The Problem With “Social Media”.

The Problem With “Social Media”.

Over client trainings and some chats with friends who are less social media savvy, I realised a common misconception on the term “Social Media”. So that brings us back to the fundamental question of what exactly IS “Social Media”? And what’s the problem with this term?

As quoted from Wikipedia,

Social media can be said to have three components;

  1. Concept (art, information, or meme).
  2. Media (physical, electronic, or verbal).
  3. Social interface (intimate direct, community engagement, social viral, electronic broadcast or syndication, or other physical media such as print).

In a definition given by Brian Solis as a result of ongoing discussions between some of the industry’s best practitioners, including Doc Searls, Stowe Boyd, Robert Scoble, Jay Rosen, Chris Heuer, Jeremiah Owyang, Shel Israel, Chris Shipley, Deb Schultz, JD Lasica, et al. They conclude that…

Social Media is the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers. It is the shift from a broadcast mechanism, one-to-many, to a many-to-many model, rooted in conversations between authors, people, and peers.

In simple concepts, if… (as taken from Wikipedia)

  • Print media is communications delivered via paper or canvas
  • Published media is any media made available to the public
  • Digital Media is electronic media used to store, transmit, and receive digitized information

Then simply to say… social media can be defined as

Communications delivered through Social Channels

But of course, that is streamlining it to a very basic idea. The nature of social media works distinctively different from many other types of media. However, I would like to bring your attention to the two main keywords I see in the statement above. That is Communications and Social. The two words suggest 1) Listening & Talking and also 2) Engaging. Which more or less sums up the most important but most commonly overlooked aspects in Social Media.

So What is the Problem with “Social Media”?

As social media is largely dependent on the use of technology, hence many folks commonly interpret it by the technological platforms in which these communications sit on.

I have probably heard this a thousand times.

Q : What is Social Media?
A : Oh! Facebook and Twitter?

While this answer is not technically wrong, many people miss out the importance of “engagement”. So when I try to explain how conversations are being carried out, I may be returned with either one of the following reaction.

A: Oh! You mean spamming?
B : But what do you talk about?

Brands aside, when further explained to individuals on the great potential social media can do for their personal profiles, the responses are usually

A : But I have nothing to say about myself.
B : But I don’t want anyone to know about me.

Don’t be mistaken, I don’t mean privacy is wrong. In fact, the more active you are on social media, the more caution you should take on your privacy status. What I am saying is there is a common misunderstanding of what exactly social media is all about. It isn’t about platforms or technology alone, it is also not about being egoistic and exposing your privacy to the world.  Last but not least, it is not about a group of people gossiping on the internet space. Sure, there are bound to be times of casual conversations, but those conversations do not reign over the actual sharing of great ideas and resources.

The other common misunderstanding is that “media” indicates a connection with “journalism”. Well, I will blame it on the commonly coined term, “citizen journalism”.  This term has been used to describe the trend of breaking news on Twitter, the convenience of allowing the public to send photo stories to online tabloids like “Stomp” in Singapore. The ability for anyone to write articles, shoot photos  and host their own shows online. This has created a lot of skepticism for many people, especially traditional folks; irking at the fact that news from the internet is now a job of any tom, dick or harry. That concept alone puts people off.

The problem with social media is… people have all kinds of weird perception of this term. It is an overly-used and overly-hyped (and of course, overly-rated) term that actually serves no purpose except in describing the nature of this medium. Think about this… 20 years ago, you could live without email at work and things still click. But 2 decades later today, if your email server went down for an hour at work, you are likely to be screaming your head off at the technician. Social media will become a way of life that is indispensable in the same way. It is simply a natural evolution of technology that provides us with another communication platform. It makes our world smaller by connecting people from different corners of the globe. It facilitates all the social activities you would previously have to meet up in person to execute. There is no rocket science in the idea of social media. Don’t be intimidated by big words like these.

The Two Cs to SOCIAL

My simple explanation to social media can essentially be broken into two keywords. Communication and Conversations.


  • Verbal (written) communication: Conversations through messages, status updates, voice chats etc.
  • Non-verbal communication: Sharing photos, videos, games, virtual goods etc.
  • Real-time: One of the uniqueness of social media is the ability for real-time interactions to take place.


