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Commentary: In search of a 'social media' definition

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 7, 2012 - The Miriam-Webster definition for "Social Media" is as follows: forms of electronic communication (as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages and other content (as videos).

Which, I suppose, if you're being literal and simply talking about platforms, I could buy. Let me translate that: the definition refers to the platforms on/through which people perform what is generally referred to as "social media" - YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, etc. But I would argue that when people throw around the term "social media," they are actually getting at much more than the platform.

Communications agencies (ad, PR, marketing) throw around the term "social" in reference to the communication and interaction that happen via these platforms. Yes, you could say those things don't happen without the platforms, but I feel strongly that understanding the nuance of what comes from the access to these platforms is where the real conversation lies.

But, if you can't tell, I'm not quite sure how to articulate it yet. I've been thinking about this for a couple of months. The thing that triggered it was delving into the concept of "making things" and the impact that act and response has on people. A theory that the tools available - platforms, programs, devices - generally what I hear people referring to when they talk about "social media" - is at the root of this collective shift in experience. And that experience is changing the way many people are in the world.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I've decided to use this Beacon blog to start taking a look at the different pieces of this puzzle, look at some of the tools individually, answer some "social media" etiquette questions, and though that, I hope to begin to put some concrete thoughts and evidence around these ideas floating around in my head. And maybe, just maybe, come up with a new term for what I think we mean when we say "social media."