What is Social Media?

Social media, or social networking, is where the Internet meets real life – your life. It has been referred to as Web 2.0: user generated content and networking that has the ability to spread virally; the building of real communities in a virtual neighborhood.

The earliest version of digital social media was the web forum, an online “place” where like-minded people gather to discuss their common interests. For me, my first venture into social media was an online discussion group that centered on a particular band. We all loved that band and that was our first point of commonality. But we also had plenty of other things in common. The group created a dialogue to which you could contribute as little or as much as you liked. I made a number of friends in that group, many of whom I have since met in person. It is surprising the connections you can make, with virtual friendships feeling like, and often becoming, real friendships.

Newer social media takes the form of everything from social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace, to blogs, to public microblogging sites like Twitter. Currently, Facebook and Twitter are the two forums that make up the largest part of my social media network. Other social media components include the sharing of media on sites such as YouTube and Flickr.

I like the academic definition provided by Wikipedia, a free volunteer-edited online encyclopedia:

Social media is content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies. At its most basic sense, social media is a shift in how people discover, read and share news, information and content. It’s a fusion of sociology and technology, transforming monologues (one to many) into dialogues (many to many) and is the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers. Social media has become extremely popular because it allows people to connect in the online world to form relationships for personal and business.