One of my over-used mantras when talking about social media is that social media = plural noun. Social media “is” nothing, social media are tools, technologies and services that share some common characteristics but are ultimately different things with different audiences.
It is more than a matter of grammar.
The chart below barely scratches the surface of this argument but it’s a good place to start to understand how different social media serve different purposes (click to see it in full size).
And that’s just a dozen or so of the first general interest sites that come to mind. What’s missing? Well, for starters, niche sites and networks:
- Ravelry, a social network for knitters and crocheters
- Club Penguin, a virtual world aimed at kids aged 8-14
- Habbo, a social network for teenages
- Last.fm, a music-focused social network
- deviantART, an arts-focused social network
And of course this doesn’t even touch the underyling technologies that power these sites and that can be harnessed for your own uses outside of these networks and sites:
- Social graphs
- Taxonomy and metadata (tagging and categorization)
- Rating and commenting
So what’s the point?
Ok, so there’s a lot of different types and uses for social media. Why does that matter?
Because it underlines how impossible it is to answer a question like “what’s the ROI for social media” or “is my organization ready for social media?” easily.
Ultimately, there is no one answer. The potential ROI of using Facebook would be wildly different than the potential ROI of contributing to a wiki, and neither can be calculated without more information on how the tools might be used.
“Is” social media right for me?
Should you be using social media? Is there ROI in social media? Should you allow your employees to use social media?
Those questions just aren’t specific enough.