What is Social Media? Why Do We Care?

Social Media. Hate it or love it, everyone talks about it. And has an opinion about it.

While everyone is exposed to it daily, how many people really know what it is?

You, being a self-selecting audience, would likely be able to provide an informed response. Others, however, might simply blurt, “Facebook!” as if that alone explained all.

For my first blog post, I wanted to consider the basics of what we’re discussing. Together, the words “social” and “media” form fabricated jargon which appeared sometime after the advent of Web 2.0, as explained on Wikipedia:

“…web applications that facilitate participatory information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design and collaboration on the World Wide Web. A Web 2.0 site allows users to interact and collaborate with each other in a social media dialogue as creators (prosumers) of user-generated content in a virtual community, in contrast to websites where users (consumers) are limited to the passive viewing of content that was created for them. Examples of Web 2.0 include social networking sites, blogs, wikis, video sharing sites, hosted services, web applications, mashups and folksonomies.”

Social media became inextricably tied to the internet sometime after 2004. Nonetheless, I argue that social media has existed as long as mass media has reacted to reader submissions and/or called readers to action. Media being a tool for information delivery; social defined as any form of interaction between two entities, corporations or individuals. Reprinted letters to the Editor? Social media. Paper flyers for organizing protests? Social media.

Communication + Collaboration = Social Media.

Social media as we know it today, rooted within a virtual context, crept into common households through online journals and college kids on Facebook. In 2004, I told someone I planned to do my independent study on blogging. He asked, “You want to study websites about people’s cats?”

Since the days of feline photos and emotionally fueled teenager musings, the growth of social media has grown exponentially. Can we visit any of the top 50 most popular sites on the Internet without coming across one-click options to Tweet / Facebook / + 1 / Share / email?

The number of social media users and social companies continues to rise globally, and the barrier to entry is relatively low.

Why does this matter?

The internet has made communications almost instantaneous and far reaching. Political groups can now rally more efficiently. Companies can spread their branding with ease. The possibility for danger and/or profit has been multiplied. Witness the revolutionaries who used Twitter to spread their message and organize troops faster and wider than any paper campaign could have achieved. Witness firms that pour money and time into data mining Facebook.

On a personal level, social media has simultaneously extended our networks while closing distances between degrees of separation. It transcends time and geography. It archives our lives online and allows some semblance of control over our public persona.

Social media is a powerful force we still don’t fully comprehend. It can be dangerous. It recognizes almost no boundaries, and it’s still growing.

And that’s why we care about this double-edged sword.

Lisa Chau has been involved with Web 2.0 since graduate school at Dartmouth College, where she completed an independent study on blogging. She was subsequently highlighted as a woman blogger in Wellesley Magazine, published by her alma mater. Since 2009, Lisa has worked as an Assistant Director at the Tuck School of Business. In 2012, she launched GothamGreen212 to pursue social media strategy projects. View her online portfolio at http://about.me/GothamGreen212. Follow her on Twitter via https://twitter.com/GothamGreen212. (In case you’re wondering, she greatly enjoys social media, admittedly spending far too much time on it.)