it and throw into the water. Now, depending on multiple factors, such as the bottle keeping afloat and surviving impact from the environment it remains in, and the reach of the water body – if you threw it into a river, a lake or the ocean, and depending upon the circumstances, who finds your message, you can have it reaching from one part of the world to another. The recipient of the message may or may not understand your language. Or you could have placed a painting or a photograph in the bottle. And a picture would mean a thousand words. The recipient could then add his contribution to the message and throw it back into the water and the story could continue. In a similar way, a lot of the platforms on social media allow people to interact in new and creative ways giving rise to a term known as cognitive surplus.
Another interesting aspect of social media is, it provides collaborators with freedom of expression. This freedom could be in any format. An artist could create music and share it online via one platform, or a photographer could sell his imagery on another. But for people who are not professionally engaged in a field, social media provides space for them to pursue new and varied interests, and share their talent with free will in their own space and time. And this free time and talent, that is collectively recognised as cognitive surplus adds up to create an entire space of freedom – that gives rise to creativity, talent and sharing of knowledge and information.
Where it will take us, is yet to be seen.
If you are looking to understand the difference between social media and digital media, we recommend you read the post about what is digital media, later on this blog.