Brian Solis wrote a reflective post today that strayed from his typical forward-looking perspective to reflect on how the term “Social Media” has morphed to encompass all kinds of web activity.

He harkens back to a definition of social media that was developed by a group of leading thinkers a couple of years ago. That definition focused in its short version on the idea of conversation.

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The landscape has changed markedly since Solis’ group developed their seminal definition. What is striking is the degree to which the concept of conversation has remained at the core of many people’s definition of social media and infiltrated the idea of how marketing should develop in the space.

When you take the perspective that social media is a set of tools then conversation becomes one part of a broad spectrum of different opportunities. New media companies have created vibrant communities by integrating different parts of the social media toolkit. Facebook, for instance, is a media property that combines different social media tools, such as photo uploading, video uploading, commenting, e-mail, messaging and micro-blogging, into a common interface that is easy for consumers to use.

I often compare AOL and Facebook, because the initial purpose of both services was to aggregate communities and create connections. AOL drove its product development towards a focus on content publishing from media partners; Facebook drove its development towards building easy-to-use content creation and networking tools.

For a business that wants to intersect with consumers online in a dynamic fashion, incorporating social media tools into the marketing process is essential. Each of the tools requires a different set of skills and processes. Starting a conversation with the market is ONE of the things that social media tools make possible. But even without engaging in conversations, businesses can bolster their marketing by changing the way that they create and distribute marketing content, turning the marketing dialogue into an ongoing series of information exchanges rather than one-time marketing events.

Social media tools have moved Content to the forefront of any marketing process. These tools have changed how Media has to think about the process for building content and audience. Solis is on target when he talks about social media become the essence of new media. It’s even bigger than that: Social media tools have the potential to force change in the structure and process of organizations on the scale that the introduction of the personal computer did.

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