What is so “social” in social media?

The exponential growth of the Internet over the last two decades as well as the development of so-called Web 2.0 gave birth to an interesting phenomenon of Social Media. In this this blog I will elaborate on this concept, give definitions and try to understand what social media actually is.

To begin with, I believe I should introduce myself. My name is Roman Rogozhnikov and I am a student of a master program in Digital Media at Uppsala University. I was born and raised in Russia and received my bachelor’s degree in Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-University). I studied political science for 4 years and a bit more than a year ago realized that political process in the online realm is something what I am really interested in. Internet activism, usage of social media for political campaigns and e-democracy – these are the areas of particular interest for me. Hence, the path I chose by studying digital media in Sweden is not surprising. More than that, my interest in social media as a concept as well as its applications in offline activities is something I am passionate about, and that is why writing posts regarding social media is seen by me as a perfect opportunity to deepen my knowledge within my area of interest.

So what is social media? There is a bunch of definitions both on the Internet and in academic articles. I do not think that my fellow readers will be interested in going through a hundred scientific definitions of the same phenomenon. Instead, I would focus on two definitions which help us perceive social media from different angles.

To start with I would like to use the explanation of what is social media provided by Kaplan & Haenlein. They state that “social media is 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”[1]. Hence the authors draw a line between the terms Web 2.0 and social media, claiming that Web 2.0 should only be considered as a platform for the evolution and development of social media, rather than a synonymous term. I absolutely agree with the authors given that not all the user-generated content is social media, although all the social media is a user-generated content.

Another perspective is given by Boyd & Ellison, who emphasize 3 pillars on which the concept of social media is based[2]. Firstly, social media is a web-based service constructing a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system. This should be  clear if you take into consideration the fact that in order to use practically any social media one should create a profile and some information from this profile, at least a nickname, is public by default. Secondly, Social media is a service which articulates a list of other users with whom they share a connection. This statement is supported by the name of the concept itself, as the word “social” must imply some kind of social and inter-personal communication. And thirdly, social media is a service which allows users to view and traverse their lists of connections and those made by other users within the system. This is the most questionable statement of the definition given that some of the social media networks do not allow users to view one’s connections. Nevertheless, the principle of “social” within the concept of social media implies interconnectedness and constant interaction of users.

Hence, we can clearly see that even two out of thousands of definitions of social media can give us different perspectives on this phenomenon. Why? Because it is a new and thus an evolving concept. Moreover, it is comprehensive and overwhelming. Additionally, the broader definition includes wider range of networks, hence it is sometimes a matter of definition whether some webpage can be considered social media or not. In my opinion the combination of the aforementioned definitions allow us to include in the discussion practically all the social media networks currently in existence. In the following posts I will try to elaborate on this.


[1] Kaplan, Andreas M. and Michael Haenlein. 2010. “Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media.” Business horizons 53(1):59-68

[2] Boyd, Danah M. and  Nicole B. Ellison. 2007. “Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 13(1):210-230

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3 thoughts on “What is so “social” in social media?

  1. Pingback: Activism: from off to on | Understanding Social Media

  2. Pingback: Sharing is caring! [?] | Understanding Social Media

  3. Pingback: Social media: from rags to riches | Understanding Social Media

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