Social Media and Social Networking: Know the Difference

by Joanne Steele on October 25, 2012

social network tag cloutPeople are still confused about the difference between “social networking,” and “social media,” and it’s creating lots of heartburn and anxiety for overworked rural development folks and the rural small businesses they serve.

This blog post is my stab at defining these differences. And by doing that, to help people make better decisions about how to approach the massive number and complexity of internet options for both.

Quite simply put, social networking is human interaction with likeminded people. Social media are the tools we use for social networking.

So much of what we do has moved to the internet that we forget that social networking and social media have lived for as long as humans have figured out that we do better when we combine our resources, whether the purpose is to slaughter a wooly mammoth or to better serve the specific needs of rural small businesses.

The internet is a tool for social networking using social media.

You are already engaging in social networking whether you have a Facebook page or have ever send a Tweet! In fact, in this article by Alexis C. Madrigal in The Atlantic, “Dark Social: We Have the Whole History of the Web Wrong,” we are reminded that the entire internet is a social networking tool, and much of the networking value of the internet isn’t even being measured. It’s dark!

If you use email, you’re using the internet for social networking. If you follow a link to an article or video that was sent to you by a friend, your using social networking! You can’t help yourself. You are human and you will use the best tools at your disposal to connect with friends, customers, colleagues and other like-minded people.

So, what about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and all the other social media available?

Here’s where things get a little tricky. These are useful social media tools for online social networking. But, they only serve as true social networking tools if the people being connected come together with similar objectives.

Brian Solis at Altimeter Group writes frequently and passionately about businesses that confuse social media with advertising. He points out that often businesses think that people “like” their business page because they like the business. In reality, many if not most of those “likers” come once to the page for the discount offer or silly viral picture, and never return.  And, Facebook’s Edgerank sends most of those mindless business page updates into cyberspace with little reaching the likers newsfeed anyway.

I hear often from small rural businesses that are disappointed by the results to their bottom line from the investment of time necessary to post regular updates to their Facebook pages. One business owner had 46,000 likers, and his question to me was, “When do they start buying from me??”

This same business owner gets much of his business from his email newsletter and traffic to his website. When he adjusted his understanding of social networking and social media, he realized that he was already a very successful online social networker using his website and email marketing as his social media tools. He also realized that he was treating Facebook like an advertising tool, posting content without effectively linking his social media channels to encourage interaction rather than simply likes and shares.

What does all this mean for a rural development organization or a small local business?

1. Your organization or small local business is already doing social networking whether you have a Facebook page or Twitter account.

You interact with your customers or you wouldn’t have much of a business. Small local business owners are skilled social networkers, depending on real world word of mouth, and face to face rather than Facebook. You join service clubs and your chamber. You volunteer for everything in town, knowing that it’s good for your business.

Community and business development organizations are avid social networkers, often in the past frustrated that networking happened at a snail’s pace through conferences, journals and print newsletters.

2. The important question for the times is whether you are effectively socially networking online.

The key for small local business owners moving their social networking online is to remember the spirit behind their traditional small town social networking.  You select your networks (volunteer options, service clubs etc.) to connect with likely customers. You don’t aggressively market yourself. You are willing to provide expert assistance and information where appropriate or asked for.

Take those same techniques to online social media channels and you will be successful at online social networking.

Choose those social media channels as carefully as you select your volunteer and service club activities. Go where your customers and potential customers go for information and connection. A blog? An email newsletter? Forums? Facebook? Google+? Use social media tools that allow you to connect with your customer and build a relationship that will help your bottom line.

Online social networking is a boon for rural and business development organizations that can use social media to share resources, ideas and information.

Several months ago I joined, Wealth Creation and Rural Livelihoods, an online community of rural development pros, sharing resources and ideas. This whole website is a social media tool, fostering effective social networking among rural development pros sharing ideas and solving problems.

The question that is being robustly discussed in the forums at is social networking with clients. My experience with these organizations all over the country is that social networking is successful and effective… but perhaps not on Facebook and Twitter.

Center for Rural Affairs in Nebraska has a robust online presence and effective email marketing strategy. California Association for MicroEnterprise Opportunity effectively uses its blog to inform member organizations and their clients. Their strategies reflect their commitment to be where their customers are looking for information and being a part of the conversation. That’s social networking and it is working for them. Arkansas Small Business Technology Development Center  has a relentless social networker, Herb Lawrence, who demonstrates the potential through his effective use of every social media channel possible.

 3. Why bother with online social networking and social media when my customers and prospective customers are local?

In a recent guest post on the Zero Moment of Truth that I wrote for the California Association of MicroEnterprise Opportunty I cited a story about a fellow who needed an emergency repair that illustrates this point. This person chose the company with an online reputation over the company with the nice guy who came to his door offering to do the repair for a reasonable price but had no internet presence. Wow! Does Facebook really trump face to face? Research seems to indicate so. Online social networking is no longer optional, it’s essential.


So to conclude this long missive, start by realizing that Facebook isn’t social networking, it’s a social media tool that might or might not lead to social networking with your clients and customers.

Then, face the fact that social networking has moved to the internet, making online social media of all kinds as important as face to face social networking tools.

Which should you be using? It all depends on where your customer is. That is the only thing that should inform your decision.

Some past posts for your enjoyment…

Has Your Town Been Down So Long That It Looks Like Up To You?

Rural Development 101 – Be a Great Place to Live, Work, Play.

Here is an old post that outlines an effective social networking strategy that is still relevant. Technology changes at lightning speed. Your strategy doesn’t. It incorporates an expectation that the tools will change, but your goals and desired outcomes don’t.

Small Rural Tourism Businesses! Ignore Social Networking at Your Peril!

And, here’s the latest blog post from Take Control of your Internet Marketing: Online Reputation Management: Don’t Get Caught With Your Pants Down

photo on flickr by Daniel Iversen


1 frances October 28, 2012 at 7:42 pm

Thank you again for another informative article that provide much food for thought along with gentle reminders of why we do what we do when it comes to connecting w/others. I’ll be sharing Rural Tourism link & info at an upcoming travel association meeting.
I always look forward to receiving your Saturday newsletters. Thank you.

2 Joanne Steele October 29, 2012 at 8:13 am

Thanks Frances for sharing the link with your travel association. Let me know if you need any info for the meeting.

3 Daryl Phillips October 28, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Great post, Joanne! It is all about making and maintaining those networks.

4 Joanne Steele October 29, 2012 at 8:10 am

Glad to hear from you Daryl. It looks like you have moved! Too bad for Hickman County.

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