An easy way to explain the social web. Really!

I’m often asked to explain the social web … in three minutes or less.  Difficult!   But I’ve come up with a simple way to describe the importance of social media in my presentations that might be useful to you when you meet those people who want you to explain all this stuff like “Tweeter and Facebox.”

And it’s easy to remember:  Evolution, revolution, contribution.


Here is a brief history of communications:

  • Men on fast horses
  • Town squares
  • Printing press
  • Mail
  • Telephone
  • Radio
  • Television
  • Internet
  • Email
  • Mobile
  • Social web

If you break it down like this, it makes an impression that this is really the next stage in how people communicate.  Now pay attention!


So what makes this unique?  What pushes the social web into the same rarefied category as the printing press or television?  Two things:

1) This is two-way communication. Everything else on the list above is one-way.  The message isn’t being controlled by an author or a news anchor or an advertising executive. People are talking back. That’s intense.

2) For the first time in human history, we have access to free, global, real-time communication. There is no other word to characterize the implication of this development but “profound.”


The distinguishing characteristic of the social web that most resonates with people is “contribution.” People are the publishers.  If the content is coming from common people it’s the social web. What are people publishing?

  • Ideas
  • Videos
  • Opinions
  • Criticisms
  • Commentary
  • Entertainment
  • Everybody publishes … including folks vitally important to you like employees, customers, competitors, partners, suppliers, people who love you, and people who hate you.

… so don’t you think you should be out there listening to these people?  Learning from them? Serving them?  And in the case of your competitor, pummeling them?

So this is the easiest way I’ve found to describe the power, importance and uniqueness of the social web in three minutes or less.   What do you think? What did I miss?

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  • Carrie Bond

    Great “elevator” summary!

  • Think I’d add “mobile phone” after email as the social web is increasingly mobile.

  • Mark

    @Carrie Thanks!

    @Jon Done!

  • Hi Mark,

    To me, what makes the social web so unique is the ease of building communities around ideas or interests. It creates an environment for people working on similar ideas or issues to contribute, providing a platform to speed innovation.

    Nice post…thanks!

  • Hmmm… maybe add “Consumption”. What do you do with all that information you’re seeing?

  • Mark

    @John B — A great observation. I thought about this too. I guess the best communities were really people standing around the town square. This really made an impact on me during a recent trip to Italy. I stayed in a village and sat around with the townspeople each night on their town square and thought … wow … this is a cool way to relate!

    Similarly, online communities were the first apps of the Internet age so for that reason I did not call it out as hallmark feature of the social web. But you certainly have a good point and thanks for sharing it!

    @Johnny — Is that a feature … or a problem? : )

  • I suppose you could take your pick there but, along with contribution, you have the converse which is what you get out of the social web.

  • You’re right about the “best” communities, Mark. When my wife and I were in Paris, and even in small towns in Ireland, we had the same sort of experience in the town squares and pocket parks…amazing to be a part of that type of close-knit, yet diverse, community.

    The social web provides opportunities for community on a global scale, not limited by proximity to a physical location. The idea or interest, in that sense, becomes the town square–where people who are thinking about similar subjects are drawn to talk. You’re right about community not being new to the web, but social media has made it so much easier for people with similar interests to meet.

    In my personal experience, I don’t think I would have had the same level of opportunities before social media platforms were created to connect with people in a given field, like healthcare, for instance. Having access to so many people on the healthcare “town square”—even thought leaders like Lee Aase, Ed Bennett, Reed Smith—allows for the exchange and advance of ideas, which helps each of the participants better serve our companies, organizations, clients and the community itself. Do you think the social web has a positive effect on innovation? Have we even scratched the surface?

  • Mark

    @John Thanks for taking the time for such a relevant and interesting contribution to the community. My gosh, there is so much opportunity for connection, community and innovation that it’s overwhelming.

    Have we even scratched the surface?

    No, not even close!

  • Joe

    Before “Men on fast horses,” there were “Men on fast feet.” Think of the Athenian runner Pheidippides and his run from Marathon to Athens.

  • Mark

    @Joe This community is too smart for me. I stand corrected : )

  • What I like most about reading your blog posts is that you bring everything to a level that people can understand. You’ve done it again. One of the biggest challenges for people adopting Social Media is fear. Fear of posting something “stupid” and embarrassing themselves, fear of getting “attacked” for posting honest opinions, corporations afraid of negative comments or the fear of just being out there. Fear is basic human behavior. The only way to address this problem is to simplify the explanation and take the fear away. Posts like this help make Social Media understandable and not make it some deep dark place that confuses the very people who are needed most to make it all work.

  • Mark

    @Steve You are such a very kind person for saying this. Thanks Steve … you are really a gem of a guy!

  • Adam Ingle

    Don’t forget Telegraph also.

  • Mark

    @Adam You have prompted a random thought. Do you know how American Industrialist Andrew Carnegie became so wealthy? He learned the inside business secrets by being a telegraph delivery boy. In fact his entire team of deliverers went on to become successful entrepreneurs.

  • Mark, Short, sweet and simply… smart. My only quibble is that I think it’s more than “two-way” communications. Contributors, consumers, et al. are exchanging and sharing ideas in many directions all at once. It’s open, public in ways that are profound and game changing. FWIW.

  • Mark

    @Davina Great comment. Yeah, really it’s a personal broadcast channel. Probably should capture that in next iteration. I use this analogy in my classes, so all this feedback helps me be a better educator! Thanks!

  • Agree w/Steve Dodd, very clear.

    You forgot 2 dixie cups with string.

  • Kate

    “Tweeter and Facebox” hahaha…the best one I’ve heard is Myface and Spacebook…

  • Social web also helps communities who are in some sort of natural disaster. One can get the volunteering help from Social Web from any part of the globe. Truely, Social Web brought people together.

  • Mark

    @Marc — Dude, I do the comedy around here. : )

    @Kate LOL!

    Saeed — Thanks for this keen observation!

  • Excellent blog! It also makes me think about Twitter as a hybrid between social media and news media. Hot news 24/7. The Internet fueled the two-way communication revolution. “Profound” indeed.

  • Rob Whitley

    Yeah, when I use the social web it feels very opportunistic, for however you want to use it. Just as was said above, the surface has not even been scratched. There is still tremendous room to {grow}! Thanks for another great post.

  • Mark

    @Mark We live in such an extraordinary time!

    @Rob — Thanks so much for your contribution and kind words.

  • Stan Chrisman

    Mark: The very fact you’ve left out key examples of ancient and modern forms of communication, thus prompting thoughts and contibutions from others proves the dynamic you intended. Genius…

  • Mark

    Thanks for the comment, Stan.

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