REVEALED: Defining Social Media in 140 characters…by 140 Communications characters…

STATUS NOTE: Apologies up front re: some of the inconsistent formatting I’m in the process of cleaning it up properly but it will take some time, will let you know when completely updated (as at 28 Feb 2010) – nevertheless, I hope it doesn’t take too much away from the content in the meantime, Adam

Compiled by Adam Vincenzini, Social Media

In the world of Communications, an ‘accurate definition’ is everything.

By clearly defining your ‘situation’ from the beginning, the task of developing and delivering a solution is made markedly easier.

However, it’s not very often that we have to ‘define’ a form of media.

But for the past 12 months, the ‘new’ kid on the block, Social Media, has caused a lot of debate in this respect.

In fact we appear to spend just as much time talking about ‘what it is’and ‘how it should be used’ as we do ‘using it’.

But there are a couple reasons for that:

1. Social Media is still misunderstood by a good percentage of consumers

2. For those who do use Social Media, it’s a very personal medium, and is often ‘defined’ by the user, depending on his / her needs

For communicators, this is particularly challenging.


Simple. Without some level of consensus, the job of obtaining buy in from stakeholders, consumers, internal staff and the like is a more difficult proposition in comparison with traditional and understood counterparts (and this is even without having the ‘measurement’conversation yet)

Even on a personal level,if you’re friends don’t ‘get it’ you are presented with challenges there also.

So, the motivation behind this post was ignited by that – how do I / we explain Social Media to someone in one sentence so they ‘get it’…or at least have a reference point when the subject pops up.

There was only one way to source this reference point, and that was by inviting 140 Communications characters to define Social Media…in 140 characters…and this is what came back…

To give us a place to start, I asked @BrianSolis for his definition, which although slightly more than 140 characters, is a nice benchmark:

Social Media is the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers. It is the shift from a broadcast mechanism, one-to-many, to a many-to-many model, rooted in conversations between authors, people, and peers.”

Interestingly, this is something he proposed a few years ago.

How does our 140-Army see it in 2010?

140 Social Media definitions, in 140 characters, from 140 Communications characters…

A)The definitions are in no particular order (i.e. THIS IS NOT A ‘RANKINGS’ LIST)

B) As it was Australia Day yesterday I’ve started off with a few Aussies, but as you’ll discover by the end, nearly every corner of the globe has taken part in this…which is powerful indication of what Social Media is capable of

C)There’s the occasional observation by me as you go down the list highlighted in green

D) You’ll notice an asterix (*) next to a selection of definitions / names – these are people I’ve met in the flesh in the last 6-12 months courtesy of Social Media, showing it’s ‘online to offline’ impact on my world (not to mention the countless ‘virtual’ friendships we’ve all struck up from around the globe)

E) Apologies for some of the formatting…Blogger can be a little sensitive at times and I fly out to Australia tomorrow…I hope you’ll excuse me on this one occasion…

Definitions 1-20

@SimonMainwaring Social media is our collective consciousness made visible through synaptic technology that our gives shared needs, fears and hopes a voice enabling massive change

@JoanneJacobs Social Media are tools & services which facilitate communication between individuals for decision making, cultural exchange & conversation*

@trevoryoung Social media is a catalyst for change – change in the way we connect with each other, change in the way businesses communicate with the world*

@MarissaTree Social media: where the timeless rules of respect and integrity in communication lives alongside new ideas*

@jgarant A borderless space to consume and share information and opinions – to engage directly with industry minds and develop personally and professionally*

@DannyBrown Social media is the human engine oil. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Mini or Mercedes, you get an equal shot to compete in the race

@mattsingleySocial media is online content & communication that is interactive & dynamic, not controlled by any one person or entity

@dbreakenridgeSocial media means listening carefully and learning to share valuable information that bonds people and builds strong relationships

(Deirdre embodies this definition as well as anyone, a great example for many)

@ValerieSimon Social Media is a participatory form of media that provides opportunities to listen, share & engage using virtual technologies & practices

@leeodden Social media is technology that facilitates community & word of mouth. But what makes the social web work are the people

@EmilyCagle Adapt, answer, broadcast, collaborate, communicate, connect, create, engage, follow, lead, learn, listen, question, share

@blogtillyoudrop Content, Conversations, Community and Collective Intelligence*

@katiemoffat Social media is like offline, traditional word of mouth but on steriods

@chrish10 Engagement & collaboration across many levels. individuals,companies,charity;anyone with a voice and who can listen

@Beth_Carroll Social media is about building relationships and harnessing those relationships to build networks and interact

@swonderlin Social media is a revolutionary tool – bringing thoughts & ideas together from every corner of the world and in all facets

@glennhilton Socialmedia lets us share our unique take on our interests; to listen, learn & grow & to find great ppl to connect w/ as we journey together

@ChiaraCosenza SM is a set of online tools that allowed the democratization of communication worldwide through accessibility, simplicity & entertainment.

