Clarifying “Social (Network* OR Media)”

A friend recently asked for clarification. What is the difference between social media and social networking?

Yours may differ, but here’s my take:

“Social Networking” is an activity. When you go to a professional conference or gathering, you’re engaged in the activity of social networking. People you know introduce you to new people you don’t know. You exchange business cards and, now acquainted, may contact each other in the future directly without the common intermediary who introduced you.

The activity of social networking can take place anywhere, any place, and any way people establish and maintain these connections.

The activity of social networking has been amazingly facilitated in recent years by the appearance and development of online tools built with the specific purpose of illuminating and illustrating the complex web of relationships between people. I refer to these as online social networksPosts on this blog about online social networks

Lee LeFever does a great job explaining how online social networks facilitate social networking in the CommonCraft video embedded below, “Social Networks in Plain English.”

I think that online social networks are a subset of social media. Often, “social media,” “new media,” “the social Web,” or “the read/write Web” are used as interchangeable synonyms. For the most part, I’d argue that “social media” is anything that makes information move in a more multidirectional manner.This includes, for instance, your local newspaper having community forums and commenting and links for social bookmarking, etc.

There’s no doubt that a kind of networking can and does happen on YouTube or Slideshare or del.icio.usI know, I know…we’re supposed to call it now. I don’t wanna’. I like the old URL better.– but these sites are focused on sharing user-generated content (videos or slides or links with metadata), not on cultivating relationships- so I think they’re not quite the same species as Facebook or LinkedIn.

Put another way: I think of online tool/site/service as an “online social network” if it exists primarily for the purpose of exposing or maintaining the web of interpersonal connections that already exist or the purpose of facilitating new connections. In my venn diagram, online social networks would all be inside the “social media” circle.

Still, this is sort of just thinking aloud. What do you think?

8 thoughts on “Clarifying “Social (Network* OR Media)”

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