Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Is There A Difference Between Social Media And Social Networking?

By Lon S. Cohen

I sometimes have trouble when I’m talking to people at work who aren’t savvy with this whole Web 2.0 thing we’ve got going on here. I use the words Social Networking for some instances and Social Media in others. I don’t explain the differences because to most laypeople, there is none and really, when I start to go into my theory, eyes glaze over and my colleagues suddenly find that the coffee truck must be outside the building somewhere and they have to hurry or Bob from accounting is going to take the last corn muffin.

But since this is the bread and butter of many of the people reading this right now, I think it’s safe to assume we can skip the gory details and get right into the meat of things. First, is there a difference between Social Media and Social Networking websites? Yes. And no. And it depends.

There is a big distinction in the terms Social Networking and Social Media. While many use these two terms interchangeably, you can separate them and the websites that represent one or another or even both effectively.

You can parse out the word Social from Media and Networking in each term. Social Media can be called a strategy and an outlet for broadcasting, while Social Networking is a tool and a utility for connecting with others. Essentially, you can lump both terms together under the umbrella of Web 2.0.

They way I do it is by taking the words and separating them into their different meanings. According to the Dictionary.com website, here are the definition listings for each:

Social: 1. pertaining to, devoted to, or characterized by friendly companionship or relations: a social club.

Networking: 1. a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest: Working mothers in the community use networking to help themselves manage successfully.

Media: 1. a pl. of medium. (ok that doesn’t help, let’s go to the second definition-L.S.C.) 2. (usually used with a plural verb) the means of communication, as radio and television, newspapers, and magazines, that reach or influence people widely: The media are covering the speech tonight.

The difference is not just semantics but in the features and functions put into these websites by their creators which dictates the way they are to be used. There’s also a kind of, which came first, the chicken or the egg kind of argument to be made here. I suspect that Social Networking came first which evolved into Social Media.

First there was Arpanet. Years later, Web 2.0 allowed for user generated content, democratization of information on the web and blah, blah, blah… We all know the history; we’re a part of it, for Tweet’s sake.

Social Networking.

LinkedIn is a good tool for Social Networking. It’s your resume on steroids. Your interests, the companies you’ve worked for, your schools all become links to others who share your same history. Your personal profile even looks like a standard resume format. Visually everything comes across as a line item. It’s terrific for business purposes. It does one thing very, very well and that is to allow people to network in a profession online arena. You can recommend the work of others, search for jobs, and link up with connections of others in your network through introductions. You can crowdsource your connections by asking questions. And you can post or apply for jobs either through a query or through your existing connections. See how it’s all modeled on real like business networking? These are its strengths.

Since it’s formation, LinkedIn has decided it needs to be a little more like Facebook and it’s added interest groups and the ability to publish links to articles you find interesting. In that respect it pales in comparison. LinkedIn is a Social Networking website. Everything about the structure and format screams business utility. Nothing about it screams media. That’s because so much of the personal pages are taken up by business profiles ala the resume format. For a site like LinkedIn to bust out of its stogy Business Networking reputation it needs to totally reformat its look and function. A tiger can’t change its stripes and LinkedIn can’t shake the fact that it is a functional website for hooking up people wanting to do business with each other. LinkedIn is good at what it does and I’d hate to loose it.

Social Media.

YouTube is a really good Social Media website. It’s television on the web with a bazillion channels. I like the exploding Coke bottles, the funny Panda videos, monkeys falling off of logs and people crashing into garbage cans just as much as I like the step-by-step instructions on how to make an origami Millennium Falcon, viral comedy of Matt Koval and educational presentations on the history of the Internet. YouTube is a no-brainer marketing tool for any business that wants to make an impact on the web and provides one of the easiest distribution channels for video since the advent of Betamax. The elephant in the virtual living room is, of course, the Obama administration’s embracing of YouTube to distribute the POTUS fireside chats to the American people.

But if I want to network with friends and business associates, I’m not using YouTube. Sure I can subscribe to other people’s feeds and get updates whenever they post a new video but I’m never going to get the same depth of information that I’d get on LinkedIn. YouTube lets me put up my standard profile, but it’s not where I’m going to go to find my next business hire or even my next date. And I’m definitely not going to find out that my friends are all meeting up at the latest hip bar on the Upper East Side tomorrow night at 6:30. No. YouTube stands firmly in the camp of Social Media.

