Social media and new media are not the same

In the new media space, we use a lot of terms fairly confusingly:

Old media
Broadcast media
Mainstream media
New media
Social media
Personal media
Citizen journalism
Citizen media

Here’s a summary of how I think some of this stuff breaks down. Not authoritative by any means, just a perspective that helps me classify what is what in my own head.

Media landscape

Old media is stuff that’s been around for a while. It’s traditional media, like books, TV, radio, newspapers, etc. Note that this isn’t specific to brands or organization sizes – the New York Times is old media, but so is the Boston University Daily Free Press or the Wasilla Frontiersman.

New media is stuff that’s new, in a technological sense. It’s audio, video, and text publication methods and tools that were previously inaccessible for publication purposes to the average person in the past. Sure, you could run your own newspaper, and many did, but you never had a shot at the same level of reach that a blog or podcast today can have.

Social media is interactive media, and it’s a subset of new media, since the tools that enable social media didn’t exist before, and therefore are a subset of new media. Social media is by definition interactive. You can blog, podcast, crank out videos on YouTube, host Blog Talk Radio shows, etc. all by yourself and no one else has to be involved for you to be creating useful media. For example, Seth Godin’s blog is new media, but not social – comments are turned off. Is it still useful? Absolutely. Is it new media? Yes. Is it social? No way.

Social media is the opposite – it’s media that REQUIRES the participation of others. Twitter, for example, would never have existed without other users in the network. PodCamp as a conference would never have existed if it was only one person who showed up. Take any of the social networks, remove the people, and you have something not useful at all.

That’s why new media and social media are NOT interchangeable terms, and why I refer to PodCamp as a new media conference and not a social media conference. Yes, you can absolutely learn about social media at PodCamp, but you can also learn about the greater view of new media, too, and even, true to its namesake, podcasting.

What are your thoughts? Are social media and new media the same thing to you? Are they different? How do you view the landscape and make sense of it?


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  • http://phreadz.com kosso

    Good points.

    But I call the whole box on the right 'Social Multimedia'

    as seen at http://podcamp.phreadz.com ;)

  • http://www.abuddhistpodcast.com Jason Jarrett

    Great article, going to digg it. I agree I don't think that social media and new media are the same thing and I think that articles like yours will help people navigate this new environment and make better informed choices about how to use it.

  • http://www.booksonthenightstand.com AnnKingman

    Like the breakdown. Where do you put email marketing in the mix? Or is that not “media” at all?

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn

    It's not, no more so than the postal service is a form of media. Direct mail is a form of communication, but not media to me – after all, whether postal or digital, there's an awful lot of mail I get that I do *not* want others reading!

  • http://suzemuse.wordpress.com Susan Murphy

    I agree, Chris, but there is an important distinction to make, in my opinion.

    I see “new media” as the whole, encompassing all forms of content delivery via the Web. I actually see social media as more a subset of new media, a form of content delivery not unlike audio or video. It's true that social media is inherently two-way, but then again video and audio have that capacity as well. So does that make video and audio social media, or new media (In the case of your blog, perhaps, yes, because I can leave a video comment!)?

    In the end, it's a real grey area, I think. We are all in this space, inventing it as we go along. I guess it's up to us to some how define it too.

    Posts like yours are great because they get people thinking. I'm going off to ponder now. Thanks!

  • robblatt

    I don't think that you can classify a conference as social media. It's a conference. Everything that people do there fits into one of the three categories, so if you're really looking to include PodCamp for some reason, it would stretch across all three or at least straddle the line between new and social media. I would also list is as “PodCamp content” and not PodCamp.

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn

    @Susan: audio and video have that capacity to a degree, but enabled by other mechanisms, like comments. It gets grey and fuzzy to be sure!

  • http://www.wooby.ca Francis Wooby

    I'm not sure I can think of any new media that works without a social component of some sort. Blogs are not blogs without comments. Video sharing includes comments and/or easy linking/embedding features. Podcasts that don't involve audience feedback are just broadcasts. Thus I think of “new media” and “social media” interchangeably. The fundamental element to this new way of communicating is the two-way conversation. As long as that's in place in some form, I don't know if it matters so much what we call the medium.

  • http://danieljohnsonjr.com Daniel Johnson, Jr.

