Social Media Explained (with Donuts)

March 19, 2013 by

Social media takes on many forms, and is ever-evolving. This infographic explains the common perceptions behind some of the popular social media applications, illustrated with a use case that we can all relate to: donuts.

Social media explained with donuts

You can quibble over the inclusion or exclusion of particular social media applications, but the intent remains much the same.

What exactly does this tasty infographic imply? Each social media application serves a unique purpose.

Twitter allows people to share brief updates and popularized the concept of #hashtags that has spread to Instagram and is now spreading to Facebook and Flickr. Of course, the real value for me is to connect with people around a subject (usually based on a hashtag), collecting and sharing ideas. Personally, this has been extremely useful to me in keeping up with the latest on #KM (knowledge management) and #hiking (my weekend passion).

#Hashtag Trivia: Chris Messina was the first to suggest the use of the hashtag in Twitter, back on August 23, 2007.

Facebook makes it really easy for people to share what they like, and in the process, collects valuable demographic information about you that they can sell to marketers. Mark Zuckerberg has promoted the concept of frictionless sharing, making it even easier for them to know what makes you tick. The benefits to you? The social graph search. This also benefits marketers. With over one billion users, is Facebook too big to fail?

Location-awareness application Foursquare gives you the opportunity to check-in at restaurants, stores, and businesses. The initial idea was that your friends in the area might see that you’re at a certain bar, and that would prompt them to join you. That never really took off (at least for me… my friends are apparently privacy-shy Luddites) but it has evolved in to a useful app for finding tips, recommending places near you, and even occasionally offering discounts and special offers for checking in. Facebook and Google have both been trying to get in on location-awareness for local marketing, but no clear winner has emerged.

Instagram isn’t the only smartphone photo-sharing application out there, but it’s one of the most popular. Instagram’s major innovation wasn’t the groovy, retro-photo filters that people either love or hate, but that it launched as a mobile-only social network. When they launched, you could only view or interact via your mobile phone. That’s since changed, but they recognized that a significant shift had occurred — we use mobile devices to connect to the Internet more than traditional computers.

YouTube has given everyone a chance to become a video star, and established itself as a black hole that bends time like nothing else. I’ve only dabbled with YouTube publishing, but some people have embraced the social network capabilities, using them to connect with others in new ways. And almost everyone I know ends up viewing a few videos on YouTube at some point during their week. For higher quality content (but lower views) check out Vimeo.

While most of the social media tools listed are primarily for personal use (and yes, I know there are businesses using all of them), LinkedIn is squarely focused on professional networking. Connecting with colleagues and clients takes precedence over grumpy cat photos and selfies. Although some people find LinkedIn boring, the focus on business is what sets it apart.

Pinterest approached the idea of sharing content from a fresh angle, letting people “pin” their favorite things to a board. With a focus on great images, it really took off, especially with women. Dozens of copycats have tried to replicate their success, but none have come close.

Many people haven’t heard of, but this venerable social network has been capturing music listening habits for many years. lets you autoscrobble the songs you play and–over time–knows what artists, genres and songs you like the most. Based on that, it can recommend new artists that it thinks you’ll enjoy, and can connect you with other people who share your taste in music. I’ve setup to scrobble my plays on iTunes and Spotify, and occasionally listen to the app on my Xbox, streaming music through my home theater system.

The punchline in the infographic is Google+. Of course, many, many more people use Google+ than just the folks employed there, but from the people I know, they are the early adopters. Google likes to tout high adoption numbers, but their figures are murky; clouded by the inclusion of users of other Google apps like Gmail. How many people really use Google+? We may never know. But they have a lot of potential users.

The Business Case for Social Media

Most people look at these social networks as primarily targeted at consumers, using them for the personal benefit. But that doesn’t mean the companies don’t have a business focus. And while all of these products are free for you to use (although some offer premium versions), you should remember this advice:

If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold. – blue_beetle

Advertisers and marketers love the rich demographic data available as a result of our living out loud through social media. This helps them deliver highly targeted advertising that you are (theoretically) more inclined to find useful. And it gives advertisers the tools to hyper-refine the targeting of their messages. Instead of merely targeting camera enthusiasts they can target female Canon DSLR enthusiasts in the Los Angeles area. Hyper-targeting.

And though they were the punchline of my infographic,  Google stands to gain handsomely from all of this data. They reign supreme as King of Search. And as their other suite of applications grows, they gain further opportunities to aggregate, correlate, and repackage you to advertisers.


What’s in it for me? Why do I use these various social networks? I use them to make new connections, and strengthen existing ones. I also use them for my personal data collection, as I grapple with the concepts behind the quantified self and how to apply that data for positive change.

What about you? What do you get out of social media? What do you love (or hate) about these tools?


Who is Jeff Hester?

I am an author, speaker, community-builder, inciter, provocateur, KM advocate, unabashed geek, avid hiker and occasional classical guitarist.

I’m currently working on a third-generation knowledge management system for a Fortune 500 firm, performing usability testing and developing the user experience. Knowledge management (KM) is usually the buzz-word laden domain of high-priced consultants, but I have the pleasure of working with a team that really understands KM and has produced measurable results.

I am a big believer in online communities, as evidenced by my own network of community sites. The biggest of these is BigBlueBall, a user-to-user community providing instant messaging and social media news, support and tutorials 2001. BigBlueBall has grown to over 46,000 members.

Was this article helpful?
0 out of 0 found this helpful
Have more questions? Submit a request