@lucysofiano Its a revolution of waterfountain gossip, cocktail party banter & has opened my world to new and exciting people, possibilities and places*

@Tyronevh It’s the integration of interaction with technology tools allowing one to interact, explore and most importantly learn from one another

format update complete to here as at 28 Feb 2010)


@GemmaCocker Joe Bloggs, please let me introduce you to Limitless Opportunity. Oh, hello, The Man, I’d love for you to meet, Bare All.

(One of my favourites, an injection of creativity)

@MarketingVeep Social media shrinks time and place’ it imposes a stark brevity; it leads strangers to each other; gives booming voice to a whisper; turns two legs into an army

@DustinSchmidt Social Media is a web 2.0 vehicle that enhances user engagement and participation through the promotion and evolution of influential ideas.

@JasonPeck social media is the platforms, tools and content that enable quicker, deeper and more personal connections, communication and collaboration

@jennifersherlock To share your thoughts, passions, love of life and most of all to network, and bond in ways that were never thought of just a few years ago

@MarisaCorser SM bypasses traditional media gatekeepers, giving you instant access to the most powerful, influential, & informative minds in the world

@katehughes For me social media is about two things: friendship and learning. Frequently (and fortuitously) the two overlap*

(‘Learning’ pops up a few more times and is something I hope we don’t take for granted…invaluable benefit)

@NadiaSaint Social media is communicating with – rather than talking to – a target audience. It’s about respect, context and (above all) common sense.

@carolinebosher SM lets me traverse the globe and meet amazing people from my living room. Its a constant support network full of opportunity & serendipity*

@SophiaLS> SM lets you look, learn, listen, connect, chat, smile, refer, recommend, act, lobby, fundraise, reward, promote and so much more


a source of knowledge, entertainment, opportunity and possibilities. Challenging and rewarding, it proves again that content is still king


SM is all about interacting & engaging to build relationships. It allows the world to connect & facilitates the exchange of info & ideas.


SM doesnt replace traditional communications; it is multi-channels to leverage and distribute mass data to unlimited, global audience

@irinaskaya Social Media: Builds relationships between brands and customers and empowers the latter to create customers

@laceyhaines Social media is community, conversation and discovery. Online interaction with the people, products, and companies who matter most to you.

@BarbaraNixon Social Media provides a new way for us to listen to, learn from, laugh with, and (lol) even loathe each other.

@dreamteamroman Sharing thoughts, ideas and experiences with others around the globe in a fast and efficient way. consumer=producer of info
@stuscuba For me its the unrestricted flow & transmission of ideas through an intelligent and emotional network

@thehitchcockb Tools, services and platforms that allow people to connect with each other and create, share and discuss stuff over the web*


social media is a way to connect with people around the world & use these thoughts, experiences & conversations within real-life situations


(The following three people were good enough to provide two definitions each…)

@RichQuigley (Part A) The evolution of communications via the decentralization of conversation + a shift in how content is discovered, discussed & disseminated

@RichQuigley (Part B) SM is an opportunity 2 partcip8 in the evolution of communications & 2 disregard everything u have ever learned about spelling & punk2ation

@steveology (Part A) The greatest shift of power from the corporation to the consumer since the birth of the industrial revolution

@steveology (Part B) A unique opportunity for brands to re-invent how they connect with consumers and gain their unfair share of customer mind and market share


(Part A) Allows you to socially and professionally communicate online with those otherwise out of your reach in the real world*

@anna8988 (Part B) Social networking; the only place you’ll find other nutters who share your interest in crazy things like pig Olympics and cat circuses!

@rudolfe Instant, ubiquitous and dispersive, Social Media empowers consumers. It’s a new medium, based on tools of multi-directional communication.