    Where would you put the newspaper site that is online and has comments enabled? I think that over time that line in the middle is going to go away, and eventually the “new media” will just be media.

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn

    Bingo, Dan. That's exactly it – after a while, it will all be media, period.

  • http://deys.ca billdeys

    awesome stuff but I think Blogs, Podcasts and YouTube can very much be part of “social media” it all depends on how it is used and what the content calls for. When used by “us” it's social, by “old media” it's them using new media and not social.

  • http://phreadz.com kosso

    Good points.

    But I call the whole box on the right 'Social Multimedia'

    as seen at http://podcamp.phreadz.com ;)

  • http://www.abuddhistpodcast.com Jason Jarrett

    Great article, going to digg it. I agree I don't think that social media and new media are the same thing and I think that articles like yours will help people navigate this new environment and make better informed choices about how to use it.

  • http://www.booksonthenightstand.com AnnKingman

    Like the breakdown. Where do you put email marketing in the mix? Or is that not “media” at all?

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn

    It's not, no more so than the postal service is a form of media. Direct mail is a form of communication, but not media to me – after all, whether postal or digital, there's an awful lot of mail I get that I do *not* want others reading!

  • http://suzemuse.wordpress.com Susan Murphy

    I agree, Chris, but there is an important distinction to make, in my opinion.

    I see “new media” as the whole, encompassing all forms of content delivery via the Web. I actually see social media as more a subset of new media, a form of content delivery not unlike audio or video. It's true that social media is inherently two-way, but then again video and audio have that capacity as well. So does that make video and audio social media, or new media (In the case of your blog, perhaps, yes, because I can leave a video comment!)?

    In the end, it's a real grey area, I think. We are all in this space, inventing it as we go along. I guess it's up to us to some how define it too.

    Posts like yours are great because they get people thinking. I'm going off to ponder now. Thanks!

  • robblatt

    I don't think that you can classify a conference as social media. It's a conference. Everything that people do there fits into one of the three categories, so if you're really looking to include PodCamp for some reason, it would stretch across all three or at least straddle the line between new and social media. I would also list is as “PodCamp content” and not PodCamp.

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn

    @Susan: audio and video have that capacity to a degree, but enabled by other mechanisms, like comments. It gets grey and fuzzy to be sure!

  • http://www.wooby.ca Francis Wooby

    I'm not sure I can think of any new media that works without a social component of some sort. Blogs are not blogs without comments. Video sharing includes comments and/or easy linking/embedding features. Podcasts that don't involve audience feedback are just broadcasts. Thus I think of “new media” and “social media” interchangeably. The fundamental element to this new way of communicating is the two-way conversation. As long as that's in place in some form, I don't know if it matters so much what we call the medium.

  • http://netzoo.net Andy Sternberg

    I think the social aspect of the box on the right is still morphing. All of these things can have various degrees of interaction depending on the user / audience. For example, YouTube can be quite social with the multimedia calls and responses and conversations, and Twitter, for some, is still a one-way street. Nice shout-out to the Wasilla Frontiersman, btw – I've gotta check out their web presence (btw, what was Cheney's hometown newspaper?)

  • http://danieljohnsonjr.com Daniel Johnson, Jr.

    Where would you put the newspaper site that is online and has comments enabled? I think that over time that line in the middle is going to go away, and eventually the “new media” will just be media.

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn

    Bingo, Dan. That's exactly it – after a while, it will all be media, period.

  • http://deys.ca billdeys

    awesome stuff but I think Blogs, Podcasts and YouTube can very much be part of “social media” it all depends on how it is used and what the content calls for. When used by “us” it's social, by “old media” it's them using new media and not social.

  • Craig Moore

    Media definition repsonse and question

  • http://netzoo.net Andy Sternberg

    I think the social aspect of the box on the right is still morphing. All of these things can have various degrees of interaction depending on the user / audience. For example, YouTube can be quite social with the multimedia calls and responses and conversations, and Twitter, for some, is still a one-way street. Nice shout-out to the Wasilla Frontiersman, btw – I've gotta check out their web presence (btw, what was Cheney's hometown newspaper?)

  • KeithChilds

    I've tried various ways to map out new/social media and for me the key is the level of personal engagement- for example a company on Facebook is not really social as I define it- only individuals from the company can be social, with opinions and ideas. Throwing a video on to YouTube and seeing comments build up has a social element- but if the only thing you have done is to stimulate a conversation- and you ignore the comments then I think that's pseudo-social. If you have a blog with comments enabled, but nobody comments- maybe because you haven't said anything interesting- is it social?

