Kaplan and Heinlein defined 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” (p. 61). According to Google Scholar, this definition has been cited more than 1,000 times in less than four years, and emphasizes the importance of the user-generated content (UGC) that emerged after the development of Web 2.0 and turned Internet users into more active content producers.
Additionally, the authors claimed that social presence (driven by intimacy between the involved parties and immediacy of the message) and self-disclosure (driven by the goal of influencing others to gain a reward or develop relationships with others) can help us understand the different types of social media and provided the following table, which classifies user generated content sharing sites into six categories.
Kietzmann and his colleagues reviewed the relevant literature and some active blogs in the area and developed a different and more comprehensive framework to identify and classify social media platforms. They came up with seven building blocks, namely: identity, conversations, sharing, presence, platforms, relationship, reputation, and groups.
Of these, identity —the way users disclose information about themselves, which has implications for privacy control—seems to be the most important aspect of social media. These building blocks (or, as Kietzmann et al. refer to it, the honeycomb framework) are not mutually exclusive and were developed to help social media practitioners monitor and understand people’s social media activities.
The following figure illustrates the honeycomb building blocks developed by Kietzmann et al. (2011).
Identity: Identity is the core concept of any social media platform; it has to do with how much users disclose about themselves. Contrary to what one might think, identity is not only about name, age, gender, or location. It does includes what users like and share and comment on. People can have different real-life and virtual identities or different identities on different social media platforms.
Conversations: The conversations block “represents the extent to which users communicate with other users in a social media setting” (p. 244). Some social media platforms are more conversation-oriented than others. For instance, Twitter is used by many commercial and noncommercial organizations to spark a conversation about various topics. With the help of the real-time trending topics feature on Twitter, everyone can see what people from all around the world are talking about at any given moment. Although Facebook is presumably the largest social network, most of the conversations on Facebook are likely to be between known parties, whereas Twitter and Google+ encourage conversations between strangers as users can use pseudonyms, message anyone, and leave comments on trending topics and popular threads. Another aspect of conversations on social media is conversation velocity, which refers to the speed and direction of a conversation: how fast messages are exchanged and if the sentiment about the topic is becoming negative or positive.
Sharing: A social network would be nothing but a useless map of connections if people did not share anything with each other. Sharing itself is a means of interaction; this activity may or may not lead to meaningful conversations based on what connects the members of a network (e.g., interest networks or networks based on preexisting friendships). Organizations and institutions must understand the common needs, lifestyles, and characteristics of their social media followers and share things that are relevant to what connects them.
Presence: This block is mostly related to whether social media users make their location and availability known to other users or not. Some social media platforms (such as Twitter) allow their users to share their location and availability publicly; others only show this info to friends in one’s network. In a further study Kietzmann and his colleagues argued that presence is also related to interactivity and non-mediation. Interactivity means synchronous and immediate message exchange. However, for some social networks like YouTube and LinkedIn, presence does not matter that much and it is not even relevant.
Relationships: This block is about the strength and relative importance of ties between members of any given social network. In some social networks, though not all, the strength of a relationship between two members can predict whether one of those members can influence the other. The authors went on to say that “the structural property of relationships refers to users’ social graphs, how many connections they have and where they are positioned within their network of relationships. Research shows that users are more likely to be an influential member (also known as influencers) in their network the denser and larger their portfolio of relationships is, and the more central their position in the network” (p. 112). The authors also refer to Granovetter’s famous work about the strength of weak ties, which explains how such ties can be more effective to build social capital and gain material benefits because members with strong ties are likely to know the same people within similar circles, and thus have little chance to find out about new, unique social opportunities.
Reputation: This block involves social standing, or the evaluation of a message or a user by other network members. When it comes to messages, this evaluation may come in the form of likes on Facebook, referrals on LinkedIn, retweets on Twitter, and ratings on YouTube. No doubt the number of followers, fans, or subscribers of a user also are related with reputation, and are likely to determine the credibility of a user on a network. The impact of reputation may be bigger on some social media channels than on others (e.g., Twitter recommends users with a large number of followers, while Facebook does not). Reputation basically has to do with trust, that is, what people do in a network will determine how much they will be trusted in the future in the same network.
