It is clearly an understatement to say that social media is a hot topic. Social Media has been scrutinized, debated, misunderstood, used for good… and evil. It has been used by large multi-national companies to small one-person shops. And you know it has hit the mass social conscience when your parents and grandparents are using it.

Until recently, I assumed that the majority of people understood the differences between the various social media services. It is one thing to know about what services are out there, it is another altogether to know how to use them effectively.

A little while back my father, who is in the process of retiring, asked me about social media for his new consulting business. Like most people, he is on the usual suspects like Facebook and LinkedIn already, but was interested in knowing if there was anything else he could use to promote his business and tell his brand story.

I began to explain to Dad that there were a lot of social media services out there and that each one has a specific use depending on his desired response. However with each subsequent sentence I noticed an increasingly blank and confused look on my Dad’s face. Here I thought that I was giving advice and knowledge worthy of a TED Talk and I had lost Dad no more that 3 sentences in.

It was at that moment that I realized all the knowledge and experience I have makes no difference if I can’t explain social media in its simplest form to people who are not familiar with it. I was far too caught up in all the granular details, when all Dad wanted (or needed, to be more accurate) was a simple and understandable explanation.

The funny thing is… as well as I understand social media I struggled for a way to break it down to something understandable for him. It was at that point I told him that I will get back to him and went on a research mission searching for a way to describe and explain social media quickly and effectively. An elevator speech of social media if you will.

I came across a wonderful post on called “Social Media Explained with Donuts.” This was the clearest break-down of social media services and the differences between them that I could find. It goes something like this:

  • Twitter – I am eating donuts
  • Facebook – I like donuts
  • Foursquare – This is where I am eating donuts
  • Instagram – Here is a vintage photo of my donuts
  • YouTube – Watch me eating my donuts
  • LinkedIn – My skills include eating donuts
  • Pinterest – Here is a donut recipe
  • LastFM – I am now listening to donuts
  • Tumblr – Here is a story about  donuts
  • – Can I get pregnant eating a donut?

The examples above are just a few of the more popular social media services out there but this is a great example of how to explain social media effectively and quickly. Needless to say this was a far more superior way of describing social media to my Dad.

This is now how I begin all conversations with people, including clients who are in the beginning stages of using social media.

Thank you Dad for another valuable lesson learned!