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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.