  • http://phreadz.com kosso

    Good points.

    But I call the whole box on the right 'Social Multimedia'

    as seen at http://podcamp.phreadz.com ;)

  • http://www.abuddhistpodcast.com Jason Jarrett

    Great article, going to digg it. I agree I don't think that social media and new media are the same thing and I think that articles like yours will help people navigate this new environment and make better informed choices about how to use it.

  • http://www.booksonthenightstand.com AnnKingman

    Like the breakdown. Where do you put email marketing in the mix? Or is that not “media” at all?

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn

    It's not, no more so than the postal service is a form of media. Direct mail is a form of communication, but not media to me – after all, whether postal or digital, there's an awful lot of mail I get that I do *not* want others reading!

  • http://suzemuse.wordpress.com Susan Murphy

    I agree, Chris, but there is an important distinction to make, in my opinion.

    I see “new media” as the whole, encompassing all forms of content delivery via the Web. I actually see social media as more a subset of new media, a form of content delivery not unlike audio or video. It's true that social media is inherently two-way, but then again video and audio have that capacity as well. So does that make video and audio social media, or new media (In the case of your blog, perhaps, yes, because I can leave a video comment!)?

    In the end, it's a real grey area, I think. We are all in this space, inventing it as we go along. I guess it's up to us to some how define it too.

    Posts like yours are great because they get people thinking. I'm going off to ponder now. Thanks!

  • http://robblatt.com Rob Blatt

    I don't think that you can classify a conference as social media. It's a conference. Everything that people do there fits into one of the three categories, so if you're really looking to include PodCamp for some reason, it would stretch across all three or at least straddle the line between new and social media. I would also list is as “PodCamp content” and not PodCamp.

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn

    @Susan: audio and video have that capacity to a degree, but enabled by other mechanisms, like comments. It gets grey and fuzzy to be sure!

  • http://simpletuition.com Arie

    Chris – love the distinction between requiring interaction and those forms that can be (but don't have to be) passive. Really helps to think about how the different forms of new media would be useful in very different ways depending on the level of interactivity, too…

  • http://www.wooby.ca Francis Wooby

    I'm not sure I can think of any new media that works without a social component of some sort. Blogs are not blogs without comments. Video sharing includes comments and/or easy linking/embedding features. Podcasts that don't involve audience feedback are just broadcasts. Thus I think of “new media” and “social media” interchangeably. The fundamental element to this new way of communicating is the two-way conversation. As long as that's in place in some form, I don't know if it matters so much what we call the medium.

  • http://danieljohnsonjr.com Daniel Johnson, Jr.

    Where would you put the newspaper site that is online and has comments enabled? I think that over time that line in the middle is going to go away, and eventually the “new media” will just be media.

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn

    Bingo, Dan. That's exactly it – after a while, it will all be media, period.

  • http://deys.ca billdeys

    awesome stuff but I think Blogs, Podcasts and YouTube can very much be part of “social media” it all depends on how it is used and what the content calls for. When used by “us” it's social, by “old media” it's them using new media and not social.

  • KeithChilds

    I've tried various ways to map out new/social media and for me the key is the level of personal engagement- for example a company on Facebook is not really social as I define it- only individuals from the company can be social, with opinions and ideas. Throwing a video on to YouTube and seeing comments build up has a social element- but if the only thing you have done is to stimulate a conversation- and you ignore the comments then I think that's pseudo-social. If you have a blog with comments enabled, but nobody comments- maybe because you haven't said anything interesting- is it social?

  • http://simpletuition.com Arie

    Chris – love the distinction between requiring interaction and those forms that can be (but don't have to be) passive. Really helps to think about how the different forms of new media would be useful in very different ways depending on the level of interactivity, too…

  • http://twitter.com/andysternberg Andy Sternberg

    I think the social aspect of the box on the right is still morphing. All of these things can have various degrees of interaction depending on the user / audience. For example, YouTube can be quite social with the multimedia calls and responses and conversations, and Twitter, for some, is still a one-way street. Nice shout-out to the Wasilla Frontiersman, btw – I've gotta check out their web presence (btw, what was Cheney's hometown newspaper?)

