What is Social Media?
Wikipedia defines social media as “the means of interactions among people in which they create, share, and exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks.”
But what does that mean? A good place to begin is to understand how communications worked before social media, so it’s clear how these new methods differ from the traditional ones.
Broadcasting vs. Point to Point Communication
Prior to social media, the only means of spreading a single message to a wide audience was through broadcasting, either via radio or television. For the most part, individuals and many small businesses were limited primarily to point-to-point communications, a prime example of which is a phone call or a fax.
Once the Internet was up and running, email emerged as a new means of communication. While email could be sent to multiple recipients, the original intention of the message was mostly intended for a limited audience. Basically, it functioned as a point-to-point method of communication rather than broadcasting.
Then social media was born. Social media platforms enabled users everywhere to broadcast messages across the Internet for free, placing the power of mass media messaging into the hands of the users.
Check out the short, entertaining video below from Plain English that helps further explain the basics of how social media works.
The example in the video of Scoopville helps to illustrate how social media can act as a tool for both big and small businesses to communicate directly with their respective customer bases.
By using ice cream flavors as an analogy, Plain English demonstrates social media allows large corporations to cast a wide net to a large audience, but at the same time also helps boutique companies mobilize their communications to capture niche audiences. In this way, social media breaks down barriers between consumer and business.
3 Key Communication Tools from Social Media
7 Types of Social Media
Social media is, of course, not an exact science. However, to help you start understanding the different types of social media out there, Out: think owner, Tim Grahl, approximates six major types. I’ve included one more of my own, bringing the grand total to seven.
Keep in mind that some form of social media can fit into more than one of these categories.
1. Social Networks
Generally require you to create a profile with basic information so you can connect with other users through shared interests and/or demographic information.
EXAMPLES: Facebook, LinkedIn
2. Bookmarking Sites
Provides tools for you to organize (often news stories) and easily share links, as well as search for items of interest with the help of feedback from other users.
EXAMPLES: StumbleUpon, Delicious
3. Social News
Users can vote on the popularity of links or news items in order to raise or lower how prominently the items are displayed on the community’s main website.
EXAMPLES: Digg, Reddit
4. Media Sharing
Online repository for users to store and share digital media like video and photos with varying levels of privacy, depending on the intended audience. Commenting, ratings systems and the ability to integrate hashtags and usernames add to the interactive nature of the medium.
EXAMPLES: Instagram, YouTube, Flickr, Vimeo
Allows users to push out updates with a restricted length to subscribed users. The result is a constant stream of headline-like, abbreviated news stories and/or anecdotes.
6. Blog Comments and Forums
Users communicate on blogs and in forums by posting comments, which can be “threaded” into separate conversations that branch out from the original posting topic. The topic of the blog or forum is the launching point for these conversations.
EXAMPLE: TMZ, OhNoTheyDidnt, Gawker
7. Location-Based Social Networking Sites
While certain social networking sites focus solely on “checking in” to an actual geographic location (through location services via GPS on a mobile device), others (like Facebook) have integrated this feature in order to allow users to connect with other users nearby.
EXAMPLES: FourSquare, Facebook, Grindr, Tinder
With a basic understanding of the types of social media available, it’s time to take a look at users of social media. Most people using social media fall into one of seven popular archetypes.
7 Types of Social Media Users
This infographic, created by ReachLocal to illustrate the different types social media fans does a great job of explaining who is using social media and how they’re using it.
The Quiet Follower
- Remains relatively neutral during online conversations
- Not likely to engage in online interactions
- Content to simply observe online
The Casual Liker
- Enjoys sharing online endorsements and connecting friends to trusted brands
- Will interact but in a limited fashion
- Incredibly useful for building brand interest online
The Deal Seeker
- Uses social media for money-saving purposes
- Willing to try new brands if a valuable promotion is presented
- Most likely to become a new customer, if the price is right
The Unhappy Customer
- Very open about dissatisfaction about a product or brand
- Uses social media as the forum for receiving customer service
- Expects a prompt, professional response within an hour
The Ranter (AKA “Troll”)
- Sees social media as a platform for his or her personal frustration
- Often is inconsolable online
- Engaging with these individuals can be tricky and requires considerable restraint
- Opposite end of the spectrum of the ranter; super positive online voice
- Uses social media to feel a part of something
- Loves to participate online
The Loyal Fan
- Exhibits tremendous brand loyalty
- Quick to deal with “trolls” by defending the brand online
- Often gives constructive criticism as well as positive feedback
Sound familiar? If you are already using social media, you’ve likely encountered one of each of these types of users. Which one are you?
Know Your Audience
By understanding what types of social media are available as well as who is using them, businesses great and small can better prepare themselves to enter into online conversations with an informed point of view.
You should now feel like you have a basic understanding of what all the fuss is about regarding social media. However, no amount of reading can replace firsthand experience.
So what are you waiting for? Create a personal profile and get connected!
Facebook | GooglePlus | LinkedIn | Pinterest | Twitter
More to Come
This is the first of our blog post series, How to Make Social Media Work for You. Stay tuned for the next post, which focuses on Facebook best practices for nonprofit and health care organizations.