Groups: This block involves how easy or difficult it is to create and maintain groups or subgroups in a network. Although the value of a network can be determined by the number of total users, the human brain can only handle with relationships with 150 people, no matter how many people there are in the platform. Social media channels can be classified into different categories based on whether they emphasize open or closed groups and whether they encourage listing and grouping users.
What is Social
Briefly put, almost any interactive site that allows people to create content or share messages can be considered social media. According to this definition, seven out of the top ten websites (according to Alexa.com) in the United States are examples of social media (namely Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo, Wikipedia, eBay, Craigslist, and LinkedIn).
However, Dion Hinchcliff and Peter Kim distinguish very clearly between what is a social media site and what is not. According to their book Social Business by Design, a platform needs to have the following two features to be considered social:
- Social graph: “This consists of a user profile that identifies a person, and optionally (but typically), a list of everyone that person is connected with. In other words, it is who a person is and those he or she knows (p. 130).”
- Activity stream: “This lists the events taking place between the social graphs of users. These are typically status updates or other messages such as pictures or other media that a person posts and that are then visible to everyone listed as a social graph connection (p. 130).”
Types of Social Media
Since most major websites tend to be interactive and social, nowadays social media seems to be everywhere and almost all of our real-life experiences can be recorded and shared via social media. There are plenty of jokes on the Internet about how different social media sites can be used to broadcast our lives. A simple activity like eating sushi can be shared via social media in many ways.
- Twitter: “I want to eat sushi.”
- Facebook: “I’ve just had sushi.”
- Foursquare: “This is the place I eat sushi.”
- YouTube: “Watch how I eat sushi.”
- LinkedIn: “I am a sushi expert.”
- Quora: “Why do some people not like sushi?”
With new sites popping up every day, it is also growing ever harder to classify which ones count as social media. Although only three years old, Kaplan and Haenlein’s classification of high versus low user self-presentation may not be enough to compare social media sites today, considering the fact that users can manipulate how much they want to disclose about themselves or create several accounts (one public, one private) on the same platforms.
Brian Solis, who focuses mostly on business aspects of social media and evaluates the functionality of these sites, created the following typology where today’s social media platforms and social applications can be classified into twenty-one different categories:
Author’s note: As comprehensive as it is, with 20 categories and about 70 examples, the table lacks some other types of popular social media sites including group chatting applications (LINE, WhatsApp, WeChat), forums (2channel), virtual support communities (diabetes and cancer support communities), online social networks managed by brands (mystarbucks idea.com and AMEX open forum for businesses), virtual worlds (Second Life), collaboration sites (InnoCentive, Concurrent Versions System, Bugzilla), and social gaming platforms (GREE, DeNA, World of Warcraft).
The table above indicates that almost any interactive website or smart phone application that allows its members/users to create or share content can be considered social media. This can be explained by three major factors.
- First, it is becoming increasingly easier to create interactive websites that enable users to share content and interact with other users on the same platform (there are actually website templates that can become an independent online social network, e.g. ning.com).
- Second, it is cheaper and more profitable for websites to have users create content and at the same time spend a lot of time browsing others’ content.
- Third, major social networks such as Facebook share their user information with other sites and provide social plugins to be embedded on a regular site or an application. This means a web site that requires its members to login with their Facebook accounts and share their activity on Facebook can still be considered social even though the site itself may be very simple: e.g., a site for Flash games or a data storage site.
As a matter of fact, the original social media typology created by Brian Solis and JESS has one more category called “quantified self” that includes socially integrated applications such as MapMyFitness and RunKeeper, both of which have Facebook plugins and empower users to share their exercise activities and progress with their friends and family.
Another way to look at social media is whether it connects either strangers or people who already know each other in real life. As Paul Adams suggested, we all have friends, family, relatives, classmates, coworkers, and interest groups.
However, among these, interest groups are structurally different because one can have many different interests at the same time and can change interest groups often. Such groups are also likely to have the weakest ties among members because unlike family relationships people tend to not stick with their interest group members for a long time.
By looking at the table above, we can conclude that a huge majority of the platforms are actually interest networks that bring together people who have common interests or benefits (photography, music, video, freelancing, and so on). Additionally, users don’t need to know other users in real life to enjoy the content or interact with the content creators.
In that sense, all social media channels can be classified into two groups: social networks and interest networks.
