What is "social media?"

I frequently conduct workshops for organizations interested in understanding social media, how it will affect them and how they can embrace it.

One of the first questions people ask is, “What is social media?”

I used to refer to the social media article in Wikipedia. However, over time, this section has had a tortured history of revisions and struggles over its content. As I write this, the Wikipedia article on social media opens: “Social media is an umbrella term that defines the various activities that integrate technology, social interaction, and the construction of words and pictures. This interaction, and the manner in which information is presented, depends on the varied perspectives and “building” of shared meaning, as people share their stories, and understandings.” Let me read that again: …”technology, social interaction, and the construction of words and pictures.” Huh?

I can’t use the Wikipedia definition and expect people to be any clearer on what social media is. So, I’ve developed my own plain language definition of social media:

Social media are online communications in which individuals shift fluidly and flexibly between the role of audience and author. To do this, they use social software that enables anyone without knowledge of coding, to post, comment on, share or mash up content and to form communities around shared interests.

What do you think of this definition? Is it clear? Can it be improved upon?

Further reading:

Brian Solis, What’s Wrong with Social Media

Robert Scoble, What is Social Media?

David Meerman Scott, What the heck is Web 2.0 / social media/ social networking and how do these concepts relate to the new rules of marketing & pr?