Social Media — A Definition

I’ve been doing an “Introduction to Social Media for Attorney Marketing” luncheon seminar, and one thing that people have told me they really appreciate is that I start out by giving a definition of social media. We can’t seem to read 3 pages on the web without encountering the phrase “social media,” but do we really know what it is? Here’s how I define it.

Social Media Defined

Social media are nothing more than a special class of web sites — second-generation web sites, if you will. Think of first-generation web sites as those that are created by an authority of some sort (the New York Times, WebMD, Smith & Smith law firm) that publish information to the internet for you to come and read using a “top-down,” one-to-many publishing model. Second-generation, social media web sites, by contrast, are platforms that provide users the ability and tools to create and publish their own mini web sites or web pages. The content on these sites is not created from on high, but created by the participants — from the “bottom up” — using a many-to-many model. We become active participants in creating, commenting, rating and recommending content rather than passive consumers of it.

Social media sites have 3 defining characteristics.

  • Majority of content is user generated
  • High degree of participation/interaction between users
  • Easily integrates with other sites

By this definition then, social media platforms include things like blogs (such as Blogger, WordPress, Typepad), social networking (Facebook, Linkedin), social bookmarking (Delicious, Stumble Upon) news sharing (Digg, Yahoo!  Buzz) and photo and video sharing sites (Flickr, Vimio and YouTube). These are, of course, just a few examples.

As time goes on, these categories are blurring. In addition, traditional media (such as the New York Times) are enabling social media capabilities within their traditional publishing models creating a new kind of hybrid.

Hope that helps. If anyone has anything to add to this definition, please feel free to comment.

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Posted in Law Firm Marketing, Marketing, New Media / Internet
5 comments on “Social Media — A Definition
  1. I’ve read recently that within ten years all of the web will be the social web. There will no longer be a distinction between media and social media.

    I think in many ways that’s already becoming true. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find websites that don’t have at least some user created content, whether as comments, forums, or uploaded material.

  2. Amy Campbell says:

    Thanks for your comment Julie. I agree with your observation.

  3. Monobel says:

    Thank you for your definition. And what about an scientific (an academic research) definition? It is hard to find a definition of social media.

  4. Allen Sanderson says:

    I think that the definition social media is dynamic, not static. As soon as we try to put it in a canned definition, the consumers will define it, morphing it into more than we could have expected.

    This is seen in the video at

    We must allow the users of social networks the liberty to be free to change, grow and be, who they are today, as well as who they will become tomorrow.

  5. Amy – I’ve been looking for a good definition of social media for an article I’m writing and thought you had some great insight. The only thing I disagree with is the need for a site to integrate with other sites in order to be a social media site. While this is certainly beneficial to the site, social media sites can stand on their own, in my opinion. A wordpress blog, for example, is certainly an example of social media thanks to the ability of its readers to leave comments; but that blog can stand on its own (no Facebook or other integrations) and can still be considered a form of social media.

    As Allen suggests above, the dynamic nature of these sites is probably more important than anything else.

    Thanks for sharing!