Understanding Social Media: A Breakdown

I heard a joke recently about social media. It was a fictional claim that social media sites YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook were all to merge into one. The name of this new site? “YouTwitFace.”

The ironic thing about this joke is that these three websites – although all social media channels and very similar in many ways – actually serve different purposes; but many people don’t know what they are, and they feel like “twitfaces” trying to figure out how to use them all effectively.

Before you start engaging with people on social media, it is important to understand the different types of social media and their purpose. The Essential Guide to Digital Marketing (Stokes, 2011) lists four main categories of social media channels:

  1. Bookmarking and aggregating
  2. Content creating/sharing
  3. Social networks
  4. Location

Although there are four different categories listed here, understand that most social media channels don’t fit neatly into one category, but they do each have an overall objective which makes them unique to one another. Let’s briefly look at these categories and some examples for each, then we can understand better how to use each one.

Bookmarking and Aggregating

Most people will know what we mean by ‘bookmarking’ on the internet, as every browser has a function that allows you save a link to your favourite or most visited web sites. There are several web sites, however, that take bookmarking a step or two further by storing these bookmarks online so you can access them from anywhere. While other social media sites also provide a place for people to share content, the focus of these sites is categorization. Websites in this category don’t tend to add their own “fluff” and include channels such as Del.icio.us, StumbleUpon, Digg, and Reddit.

For the digital marketer, these sites don’t display a profile of your business or organization and therefore don’t really require much direct involvement from you, but what they do is show you what’s “hot” and what people are talking about, so you can better create and share content that will direct more traffic to your site.

Content Creation and Sharing

While bookmarking sites show where the buzz is, content creation sites are generally where the buzz begins.
This is a massive category that includes anything from YouTube to wikis to blogs and podcasting. The key to sharing great content is having great content to share (learn more about content marketing here). If you don’t have much content to share, you either have to create it or “piggy-back” on someone else’s success by use of advertising (however, the former is probably going to cost you less, and people might like you more.)

Remember, content creation goes way beyond YouTube (and videos, for that matter). Blogging is an excellent way of making a name for yourself and doesn’t have to cost you a thing.

From there you can help build your popularity by use of microblogging (short text updates limited to 140 characters). Microblogging is what Twitter started as, and what is still its most valuable and defining feature (if you’re wondering what the difference is between Facebook and Twitter, this is it).

The key to content creation and sharing is quality and consistency. This is where you paint the picture of your brand’s value in people’s minds.

Social Networks

While content creation and sharing paints a mental picture of your value as a brand (via news and information), social networks are where you connect with people on a more “personal” level (via two-way communication). There are the obvious examples here of Facebook and Google+, but there are also more niche networks like LinkedIn (for business professionals).

Marketing on social networks involves, firstly, creating an online presence or profile (known as your “page” in the world of Facebook). This is much like your organization/company website in that it may be people’s first impression of your brand, so it is very important that it’s done well.

Once you’ve established your online profile and some followers, you want to start conversations with people. In Facebook, this would involve showing up on their news feed. Be sure to create posts that are not seen as advertisements, and that allow for users to communicate with you in a way that feels more like a relationship than a business transaction.


There are other popular services like Foursquare that allow users to “check in” at different locations (Facebook also has this capability). These are also more self-sustaining services, but are still very important to you as a marketer. You can encourage people to check in at your locations with incentives.

There are many types of social media channels, and although they have many similarities, they don’t necessarily accomplish the same purpose. When designing your digital marketing strategy, it is important to pay attention to these differences and what makes each social media channel unique. You’ll see success in social media when you use it as it was designed for. Remember this: all social media channels were designed as marketing tools; nothing more, nothing less.


Stokes, R. (2011). Digital Marketing Strategy, The Essential Guide to Digital Marketing (p. 338).