One complexity of social media and the related marketing opportunities is that it is so hard to picture. The tools and relationships are dynamic and digital, so that any graphical depiction tends to be overly reductive or overly complex.

I’ve seen two images that do a good job of simplifying the complexity of social media. Both are similar in that they put the person at the center. In the paradigm of social media we are each consumers and creators of content: our identify is differentiated by the degrees to which we engage in different activities, not by whether we engage in the activities at all.

This is a very different way of thinking about media from the traditional paradigm, which was more linear in the production of media and more centric in the distribution models.

Here’s the first image that I find useful in explaining the dynamic of social media.

social media elements.jpg

This graphic does a good job of showing the different categories of social media tools, and the different degrees of content creation, consumption and interaction that existing within each.

This concept is enhanced with an attempt to incorporate the kinds of activity that are generated by each of the different classes of social media components. The second graphic is a good organizing filter for social media marketing plans, inasmuch as it helps to assign a content-emphasis to each of the tool sets that comprise social media.


Finally, there’s the mash-up approach: take all the different graphic images and lay them on top of each other. What does that give you? A real sense of why the dialogue around social media is so confusing!


Here’s how Tom Cuniff describes it:

I like it is because I think it’s pretty accurate.

* It’s an unholy, incomprehensible mess.
* It’s anxiety-provoking
* The more earnest you are about trying to understand it, the more your head will hurt.
* It’s more fun to look at than a diagram about broadcast TV.
* Despite all of the above, it still looks oddly important.
* And no matter how hard you look, you can’t really see any money in there.