Fundamentally, the distribution has always been the key of the media business. “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one” was once said by A. J. Liebling, but the truth is, owning a press without the means to distribute your paper doesn’t have a lot of meaning.
The Internet have somewhat democratized that as anyone can easily and at low cost, distribute content… up to a certain point.
The Internet and the World Wide Web have created a new type of media that has been called, “social media”. It’s a broad an not so clearly defined category that generally include the various ways to distribute content over the Internet in such way that the audience can be part of the distribution process.
Let me try to clarify. The mere fact of presenting content on the Internet on a web site doesn’t make it social. Also, if you are interacting with a couple of friends, doesn’t make it “media” content or at least, not a “mass media” content.
The activity of sharing little bits of information among groups could be defined more as a “social network” than “social media”. Yes, the line can be blurred between the two but I think it is reasonable to see it under the view of how much impact does the publishing of information have on a target audience.
So, defining a target audience is key to drawing a line between “social network” and “social media”.
Let me take a step back. In college, I was part of the student union at my college and we were publishing a newsletter. We did often print up to 4 000 copies of it for a student population of approximatively 5 800. The distribution in regard to the target audience was very high so we could say that it was a type of media. If my target audience had been the population of Montreal or about 1 million people, our newsletter would have been a very minor media and would probably be consider a “flyer”, not really a media.
So to be considered a media, you have to reach a significant distribution within the target audience. You need to have an impact. We don’t consider that any website published by anyone is a media. You need to carry information and have an impact within your target audience.
Now for your media to be consider social, you need social interaction and you need it to be meaningful. Your media needs to be available widely on the Internet and people need to have a mean to easily share and comment on content that you are publishing. If mechanisms do exist to do that and a significant part of your target audience view and interact with that content, then we can talk about “social media”.