@SMLupdates Social Media are online platforms to share information and manage stakeholder relations through conversation and engagement

@hermioneway ”Media that’s social …it’s about everyone taking part and having a voice.”

@princess_misia Social media is a democratization of online information. And an amazing way to meet like-minded people!

(Meeting new people, especially those who share similar interests to yourself is not only individually empowering but represents a huge opportunities for brands to bring like-minded people together through this medium)

Social media is content created by people using Web 2.0 tools and means that allow for a shared digital experience

@simonsanders: Social media encourages the free flow of connections, conversations and content and helps ignite communities of interest

@lindsaydavies Social media is 21st century communication. It’s open, collaborative, shared, barrierless, informative, entertaining, rapid and evolving

@PRBlog Social media is a circuit completed through personal interaction. So marketers must realize it’s a commitment vs. campaign.

@kellyhopkins Social Media is a powerful tool which allows you to connect, engage, learn, share and influence with immediate effect and instant results*

@mario Social media: get and share information (in the widest sense) in real time from/with the people & institutions that matter to me personally*


Social media is the engine of our creative economy,fueling human connectivity,innovation,prosperity, &a driving force in shaping our future


“My own, unique, opt-in world of inspiration, education and conversation.”

@gcharlton For me, social media is about using the platforms available to learn, share, interact and communicate with others.

@willsturgeon Looks good: creativity soaring, audience self-selection making ‘targeted’ a self-fulfilling prophecy & scale easing risk of digital ghettos


@Maxicom Social media is an evolutionary form of content production/distribution where the highest quality examples flourish on peer-approved merit alone

@dirktherabbit our attempt to create a label for post 2007 web communities. Like many labels it both leaves consumers cold and is good for business

(Interested to hear people’s thoughts on this one: do you think the ‘Social Media’ label leaves consumers feeling cold?)

@Monsty a revolution, a shift, the changing of the guard, the return of communication to it’s native form -> conversation <- the beginning

@geetarchurchy Social media is the consumer’s realisation that they have the power to induce institutional change through online behaviour

@NikHewitt Where friends, fans, & evangelists are your PR team. Where everything is immediate. Where personal opinion is valued over direct marketing.

@juicyinfo Social media gives power to the individual by enhancing our ability to listen, learn and share opinions & content with each other

@jaywilliamspr Listen, learn, engage .. it’s a conversation. Join in as and when it feels right

@beccistalker: SM is bout meeting,sharing knowledge,thoughts, insights&engagement online w/ friends,family,colleagues,networks&customers.

@fruchter: Social media consists of the five C’s. Conversation, community, commenting, collaboration and contribution. Social media is story telling.

(The “C’s” appear a lot in this list…and rightly so…with ‘collaboration’ being nicely demonstrated by everyone taking part in this)

@Resonata: Social media is media designed to be used by promoting social interactions through the web whether for personal or business use?
@PaulSmith7: Disliked Twitter at first. Then I found people with something to say, stuff to share. It links people. Like this. Networking without canapes
@traceyjefferies: Opens doors you never knew existed, 2 people you never would have met and opportunities you could only dream of – Internet cosmic ordering?
@Ideathinker Social media is content created and shared by people over accessable technolgies in an democratic dezentralised manner
@AboutLondon: Social media is like a party,every1’s talking,U can join in whenever you want to,but U don’t have to,& U meet cool peeps.

@socialJacqui: SM is community interaction, appreciation & engagement. The quality of your audience is far more important than quantity.
@PRNicoleV Social media is about engagement. It’s breaking traditional barriers b/w companies & people and allowing everyone to go right to the source.
@ruthseeley Social media expands the scope of community & stakeholder consultations, clearly linking customer service & corporate reputation management
@franciegrace A giant virtual newsroom in which questions & opinions are shouted out & quickly answered, with frequently spectacular & surprising results

@therealprmoment Social Media is PR’s biggest opportunity 20 years

@joshfeldberg Social media is discussion and recommendation between people about the things that they are interested in and they like

@WarrenMason Social Media is the interactive, often sterile and self-aggrandizing web medium for the creation and two-way collaboration and/or dissemination of unrestrained information and thought

@Franz Social Media is the harmonisation of technology & human interaction. It’s not social bec. of technonology but rather because we are humans

@GemmaWent Social media is a comms tool that cuts through barriers, offers opportunities that were previsously out of reach and levels the playing field

@whatsnext Social media=tools for listening, learning, interacting, helping – telling people what they want to know vs only what you want to tell them


Social media is a new way to interact and share. It’s (new)conversations taking place. It’s a revolution!

