Before getting into the origins of social media, its important to state exactly what we're talking about when we refer to the term 'social media'. If 'media' is an instrument of communication (i.e. an advertisement for a bank at a bus stop or a news reporter covering a story), 'social media' is simply a social instrument of communication. More specifically, it is a form of media that gives you information while interacting with you, instead of just presenting this information to you. For example, social media websites include everything from YouTube, which allows users to upload their own videos and rank others, to Ning communities that allow users to create their own content-specific social networking sites, and Yelp! that gives visitors information on local restaurants while leaving it up to them to rank and review their own experiences.
Now back to the question at hand - Who invented social media? Once again, the answer depends on what we're talking about.
If we're talking about the technologies that can be classified as 'social media', the honor of the Godfathers of Social Media goes to Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis who in 1979 invented the world's first usernet systems. Usernets enabled users to read and post messages to various categories, know as newsgroups. At a high level, they can be thought of as a hybrid between email and the web forums of today, and many of the popular group sites of today, such as Google Groups and Yahoo! Groups, as well as RSS feeds are based on these technologies.
If we're talking about who invented the term 'social media', while many organizations have been performing social media practices for decades in the form of community and content management, we've only recently seen the term become a buzz word in the past 5 years. So invented the term social media? It took a bit of digging, but the best information I could find on this came from a recent Fortune post which bestows the honors to a mixture of the following:
- Darryl Berry who claims he used the term starting in late 1994 while working on Matisse, an online media environment and for a paper in May 1995 on "social media spaces", which predicted the evolution of the web into a network engaged users
- Ted Leonsis who in 1997 is cited using the term in the same manner in which it is used today and claims to have created this term in the early 1990s while at AOL to describe "a mashup of technology and communications and media itself".
- Tina Sharkey who owns the domain SocialMedia.com since 1999 and claims she coined the term during her days working on iVillage, where she was in charge of community building.
While the history of social media may not be 100% clear, its future is much more certain. With 80% of all businesses with 100 or more employees predicted to be actively involved in this industry by the end of 2011, this aspect of marketing is certain to keep growing, expanding, and progressing for many years to come.