I've recently heard social media defined as a websites like Facebook, Reddit, Digg, Stumble Upon, and the like, as a method of simply driving traffic to your website.
But that's ridiculous.
That’s like saying the definition of transportation is “vehicle.”
Social media is not its tools. Social media is a space and a mind-set, not a list of social networks.
The goal of social media should not be to “drive traffic."
It should be to increase sales/conversions/awareness/your real, end goal. While there may often be a causal relationship between them, simply increasing traffic isn’t the end goal. Sending qualified, interested people to your site will probably lead to you realizing your real goal, but it’s not the goal in itself.
If a client told me their goal was just to “increase traffic” then I could say, “Okay, let’s start spamming some people. Let’s try to trick as many people as possible into stumbling upon your site as we can."
Of course that sort of thing would get me fired. Search Engine Optimization and Social Media Optimization should be focused on getting the right people engaged with your product/brand. Not just about getting eyeballs on the page. That’s a terrible goal.
But we interact with and use social media solely through things like the above-mentioned websites, right?
Apple zealots spreading the gospel of Jobs to their coworkers are participating in social media. And that doesn’t require Facebook.
If I asked you to define how transportation worked you wouldn’t start by saying, “well, the internal combustion engine…” Social media is bigger than its tools, and defining it by only listing the tools that facilitate it doesn’t make sense to me.There's something like a venn diagram out there, where digital tools like YouTube and Facebook exist as facilitators of social media on one side. But then there are social nodal points like "I'm a Mac" commercials that get people talking. And then there are guerrilla marketing tactics that get people using social networking websites, and get people talking at the office.
All of these are methods of participating in social media, but none of them completely define it.