  • KeithChilds

    I've tried various ways to map out new/social media and for me the key is the level of personal engagement- for example a company on Facebook is not really social as I define it- only individuals from the company can be social, with opinions and ideas. Throwing a video on to YouTube and seeing comments build up has a social element- but if the only thing you have done is to stimulate a conversation- and you ignore the comments then I think that's pseudo-social. If you have a blog with comments enabled, but nobody comments- maybe because you haven't said anything interesting- is it social?

  • http://simpletuition.com Arie

    Chris – love the distinction between requiring interaction and those forms that can be (but don't have to be) passive. Really helps to think about how the different forms of new media would be useful in very different ways depending on the level of interactivity, too…

  • http://ariwriter.com Ari Herzog

    As Guy Kawasaki tweeted to me in response to a question about differentiating Web 2.0 from Enterprise 2.0, “Either you have something good or you don't…The rest is just spin.”

    http://twitter.com/guykawasaki/statuses/860211620

    Similarly, I'll offer that on behalf of the general populace who need boxes and diagrams to be explained differences of then and now, I'd use one term, not two. While *I know* what you mean, Chris, comparing new media to social media, Joe Public doesn't without a diagram, so why make the diagram? Just use one term.

    And we're not even discussing digital media.

  • http://www.ariwriter.com Ari Herzog

    As Guy Kawasaki tweeted to me in response to a question about differentiating Web 2.0 from Enterprise 2.0, “Either you have something good or you don't…The rest is just spin.”

    http://twitter.com/guykawasaki/statuses/860211620

    Similarly, I'll offer that on behalf of the general populace who need boxes and diagrams to be explained differences of then and now, I'd use one term, not two. While *I know* what you mean, Chris, comparing new media to social media, Joe Public doesn't without a diagram, so why make the diagram? Just use one term.

    And we're not even discussing digital media.

  • http://ariwriter.com Ari Herzog

    As Guy Kawasaki tweeted to me in response to a question about differentiating Web 2.0 from Enterprise 2.0, “Either you have something good or you don't…The rest is just spin.”

    http://twitter.com/guykawasaki/statuses/860211620

    Similarly, I'll offer that on behalf of the general populace who need boxes and diagrams to be explained differences of then and now, I'd use one term, not two. While *I know* what you mean, Chris, comparing new media to social media, Joe Public doesn't without a diagram, so why make the diagram? Just use one term.

    And we're not even discussing digital media.

  • WRSELL

    Chris – this is one of the best (possibly THE best) description of these terms I've seen or read. This “space” is full a jargon, but also full of 'real stuff'. Sometimes a simple diagram and 300 words can explain the meaning of the 'new media' life.

    Well put, and I look forward to your commentary and insight at our upcoming conference New Marketing Summit in October! There you can help carry this same message to an eager-to-learn crowd!

    Best regards,
    Bill Sell
    CrossTech Media

  • WRSELL

    Chris – this is one of the best (possibly THE best) description of these terms I've seen or read. This “space” is full a jargon, but also full of 'real stuff'. Sometimes a simple diagram and 300 words can explain the meaning of the 'new media' life.

    Well put, and I look forward to your commentary and insight at our upcoming conference New Marketing Summit in October! There you can help carry this same message to an eager-to-learn crowd!

    Best regards,
    Bill Sell
    CrossTech Media

  • WRSELL

    Chris – this is one of the best (possibly THE best) description of these terms I've seen or read. This “space” is full a jargon, but also full of 'real stuff'. Sometimes a simple diagram and 300 words can explain the meaning of the 'new media' life.

    Well put, and I look forward to your commentary and insight at our upcoming conference New Marketing Summit in October! There you can help carry this same message to an eager-to-learn crowd!

    Best regards,
    Bill Sell
    CrossTech Media

  • http://www.manuscrypts.com/brants manuscrypts

    great post. so technically, can old media be social. eg. a call in program on radio/tv ?

  • http://katecarruthers.com/ kcarruthers

    Chris – really good explanation of the difference between old, new, and social media. Especially that social media requires social participation. Very insightful.

  • http://carruthk.blogspot.com carruthk

    Chris – really good explanation of the difference between old, new, and social media. Especially that social media requires social participation. Very insightful.

