There are those who see the phrase as standing in the way of the true significance of the adhoc group forming nature of the internet (communities of purpose, as I so often refer to them).
Alan Moore asked recently via twitter for a definition those outside the echo chamber might more easily 'get'.
It's a tough call. Many people start off refering to social media as a channel or tool which can be used to target audiences. Avoid.
I usually answer the 'what is social media' question with:
"Any form of peer-to-peer communications which are digitally enabled."
It's my catch-all to cover everything from sms texting, through email, through digg, facebook, twitter, et al.
But what if peer-to-peer isn't a shared term of reference between you and those you are joining in conversation?
Well, rather than the broadcast media's concept of one to many, social media is, as the name implies, more pluralist.
It's many media. (image courtesy)
Many to many.
Many publishers, many advertisers, many marketers, many distributors, many organisers, many producers, serving many, many, many adhoc self-forming niches of relevance (which is why it's a network, a supply web - not a channel or supply chain).
No longer does a small handful control who publishes, who advertises, who markets, who distributes, who organises, who produces. No longer does a handful choose what the many have to accept as relevant (eg the lowest common denominator of mass media and mass production).
Social media is about, for and by all of us. All of the many potential groups of us. And we (and therefore the number of our groups) are many.
At its simplest, social media is where humans talk to each other about any and everything, as humans.
And as we do that, we share information about ourselves. Thanks to the real-time global Power of the Network, we are now better able than ever to find others like us, who care about the same problems we want to solve (right now).
Through our global real-time conversations we find solutions we are prepared to act on to make happen.
Right there is where the value emerges.
BTW: Here's the latest from the #socialmediais tag in twitter.