Attending Dreamforce 2011 in San Francisco laid bare a very apparent reality— “social” as commonly used in “social innovation” or “social media” connotes different meanings.

Defining Social

For social innovators and social entrepreneurs “social” in this context relates to a cause or public benefit, as outlined in this definition:

social – “of or relating to human society, the interaction of the individual and the group, or the welfare of human beings as members of society.” <social institutions> (Merriam-Webster definition)

For cloud computing afficianados, “social” refers to dynamic digital, linked online content, as articulated in this definition:

social – “tending to form cooperative and interdependent relationships with others.” (Merriam-Webster definition)

So, Which Is It?

It’s both, of course. The two definitions of social share a major similarity—they both involve connecting.  In the social innovation context, is connecting with communities, the environment, the downtrodden, animal welfare, civil rights, societal ills, education, underrepresented populations, and other causes or communities.

mint leaves in glassesIn the computing context, “social” refers to connecting online, through social networks, social media, and online platforms and networks that enable online exchanges easily and in real-time. It is the ability to voice a concern or praise not on an individual basis or in a vacuum, but in a crowded room, in which you are shoulder-to-shoulder with companies, manufacturers, media, various other constituencies, and other users of the product or service.

While we may try to correct those who confuse the two popular definitions of social—in reality, it may be time to somehow reconcile the connotations and allow enable the definitions to be connected.

Social relates to cause. And in today’s society, championing a cause will effectively call for an effective social content strategy.

So the next time someone asks you, “do you mean social, or social?”

Just say yes. 

What should we write about next?

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