Understanding the difference between Forums, Blogs, and Social Networks

It’s easy to get the tools mixed up, but it’s important to know the differences. Quite often (usually by executives) I’m asked the difference between Forums, Blogs, and Social Networks, here’s usually how I explain it (focusing first on usage and benefits rather than technical details):

Forums are like social mixers, where everyone is at equal level, milling about and discussing with others. These many to many communication tools allow anyone to start a topic and anyone to respond to one. Members are often at equal level, and content is usually segmented by topic. (rather than by people).

Blogs are like a keynote speech where the speaker (blogger) is in control of the discussion, but allows questions and comments from the audience.
Blogs are journals often authored by one individual, and sometimes teams. In the context of business communication, these are often used to talk with the marketplace and to join the conversation that existing external bloggers may be having.

Social Networks are like topic tables at a conference luncheon. Ever been to a conference where different lunch tables had big white signs inviting people to sit and join others of like interest? It’s like that. Social networks allow members to organize around a person’s relationships or interests, rather that just focused on topic. People that know each other (or want to meet each other) will connect by a variety of common interests. These are great tools to get people of like interest to connect to each other and share information.

It’s important to know the many different tools in your tool chest as every type of accessory fulfills a different need. Before you jump to tools, you should first understand who your community is, where they are, how they use social technologies, and most importantly, what they’re talking about. To learn more about the many forms of web marketing, see this updated list (now in Italian, Indonesian and French).

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