What Media Are Social Media?

March 6, 2009

Harvard Business School's John Deighton, an expert on interactive marketing, presented on his research during the faculty's Research in Action day.

He framed the conversation around the question of what "are" social media?  He asserts they must have the following characteristics:

  • Membership
  • Profiles
  • Friends
  • Ability to browse other profiles

By this definition many types of non-traditional media, such as interactive television, aren't "social media."  Other technology-enabled social activities-conference calls-also fail to meet the test.  Why?  Social media are defined by public displays of connection.

While a blog is a public display of self, it's not a public display of connection.  Even some media designed specifically to facilitate social interactions (like eHarmony) aren't truly social.  You cannot browse the dating network of people on the site.  Privacy is important to online daters.

Great, so now we have agreed upon an academic definition of social media.  So what??

Here's what's interesting.  Deighton predicts that this cluster of applications that feature truly bi-directional confirmed friendship status (LinkedIn, Facebook, Bebo, etc.) may subsume the entire space of the Web.  These applications replace advertisers' pressure with peer pressure.  Look at the way, for instance, Obama mobilized voters to self-actualize.  Social media accelerated a journey that normally takes decades—State Senator to President—into just four years.

How are social media accelerating your business?  How are social media changing the way your customers make decisions?


 Linda Lee's avatar
Linda Lee

Well put. Everyone is yammering on about social media," "social networking," and people ask me, what does the mean exactly?
I like this breakdown."

Clay S's avatar
Clay S NMC team member

Hey Zach,

Good post. Enjoyed it. Another interesting aspect of this are services that take non-social" (by this definition) media and make them social.

A quick example is Disqus or Facebook comments. Both of these services allow you to install commenting mechanisms on your blog. They then go the next step further of plugging commenters into the Disqus/FB network which consist of your four criteria. So, these services take "non-social" media and make it social.

Blogs are a softball pitch that are pretty easy to make social. It'll be interesting to see if other media start moving more towards being social and how they do so."

Leave a comment