Social media is the overarching term given to people’s online interactions through websites, other online programmes and mobile phone applications, through which they share information and create original content as well as engage with online communities and networks.

What is Social Media?
Learn what makes social media distinctive from other forms of marketing

Social media is characterised by the interaction of online users, whether it be public conversations or the promotion of each other’s content. This is distinct from the use of or the interactions on a traditional website, as the content on display there can only be published by that site’s webmaster or approved administrators. In contrast, publication of content is not necessarily restricted on the social networks, where social media interactions take place freely and users have their own distinct identity (profile) on the social network they are publishing to.

Social media content can consist of the written word, video or audio recordings, graphic design (infographics) or photographs; as long as it can be shared or commented on freely, it is considered social media content. Such content can be as short as single sentence or be a series of articles, video recordings or images, but most social media postings are usually quite brief, given character or time limitations imposed by the social networks, with most postings referring other users to more substantial content hosted elsewhere on the internet.

There is an important distinction to make between social media and the social networks. Social media is the phenomenon of the interactions of people online along with the content that is generated as a result, whereas a social network is the platform on which this takes place. Popular social networks include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest. Others are growing in popularity too, such as Instagram and Snapchat. Often social networks merge, with a dominant partner acquiring another platform, such as was the case with Facebook absorbing Instagram into its own network functionality. Google make it a key strength of their brand that all their platforms (YouTube, Google+ and Gmail) can be managed and linked to one user profile and dashboard.

Away from these main social networks, certain types of websites and communication tools are also generally considered to fall under the definition of social media, such as internet discussion forums (the forerunners of the social networks we use today), open video and audio streaming sites (YouTube, Vimeo), blogs (Blogger, WordPress) and recordable video conferencing (Skype, Google Hangouts).

Most people who use social media have profiles on more than one social network and frequently use different social networks for different purposes, often demarcated between personal and professional use.

This work/life divide can often result in some users having more than one profile on one network so other users can distinguish in what capacity they are posting (this is common practice on Twitter), although some social networks, such Facebook and LinkedIn, regulate against individuals having more than one profile under their Terms and Conditions.

Most social networks encourage users to have profiles as individual users, although companies and other organisations can and do have a presence on social media as well. Sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn encourage users to create a dedicated page or company profile away from their own individual presence on the network. These pages have special properties that assist with the promotion of that interest as well as aiding the social networks themselves, through the imposition of fees, to gain those pages wider exposure beyond the actions of the individual who set them up.

Social media is an increasingly important communication medium for businesses and individuals alike, and it has even started to influence our language and usage of other mediums, such as the introduction of the hashtag into modern parlance.

Nick Lewis Communications can provide training in social media marketing as well as offer professional management of social media feeds. To find out, please e-mail info@nicklewiscommunications.com or call 07970 839137.