@meetthemedia Collaboration, Content, Converged service, Community & conversation.

@guillaumefoutry Social media upset the balance of power in favor of the end user in any field of activity, from music to politics!

@LeilaMakki Social media has managed to make anyone with a Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin account think they are a ‘social media expert’!

(Now, this is something that is often debated and a point which does belong in this post – after all, here we are again ‘talking about Social Media’ as opposed to using it – but, then again, we are attempting to define it more accurately so we can ‘just get on with it’ – not only that, Social Media gives everyone a chance to contribute unmoderated opinions which is healthy for society – anyway, the comments box is…)

@PatrickStrother Social media not only saved the public relations business, it gave it a whole new, bright future.
@Aalia Social Media provides a democratic and borderless platform for the exchange of ideas, content, views and information.
@WillSturgeon Looking good: creativity soaring, audience self-selection making ‘targeted’ a self-fulfilling prophecy & scale killing risk of ghettoisation

@CamWard Social Media = brush strokes that help make up the big picture of 21st century comms. Without brush strokes, the big picture is unfocussed

@Sean Cartell An innovative method of strategic communication, allowing participants to brand their product through instant two-way communication.

@MarketingbyDM SM is connecting not collecting. Listen, share, polite, help, are all key to a valuable SM experience. If you view SM as not about you, the results will be rewarding. It is not about getting it but understanding it.

@IreneMalin A new type of online media without hierarchy that enable people to talk, participate, interact, share and bookmark.

@PaulatCirkle Social media is a voice for the individual, a voice for the masses, a voice of endorsement & a voice of dissent. The power lies simply in listening.
@RyanCaliguiri Where movements are created through the spread of ideas with a community of like minded individuals.

@vampyrse Technological tools that help you to personally discover and relate to the world, and the world to discover and and relate to you personally.


@womarketing: social media are a normal extension of human needs: be part of a community. Don’t market your idea just involve people in a conversation.

@volumegroup “Is real-time multi-directional conversations taking place btwn stakeholders across multiple social platforms. This interaction is now key.”

@stuartwitts By removing fear and giving everyone the opportunity to talk, Twitter awakens peoples minds to the true reality that exists around them.

@mikelizun Where words, photos, videos, & ideas can be created and published by anyone, and shared with, searched for, found by everyone.
@sergiofalzone Social Media is conversation, is share, is comunication, is flowing ideas, is peoples without walls, without forced roules and all of this is market, is business

@karimacatherine Social Media is quasi borderless communications that connect us with our microcosm.

@dannywhatmough It’s all about people and stuff; great stuff that motivates people to share and discuss

@litmanlive Social media is one of the biggest opportunities to brands online in recent history. It’s the real time web in motion.

@SJOgborn Social media epitomizes cyber self-expression for people and brands. It allows us to personalize communication and engage across the globe.

@kayross Social media = tools for listening, sharing, meeting, debating, connecting, asking, helping, selling, community-building, recommending
@joedyble For brands, it’s an opportunity to be invited in, rather than knocking down the door.

@LaurenBan To me, social media means learning, sharing, conversing and engaging. It’s about communicating and relationship building in real time.

Web Marketing Search Engine Optimization said…

Social media became very popular where people can interact and share with others


Conversation, collaboration, investigation, characterization, simplification, product-creation, optimization, mobilization, monetization.


New communities brought about by sharing without physical or social constraint, characterised by technology, liberty, wealth & openness.

John Stevenage said…

Mix with new people, observe their thinking, learn different topics – motivation for innovation at your fingertips!

Carrie Yutzy said…

Opportunity to know your customers better and improve your business by improving relationships.

Jason Berek-Lewis said…

‘Social’ can be frivolous, it can be a disraction or about procrastination. I prefer ‘Network Media’, a tool that builds connections.

Philip Young said…

Social media is talking to people using technology. You may see and hear them but can’t touch. And usually you want others to join in.
Bristol Editor said…

Redefining why, where and how conversation takes place.


Diane Hessan said…

Vehicles that help people interact with each other online. Also: A field filled w/people of limited experience who insist they are gurus. 🙂
Anne Maybus said..

