The difference between social media and social networking

When the New York Times infers that social networking helped Barack Obama get the most powerful job in the world, you know there is a serious paradigm shift underway.

So when you decide your organization needs some of this “social stuff” for your own, how do you know what to ask for?

The social part is easy. You know you want a way for people to connect. Hopefully they’ll talk about your organization and your fantastic products and services. But what’s the difference between social media, and social networking? What do you need?

Social media is still media: a means to transmit information. The difference is that social media offers the opportunity for anyone to create or disseminate the information.

group-of-people-talkingSocial networking refers to people with some shared characteristics associating together, and social networks or social networking sites are where this happens.

We don’t think of television or radio as places; they are channels for communication and we can access the information at our home, in our car, or at our favorite sports bar. The message may be pervasive: it isn’t tied to a specific location. It is the message that is primary. Media isn’t a place.

Networking tends to be more context-focused. When we speak of social networking sites, we speak of Facebook or mySpace. In real life, we may think of where we like to spend our time: the golf course, the gym, the local starbucks. We may go to these places because of the people and the atmosphere, because it gives us the opportunity to engage with others with similar interests or experiences.

Do you want to create a radio station, or a coffee shop? Do you want to offer people an easier way to spread your message, or do you want them to hang out? Don’t worry, it’s not that easy a question to answer. It depends on what you want to accomplish, and who your audience is and what THEY want to accomplish. But getting comfortable with these concepts is a first step towards social success!

8 thoughts on “The difference between social media and social networking

  • At the Ohio Web Leaders session this morning (great event – we still miss you in Ohio!), the definition was given that in simplest terms, social media is just people having conversations, building relationships and sharing information online.

    That said, I see social networking as the act of people doing those things – being social, sharing, interacting, relating. I see social media as the tools and sites we use to do those things. I also see social media as “shared media” – for example, on Delicious I may or may not interact with others but I am sharing links and sites of interest to me which may also be of interest to, and accessed by, others. That makes it social… even if I am not being particularly social with others on that site. Make sense?

    You’ve posted a great discussion starter, and I look forward to seeing what other commenters have to say here!

  • What you say is true, but you must admit that people like Obama, in the case of the election, had an unfair advantage as there were so many people looking for information on him and his beliefs. He was smart enough to tap into this quest for knowledge.

    For others such as ourselves, a great deal of marketing would be needed to create even a minute amount of interest in our services, products or whatever we are promoting.

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  • I like your metaphor of broadcast medium versus gathering places. However, one tiny distinction cries for attention when it comes to your definition of social networking as “people with some shared characteristics associating together”: it is the relationships (associating together) that make the network, not the characteristics. While people in social networks very often have similar characteristics, this is correlation not causality. The more diverse the network the less characteristics are shared, yet there remains the network.

    The existence of a network does not suggest the existence of homogeneity within that network any more than homogeneity in a collection of people suggests that they are in any way connected.

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