Anthony Bradley

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Anthony J. Bradley
GVP
3 years at Gartner
19 years in IT

Anthony J. Bradley is a group vice president in Gartner Research, managing teams that cover business process management, project and portfolio management, enterprise architecture, IT procurement, IT sourcing, and vendor management. Read Full Bio

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A New Definition of Social Media

by Anthony J. Bradley  |  January 7, 2010  |  18 Comments

I have been reading in the blogosphere and in the general press about the need for a better definition of social media. Indeed, my discussions with clients have validated this need. After having spent 10 months of 2009 hand collecting and analyzing 200 cases of successful social media implementations (I actually looked at over 400 cases but weeded out those that were not social in nature or were not successful), I feel that I have gained considerable insight into what is unique about social media. I recently published, “The Six Core Principles of Social-Media-Based Collaboration” (available to clients or for a fee) to help clients distinguish between social media and other forms of communications and collaboration. Here are some brief excerpts.

At its foundation, social media is a set of technologies and channels targeted at forming and enabling a potentially massive community of participants to productively collaborate. IT tools to support collaboration have existed for decades. But social-media technologies, such as social networking, wikis and blogs, enable collaboration on a much grander scale and support tapping the power of the collective in ways previously unachievable.

Six core principles 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.

I’m interested in your take on this definition and differentiating principles.  Also see my subsequent post on a simpler definition of social media. BTW, I will spend the next few months publishing on my analysis of these 200 cases. I’ve put together some interesting social media use case patterns.

Clients should read the note (above link) for additional information such as comparisons, charts, case examples, references, and recommendations.

18 Comments »

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18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ashok   January 8, 2010 at 8:28 am

    I am not sure how much detail is the published document. This is common sense and should have been the basic understanding for anyone. Can’t fathom the fact that a lot of effort has gone in to understand and define this…

  • 2 Anthony Bradley   January 8, 2010 at 11:00 am

    My experience doesn’t indicate that this is common sense. Defining communications and collaboration may seem easy but when it comes down to the details of implementing different permutations, definitions vary widely. I have had many ask me the difference between social media and e-mail, KM, Web conferencing, etc. It may be obvious to some but it certainly isn’t to others and many implementations that people call “social media” do not meet these characteristics.

  • 3 Doug Laney   January 8, 2010 at 11:16 am

    I think “perpetuation” is the big differentiator from other kinds of media. In older media/communication (print and even email) the message is between the sender and recipient with an understanding that unless otherwise specified, the message and conversation remains between them.

    With social media, on the other-hand, their is an implicit if not explicit understanding that the recipient is expected/encouraged to share (perpetuate) the message with his/her network. This is what makes social media truly unique.

    Keep em comin’.

    Cheers,
    Doug

  • 4 Anthony Bradley   January 9, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Thanks for the comment Doug, long time no see, I hope you are well. This is a good observation and I have “perpetuate” or sharing (often virally) woven into a few of the above characteristics (certainly participation and emergence). I see perpetuate as important to social media but not necessarily unique. I think it is a unique characteristic of the Web. URL addressability gives us the ability to easily share a Web resource. Prior to social media there were plenty of e-mail threads shared virally with a link to some crazy video or picture.

  • 5 Sumo   February 20, 2010 at 5:41 am

    Wikipedia: Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein define social media as “a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content” (Kaplan Andreas M., Haenlein Michael, (2010), Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of social media, Business Horizons, Vol. 53, Issue 1, p. 59-68.)

  • 6 Social Media for ECE: Let me count the ways! « 140+: In the Moment   February 22, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    [...] most recent fascination is with web 2.0, and specifically with the use of social media for social networking and how it can power collaboration and communication in the early learning [...]

  • 7 Monobel   April 7, 2010 at 9:44 am

    I’m wondering about the absence of \social media\ definitions. I trying to find a definition that I can you for my Master-Thesis. Until now I couldn’t find any in german and this was the first one in english. Do you have some lead to find it?

  • 8 Anthony Bradley   April 7, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Monobel, I’m not sure where to find a good definiton in German. Maybe try the German Wikipedia for some references.

  • 9 Monobel   April 7, 2010 at 9:55 am

    I’m not searching for only german definition, becase the probability of an english def. is higher. Do you know other usefull social media – definitions?

  • 10 Monobel   April 7, 2010 at 9:59 am

    And another one question.

    The Six Core Principles of Social-Media-Based Collaboration – is this publication available only for the fee on gartner.com or it can be found in a printed version (or online article)?

  • 11 Bryan Wempen   April 11, 2010 at 12:52 am

    Enjoyed the article! As one gets under the “hood” of social media or more recently called “new media” it’s miles away from common sense of how it incorporates into organizations. For example we’re all chasing the realistic approaches for ROI with all these disruptive medias’.

    Your following statement is spot on: “when it comes down to the details of implementing different permutations, definitions vary widely”. The evolution of SM requires it to be finitely fluid, if that changes we have your other permutations or possibly a new vertical/movement.

    Look forward to more analysis and commentary.

    Best,
    Bryan -

  • 12 Anthony Bradley   April 13, 2010 at 9:46 am

    Monobel,
    The publication is for a fee. The main reason I wrote it is because I didn’t believe there was a good definition out there that really captured what makes social media unique from other forms of collaborations and also what makes it so valuable. You can try wikipedia or some of the main Web 2.0 luminaries like Hinchcliffe, McAfee, Tapscott, etc. They all have definitions. I’m not saying they are great but that is what’s out there in the public domain.

  • 13 Anthony Bradley   April 13, 2010 at 9:53 am

    You also can use this post. Sumarizing it into a single definition would be,

    “Social media is a set of technologies and channels targeted at forming and enabling a potentially massive community of participants to productively collaborate. Social media has the six core characteristics of participative, collective, transparent, independent, persistent, and emergent that deliver the unique value of social-media and, in combination, set social media apart from other forms of communication and collaboration.”

  • 14 Electronic Papyrus » Blog Archive » Ning… where to go when the public square charges an entrance fee?   April 16, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    [...] around what constitutes and effective virtual community of practice. Anthony Bradley lists six principles of social media collaboration that help unpack the characteristics of healthy virtual communities and works by Etienne Wenger and [...]

  • 15 Collaborative Considerations   April 19, 2010 at 10:04 am

    [...] core principles of social media products are also found in collaborative technologies. Anthony Bradley of the Gartner Group listed six core principles of social media. He maintains that these six [...]

  • 16 Dave Jones Buchere   April 26, 2011 at 7:34 am

    Good effort Bradley keep it up.

  • 17 Social Media – An Operating System For Humans!   March 5, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    [...] …a set of technologies and channels targeted at forming and enabling a potentially massive community of participants to productively collaborate. [Gartner] [...]

  • 18 Social Media… ¿y ezo qué e lo que e? - SocialMedia   June 11, 2014 at 6:27 am

    [...] más reciente es el artículo que Anthony Bradley ha escrito precisamente intentando buscar una definición más acertada para el Social Media. [...]

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