  • Dialogue : Two-persons conversation.
  • Multi-way: Conversations from multiple sources/directions involving many participants at the same time.
  • Communication Platforms : Photo/Video sharing sites (eg. Youtube), blogs (like this), social networking sites (eg. Facebook). These sites may house communication tools like sending messages, status updates, poking, send a gift, social games, photo gallery etc.

I hope that clears the air for many people who are overwhelmed by what social media is all about. Whatever platforms that spring up, be it Facebook or Twitter or Foursquare. They are but tools that help facilitate human’s desire for communication. Our lifestyles has evolved, but not so much has changed in our need to share our lives with one another. The only difference? It just became easier.

Related posts

9 thoughts on “The Problem With “Social Media”.

  1. Nice post. And a very pertinent question. When a phrase becomes popular it starts to lose all meaning. When it was first coined, “social media” made perfect sense, but even the word media means different things to different people. I like your 2 c’s.

    My take, from our social media learning centre which needs updating, is:

    “social media is social , because all these tools have changed the way we buy, sell, communicate, compare and relate.

    It’s media because, like newspapers, television and radio, social media conveys news and forms opinion.”

    The media is not media in the advertising sense (a commodity to buy to reach people) or the PR sense (a force to influence to reach people) but in the hobby press sense (a way to tell your own story). That’s why it seems easier the smaller you are.

  2. Hey Simon, spot on! Your explanation is direct, clear and concise. I find a lot of people confused with all the developments and technical know-hows in social media that they often forget the true essence of its function.

    We should just go back to basics. =)

  3. Hi Belinda!

    Good attempt at breaking down what social media is. I’ve also tried to explain social media many times and I thought I would share my explanation with you too.

    I try to explain that there are 2 sides of the coin to social media – technology & relationships. The technology part is the whizzy web 2.0 platforms, and the relationships are the conversations and connections that power it. I’ve also written about this before:

    Ultimately I think it’s not easy to tell someone what it is, they have to be shown social media in action or experience it themselves.

    Keep up the good work in educating your clients and friends about social media. Cheers!

  4. I think one very important C in SOcial media is community. Without an influencing online community, we can keep conversing and communicating; but only a community can push up brand mentions

  5. Hey Vinni, from the perspective of marketing communications, you are absolutely right. But it’s really the communications and conversations that drives the community. While marketing professionals see social media as a tactic to reach consumers, the man on the street is just interested to use it for his/her own reasons. They don’t actually get on there to connect with brands. At least not top-of-mind. The this post hopes to answer is the confusion to the term “social media”. I think we are all spot on. =)

  6. Hey David, finally your post shows! Special attention needs to be given to it. =) Reading your references now. Thanks for sharing. Yes I agree it can be divided into “platforms” and the “action” (eg. conversations, sharing etc). Usually people don’t understand is mainly because they are reluctant to try due to the ‘faddish’ term.

  7. Hi Belinda,

    Very good post, clarifies well what’s going on about SNS and how they are perceived.
    Social media is actually far from being a fad and it’s been around since much longer than people think. Just look at websites like Slashdot or Fark, and the influence they still have 🙂

    I disagree about online news being a job for any given newbie though. If you want to have even a little result, you need a minimum culture of the internet and serious writing skills (I have the former, still wondering about the latter).

    Anyway, you’re doing it right, and this post inspired me to write something as well, more complementary than contradictive. It’s here if you wanna take a look :

    Anyway, thanks and good job!

  8. I agree with Vinni. For me social media is all about community. To encourage users to be engaged as publishers rather than passive consumers. In the broadest terms Social Media Marketing is using these tools and techniques to do word-of-mouth marketing. The biggest problem I’ve seen with SMM is that it really requires a cultural change. For instance: the operators of the business need to listen to what their consumers and suppliers are telling them and not turn into a little storm cloud when it’s something they disagree with =)

  9. […] reading a very good blog post from @belindaang about the nature of social media, I've been tempted to leave a nice little comment, but I let the idea boil my brain overnight, […]

Comments are closed.