5 Differences Between Social Media and Social Networking

Sarah Hartshorn
Sarah Hartshorn Owner, MindSprout Marketing

Posted on May 4th 2010

The differences between social media and social networking are just about as vast as night and day. There are some key differences and knowing what they are can help you gain a better understanding on how to leverage them for your brand and business.

1. By Any Definition

Social media is a way to transmit, or share information with a broad audience. Everyone has the opportunity to create and distribute. All you really need is an internet connection and you're off to the races.

On the other hand, social networking is an act of engagement. Groups of people with common interests, or like-minds, associate together on social networking sites and build relationships through community.

2. Communication Style

Social media is more akin to a communication channel. It's a format that delivers a message. Like television, radio or newspaper, social media isn't a location that you visit. Social media is simply a system that disseminates information ‘to' others.

With social networking, communication is two-way. Depending on the topic, subject matter or atmosphere, people congregate to join others with similar experiences and backgrounds. Conversations are at the core of social networking and through them relationships are developed.

3. Return on Investment

It can be difficult to obtain precise numbers for determining the ROI from social media. How do you put a numeric value on the buzz and excitement of online conversations about your brand, product or service? This doesn't mean that ROI is null, it just means that the tactics used to measure are different. For instance, influence, or the depth of conversation and what the conversations are about, can be used to gauge ROI.

Social networking's ROI is a bit more obvious. If the overall traffic to your website is on the rise and you're diligently increasing your social networking base, you probably could attribute the rise in online visitors to your social efforts.

4. Timely Responses

Social media is hard work and it takes time. You can't automate individual conversations and unless you're a well-known and established brand, building a following doesn't happen overnight. Social media is definitely a marathon and not a sprint.

Because social networking is direct communication between you and the people that you choose connect with, your conversations are richer, more purposeful and more personal. Your network exponentially grows as you meet and get introduced to others.

5. Asking or Telling

A big no-no on with social media is skewing or manipulating comments, likes, diggs, stumbles or other data, for your own benefit (personal or business). Asking friends, family, co-workers or anyone else to cast a vote just to cast it, doesn't do anyone much good for anyone and it can quickly become a PR nightmare if word leaks out about dishonest practices.

With social networking, you can tell your peers about your new business or blog and discuss how to make it a success. The conversations that you create can convert many people into loyal fans, so it's worth investing the time.

Social media and social networking do have some overlap, but they really aren't the same thing. Knowing that they're two separate marketing concepts can make a difference in how you position your business going forward.

Share your thoughts or add a comment or two. We'd love to hear from you.


Posted on May 4th 2010 at 11:54AM
Social media being the tool of social networking is a good definition. The "two-way" communication aspect needs to be fleshed out, not in your definition, but in the way business uses it. User posting a comment and company responding with a modern day version of the form letter is not two-way. Business is still a bit pigheaded on this key point. I fear the day that social media is taken over by business, unskilled in the aspect of being social, and this media is turned into another giant spam machine.

"Asking friends and coworkers to vote" is so common as to make things like the Webbies a worthless achievement. I have two, but because of the marketing of votes, they have no value to me. Emmys and Oscars have a similar ploy with the "for your consideration" ads placed in the trades, but with the sample so small in internet media awards, it's more an award for "award marketing" then in the project itself.
Posted on June 26th 2011 at 10:56AM

Hi Danny,


Great points that you make about the importance of businesses to understand the differences between the medium and the use of the medium (e.g. to network).  Do you see a shift or differences in trends a year after making this post?



Posted on May 4th 2010 at 3:03PM
I like your clarification of the differences between media and networking.  Personally I think that the views you expressed demonstrate part of the gap between 'tradional' media thinking (must advertise, must get in people's faces, must broadcast, etc.) and new media thinking (let your audience see who you are and come to you).  Nice points!
Courtney Hunt
Posted on May 4th 2010 at 10:59PM
Social media and social networking are much broader constructs than their applications in a marketing (or sales or PR) context would indicate. I articulate a more holistic perspective in Part 1 of the Social Media Primer I'm creating, which is entitled "What is this “Fire” of Which You Speak?" and is based on the conceptual definitions provided in Wikipedia and other sources. The idea that social media and social networking have organizational value well beyond their external applications is articulated in Part 2 of the primer, entitled "The Juggernaut is Bigger than You Think."
Sarah Hartshorn
Posted on May 6th 2010 at 9:50PM
Apologies for a tardy reply to everyone's great feedback and commentary. Thank you all for taking the time to share your perspective and thoughts. Really appreciate hearing what everyone has to say and learning from your opinions.