Social __________?

Twitter and Facebook are Web 2.0 sites with the whole package. They straddle the Social Media and Social Networking divide perfectly.

Facebook’s layout provides ample space for me to broadcast my pictures, my links, my book lists, my blog posts all while finding my first girlfriend who got married and moved to Virginia. The pictures I post act both as media and a networking tool because I can tag my friends and other people can place their own tags on my photos, labeling that hottie I wanted to talk to who just happened to get into the background of the bar I went to last week. For the most part, Facebook is a Networking site but because it devotes so much of its layout to a space where I can pack in my own stuff it is perfect for Media too. The density of information I can project is almost limitless.

Then there’s Twitter. Such a simple tool. By taking out the status update function of MySpace and Facebook and blending it with the idea of the chat room, the creators have developed one of the most versatile sites in all of Web 2.0. Twitter’s is first and foremost about projecting your words within 140 characters. What you do with those words is totally up to you. You can Tweet out a original work of fiction, you can pretend you’re a character from a TV series, you can sell stuff, inform people, link out to other websites, have conversations, piss people off or keep a low profile while taking it all in. But the essential part is connecting to others for whatever reason you want to connect with those people. In so many ways, Twitter’s most useful to distribute small bits of information but it’s the connections that make it all worthwhile. The minimalist functionality of Twitter is probably it’s most powerful feature enabling it to be many things to many people. The debates rage on whether Twitter should be for brands, for celebrities, or just for conversations with real people. The real secret is, it’s for anything you want.


lemasney said...

I think you're right that there are differences, and I think that while there's quite a bit of blurred edges, that social media is about messages in vehicles (tweets, posts, media) and social networking is the activity by which the media are distributed along with a lot of other 1:1 & 1:many connections. It's like the difference between verbal and nonverbal language. Nioce post, and cheers. @lemasney

Ian Hendry - WeCanDo.BIZ said...

Interesting article. I, too, interchange the two terms but I do actually see a distinction:

Social Media is content

Social Networking is relationships

You can post videos or articles on Web 2.0 sites and get comments, but apart of that one exchange there is sno suggestion of a relationship between the parties. On the other hand, networks are ALL about relationshops and they will tend to survive much longer than the interest surrounding a specific video or blog post.

Ian Hendry

Barry Hurd said...

I agree that Social Media and Social Networking are not the same thing, but the definition for either of these two ideas is not just a breakdown of the two words.

We have to keep in mind that the term Social Media is a buzz definition, it wasn't created by an English major to be technically correct.

Linkedin is also a confusing example, as many parts of online social networking occur through social media on the site.

Social Media is easier for most people to remember as "online shared media" and also expands farther than the typical website as we explore more mobile technology.

I think you do hit on a vital point that I have shared before: that many people are trying to figure out how to use this "stuff" and they are simply not communicating with the same vocabulary.

This confusion causes A LOT of problems with social media, social networking, mobile media, online marketing, SEO, buzz, word of mouth, public relations, etc. Fpor many people, so many new terms for many new ideas to understand where one starts and one stops.

As a consultant, I often ask people if they know what Social Media is: simply so that I can ask them to relay to me how they understand it.

Belinda Ang said...

My definition of

1) Social Media is the platform / genre / field or content.

2) Social Networking is a pro-active action, activity, relationship or connection between two users and social media as a platform.

It's an interesting article. Good read. =)

Belinda Ang

balmeras said...

Great post, Lon. I can see a lot of folks forwarding this to bosses etc., trying to clear up the confusion. :)

Cheers- Bethe @balmeras

ObilonKenobi said...

Thanks for the comments everyone. I like the way Barry approaches this by asking his clients to tell him what Social Media is to get an idea of their understanding. And I also like Bethe's idea. Everyone should be sharing my articles with their bosses, friends, family and enemies! :-)

Guillaume said...

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David Hopkins said...

I have also found the difficulty in getting the differences across to colleagues; they are either not listening, not interested, or bloody-minded and certain that they know best (and are wrong).

To me 'social media' is the mechanism / vehicle for the message, and 'social network' are the people who use this 'media'.

Kind regards, David

marmaraelt said...

really clear sentences and well explanation..

I think we can say that Twitter and Facebook can be third discrimination and can be called as " Social Networking Media " or "Network Media"

just brainstorming..

I added you to "must read" favourites of mine...