The small business owner's glossary of social media terms

Joel Svensson

The variety and complexity of today’s social media platforms can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to deciding which platform (or mix of platforms) will best suit your business needs.

To help you make sense of all this digital noise, ShortPress has unpacked a Business Horizons journal article which breaks down social media into seven fundamental aspects.

These aspects provide a conceptual roadmap of the social media landscape.

Identity

This refers to the degree to which social media users reveal their identities. Some social media platforms (such as LinkedIn) encourage users to engage in extensive “self-branding,” while others don’t allow for much more than a handle (Twitter, for example). Some types of social media activation will require high levels of identity, while others might be more suited to user anonymity.

Conversations

Twitter and Facebook both allow for quick back-and-forth interaction, making them highly conversational. Instagram has a very limited reply feature, and therefore has low conversational value. Deciding which platform is right for you depends on the level and manner of interactivity you’d like to have with your audience.

Sharing

A social media platform’s sharing element is defined by both the object of its sharing (e.g. pictures on Instagram, career profiles on LinkedIn, and videos on YouTube) and the rules that govern the sharing (YouTube, for example, has robust processes for restricting copyrighted material). Which platform is right for your strategy depends on the type of material you want your audience to engage with.

Groups

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Flickr all allow users to create public and private communities, often made for the purpose of rallying others around a specific interest, cause or event. The privacy permissions of these groups affect how users communicate their identity; some contact groups may have more access to a user’s personal information than others.

Reputation

Platforms with a high reputational element allow users to easily identify the relative social standing of other users. Twitter, for example, does this by displaying the number of followers each of its users have, while YouTube displays the number of video views and subscribers.

These metrics are more objective than that of Facebook’s comment-rating system, another reputational feature. Objective metrics are more indicative of reach, while subjective rating systems are more useful for measuring sentiment.

Relationships

This refers to “the extent to which users can be related to other users”. For example, LinkedIn is highly geared towards relationship building, and allows users to become contacts of other users they have not met through a referral system.

Facebook has a “mutual friends” function, allowing users to gauge both the strength and nature of their relationship with another (i.e. number of mutual work friends, family members, etcetera).

Presence

This refers to how well a user’s availability or physical presence is indicated on a platform. Foursquare, for example, allows users to “check in” to physical places; Facebook has a similar feature, alerting users when they are in close proximity with their contacts. Presence is closely tied to the relationship and conversation elements of social media.

Joel Svensson

Joel Svensson is a Melbourne-based freelance writer specialising in politics and business.

Consulted works: Hermkens, K, Kietzmann, JH, McCarthy, IP & Silvestre, BS 2011, “Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media,” Business Horizons, Vol. 54, pp. 241 - 251

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