Social Media vs. Social Networking: What’s the Difference?

There is a lot of talk lately about social media, and many people spend hours a week on social networking sites. It seems that the terms “social media” and “social networking” are used interchangeably. But are they the same thing? Actually, they are not at all the same, and the differences may surprise you. What’s the difference between social media and social networking? Here are the basics:

The network

We all know what a social network is, right? It is the community of people that we interact with. This community may be centered on religious similarities, a common political interest, a shared experience or hometown, or any other circumstance that ties people together and inspires them to communicate with one another. In Internet terms, social networking relates to the vast web of people we are linked to on the worldwide web.

The medium

So, a social network is comprised of all the people, organizations, groups, etc. that engage interactively. Then what’s social media? Simply put, social media is the medium through which social networks engage. For example, your friends list on Facebook is a social network you belong to, while Facebook itself is the social media outlet; all of your Twitter followers are part of your Twitter social network, and – you guessed it – Twitter is the social media.

Different types of social networks and media

Your online social networking is not just limited to “gossip” sites like Facebook and Twitter. Social media encompasses a broad range of media types, allowing you increasingly varied ways of communicating with your network via the Internet. Other common example of social media types include video sharing sites like Youtube, blogging sites like Tumblr and Blogger, interest sites like Pinterest, bookmarking sites like Digg, and niche-specific forums, where users can post questions and answer with others in their network.

From a business perspective

Businesses must approach the concepts of social networking and social media differently; for them, social media involves developing a strong brand, while social networking involves establishing strong relationships. Of course, the two are intertwined; they are just not synonymous. It’s very hard to measure return on investment (ROI) when it comes to social media, as it is nearly impossible to gauge exactly how people are affected by your social media efforts. Conversely, it is fairly simple to measure your ROI when it comes to social networking; you just add up your friends and followers.

As you can see, there is a major difference between social media and social networking, and that difference is in the definition, itself. However, both concepts work together to allow you to interact with the Internet in ever-changing ways.

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