Defining something like Social Media can be difficult because so many have interpretations on what it actually means but I don’t intend to get into the applications, software, programs and the tools, more the core aspects of what defines social media and what makes it all work and what areas it covers but this is something I encounter with businesses who know they want to be involved but are scared of the interaction.
So lets start at the definitions already out there via a quick search on Google:
Wikipedia on Social Media
Social media are media designed to be disseminated through social interaction, created using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques. Social media supports the human need for social interaction, using Internet- and web-based technologies to transform broadcast media monologues (one to many) into social media dialogues (many to many). It supports the democratization of knowledge and information, transforming people from content consumers into content producers. Businesses also refer to social media as user-generated content (UGC) or consumer-generated media (CGM).
SearchEngine Watch on Social Media
social media: A category of sites that is based on user participation and user-generated content. They include social networking sites like LinkedIn or Facebook, social bookmarking sites like Del.icio.us, social news sites like Digg or Reddit, and other sites that are centered on user interaction.
Anvilmediainc on Social Media:
An umbrella term that defines the various activities that integrate technology, social interaction, and the construction of words and pictures. This interaction, and the manner in which information is presented, depends on the varied perspectives and “building” of shared meaning, as people share their stories, and understandings.
Now look closely at these definitions. None of them are exactly alike. Sure, they touch on the same ideas when it comes to user-generated content, social interaction and social dialogues but they give a very different feeling to the whole concept by the statements (and some are short statements) they have made.
So let me sum it up in my own unique and even shorter (I think Im on twitter to much) way.
Social media is about people using technology to pass information to each other and share.
Yep, thats how I see it. Dead simple. Forget all the hocus pocus, and jargon, magical words and scientific crap. Its about using the tools in available to connect, engage and share with each other.
Now , if thats social media, what difference is social media marketing?
Wikipedia on Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing is a term that describes the act of using social networks, online communities, blogs, wikis or any other collaborative Internet form of media for marketing, sales, public relations and customer service. Common social media marketing tools include Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube.
In the context of Internet marketing, social media refers to a collective group of web properties whose content is primarily published by users, not direct employees of the property (e.g. the vast majority of video on YouTube is published by non-YouTube employees).
Social media marketing has three important aspects:
(1) Creating buzz or news worthy events, videos, tweets, or even blog entries that attract attention, and become viral in nature. Buzz is the piece that makes social media marketing work, it replicates a message not through purchase of an ad, but thorough user to user contact.
(2) Building ways that fans of a brand or company can promote it themselves in multiple online social media venues. Fan pages in Twitter, MySpace of Facebook are exactly this.
(3) It is conversational. Social media marketing is not fully controlled by the organization, it allows for user participation and dialogue. Potentially a badly designed social media marketing campaign can backfire on the organization that created it. That is the reason that SMM campaigns must fully engage and respect the users.
According to Lloyd Salmons, first chairman of the Internet Advertising Bureau social media council “Social media isn’t just about big networks like Facebook and MySpace, it’s about brands having conversations.”.
The parameters surrounding social media marketing are arguably elusive today; however a growing consensus suggests social media marketing and Social Media are here to stay. Nielsen published a report  suggesting that blogs and social networks make up the emerging social web. The social web includes social media sites and it is a location within which social media marketing takes place.
So here we have it. I’m not going to quote any more because this definition is, for me, as accurate as it gets.
Now the important part to note here, and this is aimed directly at companies in Europe (who in general are not as accustomed to this medium as their counterparts in the USA) who want to get involved in social media and of course, social media marketing.
Businesses take note
Here’s where you need to take note.People will react to you directly on social media. This is not a one way advertisement like you will be familiar with which transmits via a newspaper, radio or TV. Once its out, you can expect a reaction and comment, from anywhere. Absolutely anywhere and it wont always be positive, then again it wont always be negative.
That’s where the fear of social media comes into the situation for business, and its something I never understood. Ignoring it wont make it go away. Dealing with it will. So if business decide to enter into social media they have to be prepared to stay involved, not just hit send and walk away and if business do not want to be involved, well, guess what, it wont stop other people talking about you in conversation and in groups.
So what would you prefer to do as a business. Get involved in the conversations about you or let the social media realm talk about you, in whatever way they want? Food for thought.