A way to seek and share information, friendship, loyalties and business support without losing independence or our own unique take on life.

Heather White-Laird said…

Social Media is a stroll through a garden of internet delight, and an open door to connect with geniuses and jokers, friends and foes.

David Clare

Social media is the fun way to develop communities and become involved in activities you may have never done so before. As it is the fun way, it has become the best way.

Patti Schom-Moffatt said…
Social Media is a tool for engaging with audiences comprised of people you would be unlikely to come across on your own.
Anonymous said…

People connecting where they work and play.

Anonymous said:
Social media is an evolutionary form of content production/distribution where the highest quality examples flourish on peer-approved merit alone.

Kate the Great said:
Relationship marketing. Communicating respectfully: listening to the consumers (giving them a voice), responding & building their trust.
We started with an Aussie flavour, as we get toward the end, let’s do that again via the creative @redspringsmedia (and it’s worth two definitions)

Selective audience
Outspoken followers Connection Innovative communication Awareness Levelling
Message Engagement Division Immediate Alarming growth

131-140 – Not too late…

The aim of this post was to initiate some discussion and encourage people to provide their opinions on Social Media.
The beautiful thing about Social Media and discussion is that they never really stop – we will be talking about Social Media and it’s meaning for many more years – and in that spirit, this post won’t be going anywhere so if this is the first time you’ve been alerted to this ‘search’, the final 10 spots (and hopefully hundreds more) are still available – just drop your 140 character definition in the comments box.

Wrapping it up…

This should be the fun part – seeing what comments and responses we get to the list / definitions as a whole.
Did you have a favourite?
Did you disagree strongly with anything in particular?
Is there a definition amongst this list that should be the industry standard?
Can a new definition be created based on what you’ve just read?

Get involved and leave a comment in the box below.

One last definition…well two…

I purposely haven’t given mine for two reasons:

1. I hope by reading / contributing to this you’ve ‘experienced’ what Social Media means for me
2. This Blog is about your opinions / voices and I just get a kick out of bringing bright and selfless people together, so thanks for taking part…and ‘keep on keeping on’

Apologies again re: inconsistent formatting, this Blog is maintained in my own time and due to a shortage of it this week you’ve experienced every font style and size known to man…variety is the spice of life though eh?

Wordle: 140 characters
P.S I just wanted to especially thank a few people who played a big role in making this happen: Emily Cagle, Laurence Borel, Valerie Simon, Lucy Sofiano, Trevor Young, Becci Stalker, Chiara Cosenza and Natalie Rose-James, the ever supportive team at Paratus Communications in London and everyone else who got involved in one shape or another.


  • Reply January 27, 2010

    I love the last part where you illustrates how you see social media by saying that this entry is indeed what you see social media as. content created and shared by people.

  • Reply January 27, 2010

    Valerie Simon

    Thank YOU Adam… I am glad that I had the chance to participate. It is so interesting to look at the words people choose when limited to 140 characters… would love to take a look at a word cloud based on these definitions!

  • Reply January 27, 2010


    Thank you for including me in your 140 characters by 140 communicators post. A lot of great insight here! I agree with Valerie, it would be really interesting to see a word cloud to view the most popular words used in the definition/meaning of social media.

  • Reply January 28, 2010


    Social Media is the force field where altruism & narcissism collide, to create endless possibilities!!

  • Reply January 28, 2010


    Hi, nice to see me here with my point of view about social media from Italy!!


    aka @womarketing

  • Reply January 29, 2010

    Mark Clayson

    ya It sounds a lot of ideas here. Thanks so much for all your sharing about the role of social media.

  • Reply February 2, 2010


    My Favorite——>@Monsty a revolution, a shift, the changing of the guard, the return of communication to it’s native form -> conversation < - the beginning I really enjoyed reading the definitions. There were a lot of keywords that were mentioned in several. For instance, and I think you pointed it out as well, learning, communication, network, and relationships. It is awesome to see that people are on the same page. The difficult part is creating one definition that reflects all 140 defintions. Good Luck! =)

  • Reply February 2, 2010

    quotes from the street

    that’s very cool – thank you, i’m glad you enjoyed reading – i suppose mine is slightly more abstract than concrete – but it’s how i feel this space is right now

Leave a Reply