Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

Defining Social Media: 2006 – 2010

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
– George Santayana, Life of Reason, Reason in Common Sense, 1905

A few years ago, I was part of a dedicated group of people who worked together to establish Social Media as an official stage in the progression of New Media. An evolution that is well documented and a conversation still continues today.

As referenced in the original Social Media Manifesto published in June 2007, “Monologue has given way to dialog.”

Before Social Media was officially “Social,” several well-known pundits observed the composition of socially-driven ideas and technologies and as such collaborated to help document the landscape and also define and defend Social Media as a legitimate classification for the democratization of publishing and the equalization of influence.

As the category gained momentum, it elicited a series of opposing views and introduced new ideas as the saga unfolded. At the same time, it also opened Pandora’s box and consequently invited the very masses it was designed to empower to define Social Media. Years later, the definition and its history as documented in Wikipedia are truly representative of just how much and how little we know and also agree on its definition and its destiny.

The initial entry was submitted to Wikipedia in July of 2006 and since then there have been hundreds of edits and iterations – most of which are inaccurate and misleading.

In June of 2007, I called for evangelists, experts, and visionaries to collaborate on seeking and documenting a simple and functional definition for Social Media. The goal was to establish a common point of departure from which we could convert uncharted paths into navigational waypoints documented through shared experiences. In many ways, we were, and still are, digital cartographers.  Those actively involved in the ongoing discussions included Doc Searls, Stowe Boyd, Robert Scoble, Jay Rosen, Chris Heuer, Jeremiah Owyang, Shel Israel, Chris Shipley, Deb Schultz, JD Lasica, et al.

After much analysis, hosted conversations, debates, and continued research, a working definition was proposed, and for the most part, continues to guide many practitioners today.

Short Version

Any tool or service that uses the internet to facilitate conversations.

Long Version

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.

The discussion continues, inspiring modified definitions that are both brilliant and sometimes inexact. Perhaps uniting around a common definition is implausible.

As Social Media evolves it elicits advocates and experiences as it migrates from the edge of early adoption to the center of prevalence.

But as it pursues ubiquity, Social Media, as a designation, is largely misunderstood and as such, guides many practitioners away from their true opportunity and purpose. Their social compass is unknowingly misaligned and what should point to true North may in fact, displace their center of principles and values.

Indeed, Social Media was embraced by many and still continues to trend upward today as the methodologies and opportunities linked to it persevere, inspiring optimism and igniting ambition along the way.

However, the moment social media was christened, its path towards coalescence was imminent. Experts predict that as soon as 2010 or 2011, Social Media will simply merge into the ongoing development of New Media to set the stage for what’s next. Simply said, Social Media will eventually become “media,” representative of an important chapter in its advancement and transformation.

As I shared with Jennifer Leggio in a recent post on ZDNetthat collected 2010 predictions exploring the potential ubiquity of Social Media:

2010 will be the year that we save us from ourselves in social media…we will stop drinking from the proverbial fire hose and we will lean on filtering and curation to productively guide our experiences and production and consumption behavior and interaction within each network. 2010 will also be the year that leaders and pioneers stop referring to social media as a distinct category of media as they/we usher in an era of new collective and machine intelligence that improves collaboration and interaction – freeing us to focus on the engagement that engenders long term relationships.

It’s not so much what it’s called, but what it represents that counts for everything. This is the democratization of information and the equalization of influence. But, in the end, Social Media is only but a chapter in the evolution of New Media and the pages are slowly turning to the future.

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Plaxo, or Facebook

Get the new iPhone app

Read on your Kindle

Click the image below to buy the book/poster:

231 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Defining Social Media: 2006 – 2010”

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Brian, terrific insights and visuals.

    I agree that social communications now have evolved to a point where they can be removed (or transition away from) from the handbasket of vertical offerings that marketers – particularly brand clients – tend to lean on and make an 'official' entry into the mainstream. With that said (and not to split hairs or defer to semantic claims), I'm not so sure that 'social media is just human communication gone digital', as Venessa mentions. It seems to me that the socialization of media is a function of culture – and its respective creation, recreation and adoption – that transcends or lives within experiences that are had online or off (or ideally, the combination of the two). In other words, all media is inherently social, and it is our responsibility as marketers to curate and extract mythology from everyday circumstance, even when we are – shame on us – prescribing messages or manipulating purchase intent (which, unfortunately, we are wired to do).

    Where I do believe digital is and will continue to be predominate is in catalyzing more relevant communications streams, as well as enlisting communities to more closely and responsibly moderate content in a publishing capacity (as you mention). As we have seen with this profound cultural shift, democracy does not come without the freedoms of its own chaos, and ubiquity must support a more meaningful discourse between people. Perhaps as advertising, PR, entertainment, media and publishing formally converge, the idea of 'people as media' becomes a reality, thus obviating the need to socialize and synchronize all of our outreach efforts accordingly. 2010 could very well be the breakout year…


    Gunther Sonnenfeld

    • ah, i shouldn't have said *just*… i'm usually more careful with that kind of this-or-that binary talk.

      but i like what you said about all media is inherently social; don't know if you saw this, but it was just brought to my attention, a really great read from a branding/marketing perspective – “There's No Such Thing As Social Media” by @Aerocles:

      and in response to your second point, about more meaningful discourse… i came across this really excellent piece this morning – 'Rethinking Education as the Practice of Freedom'; it's about critical pedagogy, but i think that there is very much an informal educational/learning process going on with our online interactions, and so though the article is geared towards the classroom, i think we can all learn something from it. it mentions the need for “critical thinking, self-reflection and imagination”, and i think those are generally critical 21st century skills. especially as our inboxes and information streams become so cluttered with crap, knowing how to efficiently filter content to tease out the good stuff is a necessary step towards media literacy. then knowing how to reflect upon that information and chew on it intelligently with others – well, like you said, that helps make you into a functioning participant in a democracy.


    • Gunther Sonnenfeld says:

      Venessa – no worries, I make the same mistake all the time 😉 In the true nature of shared currency, I've borrowed heavily from folks like Henry Jenkins, Faris Yakob and Jeff Gomez, so the perspective of media being naturally hypersocial is nothing new, but nonetheless should be considered more seriously.

      Thank you so much for these links, and what you say about media literacy is too true — these interactions are all formative points in our daily paths to self-realization… or dare I say, enlightenment. Whether we can construe them as social efforts or not, we are culture curators, first and foremost.

      If you or anyone else is interested, I have synthesized some of this thinking in a preso I recently did:

      A quick (or not so quick) aside, the educational piece you've linked to and the subsequent commentary about developing 'critical 21st Century skills' are very timely, as some colleagues and I are building a new transmedia platform in conjunction with Stanford's IFTF and the University of Waterloo, that focuses on educational reform, infrastructure enhancement and microfinancing initiatives at the local level. It would be fantastic (and a great honor) if we could enlist the talents of people like yourself, Brian and other great social thinkers in this development. One thought is to hold a TED-like brainstorm, and disseminate the information as shareable media that could support a variety of causes.


    • briansolis says:

      “functioning participant in a democracy” or a productive member of a society that benefits and grows because of our active contribution.

  2. James Ball says:

    When I came to my senses today after the snow flurries deemed “blizzard” here in Georgia…I remembered that you said you would post this today. I typed on over to see, and here it is! Like a Christmas morning it was to me. I love the piece Brian. I forgot – you didn’t. I appreciate this as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join the Newsletter

Sign up for the newsletter.

Stay Connected