Social Media Rules
There are no official rules of social media that have been scientifically tested and proved; however, it would be useful for social media readers to know these basic concepts:
This rule was proposed before the mass popularity of today’s social media sites. In 2006, the Guardian reported that there was a huge gap between the number of views on YouTube and the number of video uploads.
There were about 100,000,000 daily video views versus only 65,000 video uploads a day. Similarly, the article pointed out that 50% of Wikipedia posts were edited by a dismal .7% of users. It was concluded that in online communities usually only 1% of the users create content (creators)8 , 10% actively react (contributors), and about 90% just observe (lurkers) .
This idea was not related to social media when it was originally proposed by Theodore Sturgeon in the 1950s. Sturgeon suggested that 90% of all published material was crud (useless). Today, it is also argued that most content we get on media platforms is noise, or just irrelevant messages.
This is a concept coined by Marc Zuckerberg that simply means people share digital content if it is convenient to do so for the sharer and non-intrusive for the receiver. Social media platforms should make it very easy for users to send messages to others or distribute their content without disrupting their online experiences. Sometimes this convenience may even arise from automatically sharing things without waiting for an approval from the account holder.
Social media empowered us to share any communication message with hundreds if not thousands or millions of people with a push of a button (or automatically). Actually, sharing things was also possible in the past, as most of today’s social media sites existed in primitive forms in one way or another.
According to B.J. Mendelson,11 there was sixdegrees.com instead of Facebook, Geocities instead of WordPress, and shareyourworld.com instead of YouTube. Many people perhaps still remember those chain mails that read, “Please forward this message to ten people that you know to help________,” which is not so different from sharing a message on Facebook or Twitter.
However, what is different in today’s social media is frictionless sharing: there is no effort and complication involved to create and share messages compared to the past. People do not have to send messages one by one to their friends and they don’t have to edit, arrange, and put into a DVD to share their pictures and videos.
A person also does not have to send an email to a friend if he liked his friend’s recent photo on a blog; today the Like button or a few words in the comment box can handle this. Because of the simplicity of the sharing process, people also may think it is less intrusive to share things about their lives with others. As a result, every year what we share in social media increases by one hundred percent.
On the other hand, the future of frictionless sharing may be in jeopardy. In 2010, Facebook introduced an Open Graph that allowed people not only to connect with other users but also with things or web sites or brands by clicking Like.
This meant that Facebook could be both a social network and an interest network, so people who are interested in one brand or one web site can also be mapped. In the following year, in addition to getting Likes, developers were also given the green light to make applications that can show other activities of Facebook users such as “listening,” “reading,” and “watching.”
However, most of these applications started posting on users’ timeline on their behalf, which may irritate some. For instance, not everyone who reads a news article may want to share with friends and family the fact that he or she read that article; yet a newspaper application can post “__________ read the article __________” on the user’s timeline.
Nowadays, these types of applications seem to be regulated strictly, but still, with socially integrated smartphone apps that track wherever we go, and are capable of recording whatever we do, it troubles many to think that most of this information can be shared automatically with friends and family.
Social Media Adoption
Generally speaking, social media is used more often by females, young people, opinion seekers, and people who score high on extroversion, openness to new experiences, Internet self-efficacy, and the needs for belongingness and collective self-esteem. When it comes to switching to a different social media platform or using a social media channel for the first time, studies show that perceived security, interface attractiveness, peer influence, and switching costs are important.
Choudary adds the network effect into the equation. This is commonly known as the rich-get-richer phenomenon: the larger the network the higher the probability that new people will join.
It also suggests that when social media platforms get too big, the network effect can actually be negative. According to Choudary, a large online social network is initially more attractive because it contains
- more people who may be potential new connections,
- more content creators, and
- more people who can be new potential followers. However, as shown in the following table, there are some downsides of being in a large network.
The table above puts special emphasis on signal-to-noise ratio and content personalization. On the other hand, personalization of social media is not always favored.
For instance, an article on TheNextWeb.com titled “Will the Personalized Web Destroy Discovery?” argues that personalized content based on algorithms does not make much sense and is a big obstacle to discovering useful new information on the web. In other words, if YouTube always recommends videos that are similar to what we have been watching, we will never have a chance to discover new, interesting content.
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