Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Social Media

This is a cross-post from my blog on the military Social Media tool milBook. The purpose of this post is to provide a brief overview of Social Media.

Social media, online collaboration, and Knowledge Management are all interrelated, with Social Media the newest of the three. I researched several definitions of Social Media and Social Networking, and used them to derive my own definition:

Social networking is the practice of increasing the number of one's business and/or social contacts by making connections through individuals. Social media is the use of technology combined with this social interaction targeted at forming and enabling a potentially massive community of participants to productively collaborate. Social media technologies enable this collaboration and support tapping the power of the collective in ways previously unachievable, transforming people from content consumers into content producers. It's a fusion of sociology and technology, transforming monologue (one to many) into dialog (many to many).

In my research, I found a Gartner Blog by Anthony Bradley that outlined six core principles that underlie the value of social-media solutions, and, in combination, serve as the defining characteristics that set social media apart from other forms of communication and collaboration.

  1. Participation
  2. Collective
  3. Transparency
  4. Independence
  5. Persistence
  6. Emergence

Participation: Successful social-media solutions tap into the power of mass collaboration through user participation. The only way to achieve substantial benefits from social media is by mobilizing the community to contribute. You can’t capture the “wisdom of the crowds” if the crowds don’t participate.

Collective: Varied definitions and applications of the term “collective” abound and cover a wide spectrum of meanings. Here, as a core principle of social media, the use of the term “collective” is tightly aligned with its root origins “to collect.” With social media, participants “collect” around a unifying entity. People collect around the Facebook social graph to contribute their profile information. People collect on Wikipedia to add encyclopedia articles. People collect on YouTube to share videos. In these examples, as in all social media, people collect around the content to contribute rather than individually create the content and distribute it.

Transparency: With social media, it is not enough to collect participant contributions. A social-media solution also provides transparency in that participants are privy to each other’s participation. They get to see, use, reuse, augment, validate, critique and rate each other’s contributions. Without transparency, there is no participant collaboration on content. It is in this transparency that the community improves content, unifies information, self-governs, self-corrects, evolves, creates emergence and otherwise propels its own advancement.

Independence: The principle of independence means that any participant can contribute completely independent of any other participant. This is also called anytime, anyplace collaboration. Participants can collaborate no matter where they are or whoever else may be posting content at that time. Generally, there is no workflow or document check-in/check-out that can bottleneck collaboration and impact the scalability required for mass collaboration. No coordination between collaborators is required.

Persistence: With social media, the fruits of participant contributions are captured in a persistent state for others to view, share and augment. This is one of the more obvious principles. It differentiates social media from synchronous conversational interactions, where much of the information exchanged is either lost or captured, most often only in part, as an additional scribing activity.

Emergence: The emergence principle embodies the recognition that you can’t predict, model, design and control all human collaborative interactions and optimize them as you would a fixed business process. It is the recognition that one benefit of social media is as an environment for social structures to emerge. These structures may be latent or hidden organizational structures, expertise, work processes, content organization, information taxonomies, and more.

Here is a partial list of capabilities provided by Social Media technologies. Not all examples of Social Media have all of these capabilities, but a system must provide most of these to be considered a Social Media platform.

These capabilities are more oriented toward the individual users:

  • Customizable Look/Feel
  • Profile Information
  • Networking (Connections, Friends, etc.)
  • Activity Feeds
  • Private/Direct Messaging
  • File/Photo Upload Abilities
  • Search
While these capabilities are more for interacting with other users:

  • Blogs
  • Wikis
  • Discussion Forums
  • Chat
  • Calendars
  • Tagging
  • Groups (Open or Closed)
  • Rating Systems
This is merely a quick overview of a large, complex, and rapidly changing subject area. There is a wealth of information out on the Web, and here is the list of sources I used to prepare this post:

Duct Tape Marketing

Social Media Vision

Social Networking Definition from



And especially Anthony Bradley Gartner Blog cited above. The principles shown above are a summary of a Gartner published work: “The Six Core Principles of Social-Media-Based Collaboration” that is available to Gartner clients or for a fee.

This content is strictly my opinions on the subject. Please comment as you are so moved.

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