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What is Social Media?

Over the last decade, social media has boomed to massive proportions, becoming a major force on the internet.  It has reshaped the concept of networking and has provided an entirely new arena for marketing.  Just what is social media and what does it mean for your business?

In simplest terms, just like the name implies, social media is social tool for the exchange and broadcast of information.  Unlike other forms of mass media, where access is restricted and communication is all one-way, social media is available to anyone with internet access and allows two-way interaction (hence the social aspect).  The realm of social media includes everything from social networking sites to tool like Wikipedia (and other wikis).

There are 5 predominant types of social media on the web.  As stated above, the term “social media” encapsulates social networking and wikis, but also photo and video sharing, social news, and social bookmarking.  Each of this have their own implications for business and marketing.

Social networking includes sites like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter (and dozens of others).  Social networking is exactly what it sounds like.  It is the cocktail party taken to the next level.  It allows people from around the world to connect and interact.  People can expand their networks by adding friends online and participating in discussion in online groups.  They can also interact one-one one through profile comments and on-site chat platforms.

Wikis focus more on the exchange and dissemination of information.  The most well-known wiki is, of course, Wikipedia.  Wikipedia is essentially an online, organic encyclopedia.  Other specialized wikis exist for specific groups, activities, etc.  Wikis are always expanding and changing.  This is possible because wikis allow any user to add articles or edit existing ones, which qualifies them as social media.

Photo and video sharing sites, like YouTube and Flickr, allow people to exchange multimedia information.  Users can upload their photos or videos to the site and can download those posted by other users.  YouTube is one of the biggest players in viral video market, which we will discuss elsewhere.

Social news sites include sites like Digg and Reddit, which allow users to rank articles and engage in discussions about content via comment threads.  Almost all of the major mass media news organizations have online social media presences as well.  Interactive news has made such huge strides that traditional newspapers have had to struggle to keep up.

The fifth type, social bookmarking, in one of the more intricate aspects of social media.  These sites  (like Del.icio.us and Simpy) allow users to tag and recommend other websites, or to search through websites that have been bookmarked by other people.  These types of sites are important online marketing tools.  They can (and should) play a role in successful SEO and web promotion strategies.

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