How I tried to explain Social Media to my family

Christmas is always a time when you’re sitting around the table having a chat with family members talking about all things you. Whether that be partners, relationships, friends, fashion, music, how tall you’ve got or work it’s always topics that we’re not always so keen to elaborate on.

Well this year it was my turn to explain to all my family about my role in recruitment covering the most important part of my role..Social Media. It’s like an alien language to them. They all believe Social Media is just Facebook and that Mark Zuckerberg is someone we mere mortals clearly made up because let’s face it what 26 year old is really going to be that smart and create something as huge as Facebook.

Explaining it all in one is crazy, they still won’t understand and explaining it even in the most simplest of terms, you know you’re nowhere closer to the end when half the room looks at you like you need a straight-jacket and a very big padded white room. So you break it down hoping that maybe half of your family will understand at least one of the various social media topics you are to cover.

What is Social Media?

Social Media is best understood as a group of new media which works across different mediums:

  • Social Networking; these sites allow people to bring information together through personal web pages and then connect them with friends and family to share content and communication. The biggest ones as you know are Facebook, Bebo and MySpace.
  • Blogs; probably the best known form of social media where ‘blogs’ or online journals where users write-up their entries/posts on anything from personal interests, music, fashion, showbiz & entertainment, social media etc. Blog sites include Blogger, WordPress etc
  • WIKIs; these websites allow people to add content or edit the information on them, acting as a communal document or database with the best known wiki being Wikipedia
  • Podcasts; audio and video files that are available by subscription through services like Apple iTunes
  • Forums; areas for online discussion, often around specific topics and interests, normally a popular and powerful element on online communities
  • Content Communities; communities which organise and share particular kinds of content. The most popular tend to form around photos (Flickr), bookmarked links ( and videos (YouTube)
  • Microblogging; social networking combined with bite-sized blogging, where small amounts of content (updates/posts) are distributed online and through the mobile phone network. Twitter is the most popular at the moment

No matter how much I tried to explain what social media is, I realised it didn’t matter. The ‘oh, you’re such a clever girl’ look on my mum’s face explains it all. She hasn’t tried to understand nor listened to what I’ve been going on about for the last 20 minutes. Even videos like:

Erik Qualman‘s brilliant video promoting his Socialnomics book didn’t help or…

Instead they were more interested in questions such as ‘What is Twitter?’ and ‘What is Facebook?’ The only one who seemed most interested was my little cousin who is 6 and honestly hasn’t a clue what I’m on about but is more entertained by the fact that my face is changing different colour through frustration.


‘What is it?’

‘Why bother write 140 characters to people you don’t know?’

‘What about privacy?’

‘You’ve got to be careful, someone out there maybe stalking you.’

Besides the questions my mum is constantly asking I tell her and the rest of my family it’s a micro-blogging site, a social networking tool in which users post 140 character posts to their followers on topics such as what’s interesting in their lives, humour, fashion, music or useful to their followers (or friends they’ve connected with on the site). The looks of their faces says it all, a micro…what.. that is a social.. what.. that does a.. huh and friends with a.. who? {Where’s the padded white room when needed, I’ll haul myself over there right now!}

How is Twitter different to Facebook?

One is an opt-in take on friending (Twitter) whilst the other you accept a friend request, automatically ‘following’ then via a newsfeed. This means that if you have 150 friends on Facebook you can potentially see 150 people’s news in your feed (which can be changed to how much that person can happily pollute your feed with interesting or rather boring/annoying information and you can opt-out on following them or hide them). On Twitter you can be followed by hundreds of people but only see 50 people in your feed-50 people you chose to follow. Twitter is more easier to use than Facebook. Twitter has a character limit of 140, there are no picture or video libraries, no complicated profiles, relationship statuses etc making it as Jessica Hische explains on “Mom, this is how to use Twitter” the real difference between the successful two.

After deciding that clearly not one of my family members understand an inkling of what I’m going on about I instead choose to send all presentations and links to their emails-yes they have emails but can’t figure out social media-WTF?Hopefully they can all accept that their Hotmail, Yahoo, or GMail accounts are in fact part of the online world.

Next Christmas I think I’ll go abroad.


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