What is Social Media?

Social Media refers to Internet technologies that allow for individuals to interact with other individuals, groups, and businesses in an immediate, personal way. It allows people to create networks of people with whom they want to interact, in a way they most want to interact with them.

Social Media platforms include sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube, FourSquare, Blogspot, and others.

Many have tried to compare Social Media to a giant cocktail party. I prefer to think of it more as a giant county fair. If you’ve ever been to a fair, it’s a big, crowded place with a LOT of different things to do. There are displays of animals, arts and crafts, produce, etc. There are areas where vendors can show off their wares. There are concert and entertainment areas. There is a food court. And of course, there are all the pathways that link it all together.

Now, what makes Social Media a bit different is that with the Internet, the state fair covers almost the entire world, but you can get to anyone or anywhere at the fair in less than a second.

So if I decide to join into this giant fair I can interact with it in several ways. First of all, I could decide to look for friends to see if we want to connect. Through the magic of the Internet I can find everyone I know, if they’re at the fair, within seconds. We can immediately tap into one another’s heads and talk to each other as if we were right next to each other, but still be in different parts of the fair.

Jane could be telling all of us about this cute dog act on one of the stages. Derrick could tell us about this beautiful angora rabbit that got a blue ribbon. Monica could be telling us all about The Best corn dog booth she just found. And Terry could be telling us in graphic detail about the after-effects of riding The Zipper.

Through Social Media we can get all these messages at once in a format that makes sense to us. We can use it to keep in touch with people we want to keep in touch with as often as we want. But it goes farther than that.

Suppose none of us knows about the livestock show, and you want to find out more. You may be able to instantly find a list about everything everyone at the fair has said about livestock today. You could find a list of livestock breeders present at the fair. You could find the official information posted by fair officials about the livestock section. You could find newspaper reports about different breeders or their livestock. It’s all there, and you can search through it in any way you can think of.

Suppose you happen to find a comment made by Jacob about angus steers. You could decide that Jacob is the guy to talk to about that breed, and instantly send him a request to tap into his head as well. If he accepts, you now can add his stream of thoughts to the stream you already have going with Jane, Derrick, Monica, and Terry. If you hear something from Jacob that you want to pass on to everyone else, you can! Instantly! Jane might like what Jacob has to say, too, and add him to her network as well. And your network grows and grows.

So how does any of this help businesses? Well, remember that there are vendors and food providers at the fair, too. People are continually passing by their booths, stopping to talk to them, or buying their wares. Remember how Monica told her network about the corn dog booth she found? Now Jane, Derrick, and Terry know about it, too. They know she liked it. If they visit the food court and see that booth chances are they’ll stop and buy a corn dog.

That corn dog vendor can also do for his booth what you did to learn about the livestock show. He could search to see what everyone at the fair is saying about his booth. If he comes across Monica’s comment to her friends he could perhaps reach out to her and say “Thanks for the kind review. Next time you stop by I’ll give you and your friends a free small drink!”

Or suppose he comes across a comment that says “I tried those corn dogs, and mine was undercooked. I think the hot dog was still partly frozen.” The vendor could reach out to that person and say “I’m sorry you had a bad experience. Come by my booth again and I’ll give you another corn dog, cooked to perfection, for free.”

This is, of course a bit of an over-simplification. For one thing, different Social Media platforms work differently. Not every service allows you to tap into everything anyone has ever said. For every Twitter, where everything you “tweet” is put out into the Internet for everyone to find, there is a Facebook where, if you so choose, only your approved friends will ever know what you say. For every YouTube, where any comment is published for everyone to see, there is a blog where no one can comment, or where comments are not published unless the blog’s editor approves them.

But the bottom line is that Social Media is a tool-set for connecting with everyone and everything you find of interest, in the way you most enjoy, instantly, and from anywhere in the world. Or right next door.