Social media is content created, whether on the desktop or using online tools, which is posted onto the internet for all users to discover, comment on and share. What has made this possible is the profusion of highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies.
As with all newer trends the marketing, technology and media gurus amongst other disciplines, have attached some kind of mystique to this community. Important people have risen out of obscurity to proclaim that they know how this works and how business can benefit, people can make money and in general how the world can benefit from this.
In this instance however, the whole point about social media is that it is not driven by important people. Marketers whether offline or online specialists can but guess as to what this space will deliver. And the business world is scratching its head wondering how to go about invading and plundering this huge market.
The underlying principle about social media is that it is driven by users. Which is why it is often referred to as user-generated content or consumer-generated content. Anybody with a computer, some cheap or free software tools such as a browser, and access to the internet can contribute to the content.
The media that most people have been consuming falls under industrial media. Amongst these are newspapers, magazines, TV and radio. What distinguishes this media from social media is that traditional media has been a one way conversation.
TV programmes, radio or newspaper has delivered the news, information, education or entertainment with little opportunity for the user to interact with the presented content. Of course there are phone-in sessions for radio and TV and letters to the editor for print, but on the whole this media has been a one way street.
The main reason for this one way system has been the cost of production. The costs of setting up a radio or TV studio are high. Printing newspapers and magazines is a price beyond the affordability of the average person.
Of course initially the internet was also a very expensive technology. Computers were expensive, internet subscription for just an email service was high and the cost of renting server space somewhere to host a website made many companies go in-house to save money.
The spread and uptake of the internet however, has resulted in the costs being reduced at a rapid rate with access to broadband in developed countries reduced to almost nothing and even computer costs coming down. A one year hosting fee for a website can be the equivalent of buying a coffee at Starbucks.
The advancement in technology and the reduction in cost has allowed everyman to use the internet. Now people or users can publish articles, poetry, novels, reports, presentations, video, podcasts and much more.
The internet allows every person to be their own broadcaster. What's even more exciting is that the internet delivers an untold possibility of recipients of this publishing cornucopia. Add to this the ability of every participant to be able to comment, share and contribute and an astonishing new world is open to all.