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What's the difference between social media and social networking?

Social media and social networking appear to be interchangeable terms, but they serve different use cases. Learn the difference between social media and social networking.

While the terms social media and social network seem to be interchangeable, they have distinct differences. Essentially, social media is a platform for broadcasting information, whereas social networking is a platform for communicating with one another. Social media is a communications channel, whereas, in social networking, the communication has a two-way nature. Let's dive deeper into the difference between social media and social networking.

What is social media?

When we think of the term media, it usually reminds us of traditional outlets, such as newspapers, magazines and television. Yet, when you add social in front, the term takes on an entirely different vibe. Social media adds a technology component -- as well as flexibility -- when it comes to how a person consumes, shares and collaborates with what is being presented. Thus, social media can best be described as an internet-based way to publish or broadcast digital content that readers can fully interact with.

Anyone can publish social media. Traditional news media outlets, like CNN and Fox News, publish their own content for digital consumption. Businesses and organizations do so as well. Even your child's local soccer club can create social media for members to read, watch and interact with.

What is social networking?

Consider social networking in the context of who a user is receiving content from. First, social networking requires a platform. Common examples of social networking sites or platforms include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. Users join a social network platform and begin connecting -- or networking -- with other users. This is done so users can choose who they want to receive communications from. In some cases, communication is one-way, while, in others, it's bidirectional or multidirectional.

Social media for business
Businesses can connect to customers through social media networks.

In other words, social networking is like selecting radio presets on a car stereo. It helps streamline access to what you do and don't want to consume. And, again, content can be delivered through personal or business contacts, in the form of news media, or any other community or organization the user is interested in.

Social media requires a social network in order to disburse content to those that wish to consume and interact with it.

The difference between social media and social networking

Even with the description I have just given, there are nuances to consider. Facebook as a social networking site is an example of how the terms can differ and yet somewhat overlap. You register and post your profile, connect with friends and comment on topics in a generally interactive way. On that same social networking site, companies set up a presence and use Facebook as a way to communicate their brand and gain a following. This is distinctly a use case for both social media and social networking.

That said, there is a clear difference between the two. Social media requires a social network in order to disburse content to those that wish to consume and interact with it. Thus, the social media network is the underlying technology and human connections, while social media focuses strictly on what is being published and consumed within the social networking platform.

Paul McMillan contributed to this piece.

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