  • http://katecarruthers.com/ kcarruthers

    Chris – really good explanation of the difference between old, new, and social media. Especially that social media requires social participation. Very insightful.

  • http://urbanread.com Youtube Friend

    Very interesting to see YouTube to have a very prominent position.

  • http://twitter.com/CarolineDangson CarolineDangson

    I like this post. So many people are confused by these terms. I admit to getting confused myself. Thanks for the post because it clearly articulates the differences – you should add this to Wikipedia. (;

  • http://twitter.com/CarolineDangson CarolineDangson

    I like this post. So many people are confused by these terms. I admit to getting confused myself. Thanks for the post because it clearly articulates the differences – you should add this to Wikipedia. (;

  • Isha Edwards, Brand Mktg. Mgr.

    Even though a dated blog, great breakdown and still relevant. When the dust finally settles between old and the current ‘new’ media, it’ll all be media as Chris advised. In the meantime, I believe it’s up to media and marketing pros to minimize the confusion by speaking the same language. Keep it simple and just use the two primary terms: old (or even traditional) and new media regardless of use.

  • Isha Edwards, Brand Mktg. Mgr.

    Even though a dated blog, great breakdown and still relevant. When the dust finally settles between old and the current ‘new’ media, it’ll all be media as Chris advised. In the meantime, I believe it’s up to media and marketing pros to minimize the confusion by speaking the same language. Keep it simple and just use the two primary terms: old (or even traditional) and new media regardless of use.

  • Zoe, Bosnia

    Well, yes and no… I agree that people use all those terms rather loosely, or as they say in my country : they mix frogs and grandmas…
    I am just doing paper on new and social media for my college, and I am also trying to figure out the same, since there are so many terms, and there are no strict definitions. It's still a new field for the scientists – though you have number of “new” sciences emerging to research the field of information technologies and their impact…
    Anyway, what I think is that the new media can be social ( and in most cases are!) just because of the fact that by using their communication channels – anyone can produce and disseminate media content ( printed, audio or video material) , which was not the case with the traditional, “industrial” media such as : newspapers, radio, TV…

  • Zoe, Bosnia

    Well, yes and no… I agree that people use all those terms rather loosely, or as they say in my country : they mix frogs and grandmas…
    I am just doing paper on new and social media for my college, and I am also trying to figure out the same, since there are so many terms, and there are no strict definitions. It's still a new field for the scientists – though you have number of “new” sciences emerging to research the field of information technologies and their impact…
    Anyway, what I think is that the new media can be social ( and in most cases are!) just because of the fact that by using their communication channels – anyone can produce and disseminate media content ( printed, audio or video material) , which was not the case with the traditional, “industrial” media such as : newspapers, radio, TV…

  • Zoe, Bosnia

    Well, yes and no… I agree that people use all those terms rather loosely, or as they say in my country : they mix frogs and grandmas…
    I am just doing paper on new and social media for my college, and I am also trying to figure out the same, since there are so many terms, and there are no strict definitions. It's still a new field for the scientists – though you have number of “new” sciences emerging to research the field of information technologies and their impact…
    Anyway, what I think is that the new media can be social ( and in most cases are!) just because of the fact that by using their communication channels – anyone can produce and disseminate media content ( printed, audio or video material) , which was not the case with the traditional, “industrial” media such as : newspapers, radio, TV…

  • JENMEDIA

    THANK YOU …about time someone declared this. i’ve always considered social media to be a sub-set of new media; having it’s own purpose … to be “social.” you did a great job of explaining it here. -j

  • Angelo Battaglia

    They are different in many ways however similar in some ways as well. I agree that social media does require participation thus making in a “social”. The so called “New” media seems to be the same as old media just in a different dressing, simply delivered in a new technology. My Question is it possible for “Old” media to reinvent itself, possible have you local news station with Twitter comments running across the bottom on a ticker as we are now so a custom to seeing on the national news channel broadcast. If a local broadcast news station respond to twitter feeds for example during the broadcast sort of creating a hybrid media outlet. does anyone see something like that happening in the future?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000391590433 Amanda Morrissette

    I am not going to lie I love old media (not TV as much). I like to physical hold a newspaper or book and read. I don’t know what I would do without my morning radio show (Walton and Johnson) that I listen to everyday. Those things are lacking the ‘social’ aspect though and I love that as well. Being able to participate in news and respond definitely takes it to a whole other level.