What Most People Don’t Know About Social Media


For example: I have asked dozens if not hundreds of so-called “social media” experts what the term “social media” actually refers to, and none of them have been able to give me an answer. The mass of users not only lead lives of quiet desperation — they actually have no clue whatsoever about what they are doing.

If you are a user of the facebook.com website, then that does not mean anything about understanding what “social media” is about. Saying that you understand social media because you use facebook is like saying you understand automobiles because you have sat in a car. From sitting in a car, you cannot tell whether it has a gasoline engine or a diesel engine,… — or whether it is perhaps powered by electricity. For all I know, you could sit in a car that has no wheels and is simply resting on top of cement blocks. That is how ridiculous you appear if you say that you understand social media because you have a facebook account.

Facebook is no more all of social media than one car someone might happened to have sit in is all of automotive technology. Facebook is — perhaps — a social medium, but it is a far cry from representing all of social media. After having spent a lot of time investigating the terminology, I think I have finally come up with some rather good operational definitions, including an operational definition of social media.

To begin with, let me start with an operational definition of a brand that is up-to-date with respect to the world-wide web: A brand is any string that has no inherent meaning in the natural language of the community in which the brand is used. In this sense, “apple” is a word within the communities of farmers, grocery shoppers, grade school math teachers, etc. However, in the communities of computer manufacturers, mobile phone buyers, etc.,  “Apple” is a brand.

An online brand is simply a brand whose string is also registered as a domain name. An international online brand could be an online brand that is registered by the same organization in several top level domains. A global online demand might be an online brand that is registered in all (or the vast majority) of top level domains (or perhaps in all top level domains among a selected list of top level domains [e.g. "generic" top level domains, such as "com", "net", "org", etc.]) by the same organization.

At present, there is no widespread distinction of global vs. national (or international, or local) social media. Most people use this term rather naively — i.e. without mentioning which society or community is being referred to. Yet a widely popularized image of facebook relationships, for example, clearly delineates an outline of an English-speaking network:

facebook map

In this vein, it would certainly make sense to qualify social media as being e.g. an “English-speaking social network” (as in the case of facebook) or a “Chinese-speaking social network” (as in the case of weibo).

My proposed operational definition of “social media” is thus: A brand name which does not stand for any product or service (other than the information provided via the brand’s website/s). Hence, the websites of the brand names Apple and Microsoft are not social media, because these brand names stand for products and/or services that exist independently of the information provided at those websites. Facebook would, in contrast, probably qualify as a social medium — although “facebook” used to be a college jargon term, today the “facebook” string is a corporate trademark. In my opinion, the jury is still out on strings such as “google”, because Google now offers products and services beyond the information available at its website/s (such as the Chrome browser, the Android operating system, etc.).

All of this is simply a very roundabout way of saying that there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, if not millions and millions of social media websites. Facebook.com is only one of them — so if you think you understand facebook, then perhaps you are familiar with about one iota of social media. ;)

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