Social media is a phrase that we throw around a lot these days, often to describe what we post on sites and apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and others.
But if we use the term to describe a site like Facebook, and also a site like Digg, plus a site like Wikipedia, and even a site like I Can Has Cheezburger, then it starts to get more confusing. Just what is social media anyway?
The term is used so vaguely that it can basically be used to describe almost any website on the internet today.
Or maybe not. Some people have more of a restricted view of social media, often equating it to mean the same as social networking (a.k.a. Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Other people don't consider blogs to fall under the social media category.
The "social" part: refers to interacting with other people by sharing information with them and receiving information from them.
The "media" part: refers to an instrument of communication, like the internet (while TV, radio, and newspapers are examples of more traditional forms of media).
Common Social Media Features
The following list of common features are dead giveaways of a social media site.
If you're questioning whether a particular site could be classified as social or not, try looking for at least one of these features.
User accounts: If a site allows visitors to create their own accounts that they can log into, then that's a good sign there's going to be social interaction. You can't really share information or interact with others online without doing it through a user account.
Profile pages: Since social media is all about communication, a profile page is often necessary to represent an individual. It often includes information about the individual user, like a profile photo, bio, website, feed of recent posts, recommendations, recent activity and more.
Friends, followers, groups, hashtags and so on: Individuals use their accounts to connect with other users. They can also use them to subscribe to certain forms of information.
News feeds: When users connect with other users on social media, they're basically saying, "I want to get information from these people." That information is updated for them in real-time via their news feed.
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Personalization: Social media sites usually give users the flexibility to configure their user settings, customize their profiles to look a specific way, organize their friends or followers, manage the information they see in their news feeds and even give feedback on what they do or don't want to see.
Notifications: Any site or app that notifies users about specific information is definitely playing the social media game. Users have total control over these notifications and can choose to receive the types of notifications that they want.
Information updating, saving or posting: If a site or an app allows you to post absolutely anything, with or without a user account, then it's social! It could be a simple text-based message, a photo upload, a YouTube video, a link to an article or anything else.
Like buttons and comment sections: Two of the most common ways we interact on social media are via buttons that represent a "like" plus comment sections where we can share our thoughts.
Review, rating or voting systems: Besides liking and commenting, lots of social media sites and apps rely on the collective effort of the community to review, rate and vote on information that they know about or have used. Think of your favorite shopping sites or movie review sites that use this social media feature.