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New Media or Social Media - What's the Difference?

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by Andy McCaskey, Principal

We are fast approaching the state that connects almost anyone on the planet via the internet, now under its most recent moniker, “Social Media”. Understanding a bit about the relative position of Social Media in the world of New Media can offer an executive a deeper understanding of the changing landscape and help channel its flash, sizzle and current “trendiness” into useful business goals such as setting strategy, anticipating and mitigating risk, product development, and competitive awareness.

We define New Media as informal content, distributed via the internet, and produced and consumed by both internal and external audiences. Social Media (Somed) is both a subset of this definition and a distribution channel for New Media content.

The “Big Five” of Somed - Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and Pinterest - distribute content across a wide variety of audiences. By user count, Facebook dwarfs the remaining channels, claiming 901 million registered users in April 2012, and expected to surpass a Billion users by the end of 2012. Twitter is at 500 million, although less than 140 million are active. Pinterest entered the year with less than 10 Million users, but is very rapidly evolving with participation by surprising companies in industry segments like big pharmaceutical companies ( connecting with a largely female audience. Google+ numbers were reported as 250 million on a July 2012 earnings call. LinkedIn supports well over 175 million users, as of June 2012. Thanks to traditional media and press, these top networks have high name recognition (if not understanding) in the general public.


The Social Graph and Trust

A clear distinguishing feature of Social Media, as opposed to other forms of New Media distributed through the internet, is the inclusion of the “social graph” or “sociogram” - terms coined by Facebook to illustrate the relationships among those who are signed up for a particular Social Media tool. Note that each individual has (to a greater or lesser degree) validated the connection by including a person as “Friend”, “Colleague”, “Business Connection” or similar relationship category in placement on their social graph. In the case of Twitter, the user has explicitly selected an individual to follow and even if no previous relationship exists is at least notified when others follow them.

The use of Social Media implies selective content curation and adds trusted and known relationships (strong or weak) to the mix in a curation role. When a user posts, tweets, embeds or links to content, the selection includes implicit endorsement of content selected or filtered from the “river of news” surrounding ideas and products. This content endorsement has a two-fold impact: The recommendation is being made by a source that is more credible than others (as a “known” connection) and secondly the specific item being recommended or endorsed is being validated by that trusted source.

By contrast, content distributed by other (non-Social) New Media vehicles are more analogous to traditional broadcast (TV, web video, streaming video), on demand broadcast (YouTube, web video), or opt-in direct response (Roku, podcasts). Trust in a content provider who is not on one’s social graph is based only upon repeated observation of veracity, and is built over time.


Brute Force Approach?

In developing a Social Media strategy for your business, it is tempting to think of using the five major Somed platforms with a quick and direct coverage plan approach: one article, four cut-and-pastes, and a (Pinterest) photo. This “carpet bomb” Somed strategy yields to the temptation to “get on” Social Media without thinking first about the business objectives and advantages being sought.

If you do not select the right channels for your product, your industry, and your customers, the effort is almost assured to be misdirected. There are strong generational differences, and demographic mixes that will vary from platform to platform. Consumer products and services will align differently along certain Somed platforms, while business markets will attract and congregate other groups of influencers, prospects, and customers.


Risks of Unplanned Social Media Activity

New Media content, distributed with or without benefit of the social graph, is by definition not highly produced, and is most often user generated. This kind of content can open the enterprise to risks including potential exposure of strategies, IP, methods or practices. Even in the best case, the outbound marketing messaging that has been carefully crafted will be modified in either a positive or a negative manner.

Social Media posts remove the first line of defense - a healthy degree of skepticism or critical thinking that questions the veracity of the content. There is a connection in Social Media - tenuous though it might be - that implies a certain level of trust. Social Media tools allow easy spread of malicious or inaccurate information. Twitter has exceptional power in its ability to distribute “trusted” content to strangers with whom you have no relationship except that they have decided to follow you. Twitter has a feature called “#hashtag” or “hashing”. Hashing is a way of signaling or including materials presumably pertaining to the topic preceded by the hash (#) mark in a tweet, allowing followers to quickly find everything posted about that topic. You can imagine the press that might result from the hashing misinformation and fraud referencing your latest product announcement.

A very recent example of damage to a major company’s reputation occurred in early September 2012 when an internal failure at, a major website hosting service, resulted in millions of web sites going off- line for hours. This outage was found to be caused, not by a hacker attack, but by a bragging tweet from a user @AnonymousOwn3r, picked up by the mainstream press. It is certain to have a negative effect on the company’s business.


Benefits of Social Media Activity for your Brand

The benefits of leveraging the social graph in a positive manner include building relationships with prospects, customers, and suppliers. The content curation effect, and the implied endorsement of those whose opinion you value, can have tremendous influence on your reaction to information and serve as incentive to engage by viewing the video, clicking on the whitepaper download, or going to the web page. Value-adding messages that are successfully injected into the system will tap the connections of your social graph and extend your reach and impact.

Intelligent use of the #hashtag system by technology, industry, geography or interest on Twitter can alert prospects to your product in a timely and positive manner. Example: #cloudcomputing could increase the impact of your tweet linking to a novel whitepaper or report to thousands of prospects who had no awareness of your entry into a new market space such as cloud computing.


Why Marry Social Media to New Media?

Much content is now ranked and reviewed on Social Media sharing, not just web sites alone. Ekaterina Walter, Intel’s Social Media Strategist, noted in Fast Company “Smart Brands are learning how to navigate visual Social Media” - such as Instagram, and Pinterest. Smart companies are also using bits of informal New Media content (15 second video clips, audio podcast summaries, informal whiteboard scale infographics, Slideshare) as a part of their Social Media presence because they are the building blocks of other forms of New Media.

In the next article, we will talk about how you can add authenticity, reduce production cost, and increase the value of longer form content through smart integration, and how your costs and investment in both social media and new media can be kept under control with planning.

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