Thank a million to everyone. :-)

Posted on May 6th 2010 at 9:51PM
Great Article! 100% in agreement.

Posted on May 6th 2010 at 11:52PM
... you had me at number 1.  Thanks!  I'll finally sleep better knowing the diff between social media and social networking.  Seriously, transmit / share vs engagement.  Got it.  /sandee 
Sarah Hartshorn
Posted on May 7th 2010 at 12:43PM
@Carlos Roman
@Sandee Weiner

Thank you both. I'm glad that this post is helpful and informative. Tried to keep it simple and it looks like it turned out decently.  ;-)

Have a great Friday to all.
Posted on July 28th 2010 at 11:41AM

So, I guess when we look at this page, top portion is Social Media and bottom potion is socal networking?

Posted on August 31st 2010 at 11:42PM

Excellent differentiations and very useful article.

Posted on December 12th 2010 at 12:29AM

Nice comparison and a good explanation of both. :)

Thanks for the share. :)

Posted on July 2nd 2011 at 8:35AM

Yes Social  Media & Networking have Differences........ its upto you to choose one or both

Posted on December 9th 2011 at 6:44AM

@Sarah Hartshorn Great article - it's really helped me in my research!

I am however, still confused and my understanding is the following:

Social Media/Marketing - is like the parent company, the first thing since traditional, above-the-line (billboards, t.v ads, magazine covers) marketing methods. It took the traditional marketing messages and ad and moved them online, therefore creating an alternative method of receiving the information.


Social Networking (marketing) - is part of the family of Social Media/Marketing, it's more of a tool/technique used as part of social media and the technique involves two-way conversations that build relationships rather than just broadcasting your message. That's all social network (marketing) is, obvisouly not mentioning the advantages and effect of this method.


According to your understanding, is the above (my view) correct? If not, then what are your views on the above, it would be really interesting to know :)



Matteo Pantalone
Posted on April 17th 2012 at 10:59PM

I'm glad you made made the disticntion that the social media is a technology and the social networking can be generated from the technology through human activity and relationship building. I like to use the analogies of broadcast TV and radio. When they were each introduced as new technologies, it took a while for businesses to work out how to use them to "speak" to their audience. Each has a specific set of expectations, limitations, protocols, potentials, pros and cons  - some of which have evolved over time. As a technology, social media and its various platforms will evolve its own set of expectations, limitations, protocols, potentials, pros and cons. The skill will be to build relationships (network) within that set.

Posted on July 22nd 2012 at 4:27AM

Matteo Pantalone and others. You can't say Social Network doesn't work inside Social Media. Because it's an stupid. And that the Internet Law says: Quote: Facebook, twitter, myspace and youtube are Social Networking sites.

Facebook is social networking(SNS). Where people post comments, blog, leave instant messages and add friends.

Twitter is where people and leave Direct Messages.

Myspace is the samething as Facebook.

Youtube is the Center for Social Media. Where people post videos and leave comments.


So stop this confusion. Now guys. STOP THIS TREND.

Posted on March 11th 2013 at 12:02AM

When people use the word ’social media,’ they usually mean the following: Social Media: Internet-based tools, used in a synchronous (at the same time) or asynchronous (not at the same time) manner by two or more people to share personal information.

Note the phrase “personal information,” as it will become important in future posts (a bit of foreshadowing, possibly?).  With the above in mind, the difference of ’social networking’ as it relates to social media is as follows: Social Networking: the act of using one or more social media to remain in contact with existing acquaintances and/or meet new ones.

The bottom line is : Social Media are tools, and Social Networking is the process of using those tools.

Osama Dukhan
Posted on August 3rd 2013 at 11:42PM

why always when we make this comparison betwen SM and SNSs, dealing with then as a communication tools but this tool has just one direction. actually, if the firm for example want to retrieve any kind of information from (Comments, tweets, consumer reviews), it will deal with these both tools as the same with no difference at all. but maybe the quality and the quatity of this data and information will differ between Social media and SNSs.

what I want to say there are differences among these two tools when we use it to push the product or service or even the information to the customers. on another hand, both of them do the same mission when we use it as a tool to get the information.

In short, we must deal with Social (Media or network sites) as a communication tool with two different directions (the first one: from sender to reciever) and (the second one from reciever to sender)