The five C’s of social media.

This is the original 5 C's of Social Media post. It has been rehashed, re-used and modified by many since but this is where it all started.

Yesterday I wrote about the five base opportunities afforded us by social media and wanted to expand on them a little. As I said, they are:

  • the opportunity to contribute - easy sharing of information
  • the opportunity to comment - your chance to have your say
  • the opportunity of conversation - getting involved in discussions with others
  • the opportunity to collaborate - work with anyone, anywhere to achieve a common goal
  • the opportunity of community - building relationships online

While social media allows us to do many things it is these five C's that form the core of what it means to me and affects the way in which I use it.


This is pretty self explanatory and, in the current context, would include posting to sites like flickr, blogs etc. - essentially providing some form of content for the consumption of others. Content sharing has never been easier and, with methods of delivery such as RSS, subscribing to those shared items is a breeze.

Now, not everyone using social media is a contributor in this sense of the word but may contribute in other ways as we shall see below.


Mark Dykeman remarked on FriendFeed that he is "starting to see more users on FriendFeed who aren't importing any RSS feeds into their lifestream" and asks "Are they just here to talk/comment?"

As mentioned above, social media does not automatically imply that you are a content creator but may still have a perfectly good contribution to make by way of making comments. David commented on my earlier post that comments and conversation could be merged but, as he himself admits, making comments does not necessarily mean that you are entering in to a conversation.

There are a number of scenarios where 'comment' is a standalone action and so warrants a classification of its own. A comment is an opportunity to stand up and be counted or to voice your opinion. Real world applications could be voting (political or otherwise) or surveys.

While standalone comments may not be viewed by some as truly within the 'spirit' of social media they are just as valid and often lead to intelligent discussion.


The real bread and butter of social media is the discussion it promotes. While we have always had conversation in one form of another, social media extends the scope of those conversations by increasing the ease with which we can have them with more people in increasingly diverse locations. We are also, therefore, able to expand our own spheres of influence far beyond that which we would be able by traditional means.

While real world applications for what we call social media may be limited there is no reason why we cannot apply the concepts to other areas. Take for example the use of mobile phones. The ubiquity of these devices is without question and we would feel lost without them but in so far as their base function (making calls) is concerned there is so much more that we could do with them.

We take conference calls for granted on the phones in our office but it seems unnecessarily complicated to set up a conference call on a mobile. Carriers do sometimes offer the facility but generally only to business customers. Why not provide this facility to personal contracts? We are encouraged to set up our favourite contacts so that we can reap the benefits of reduced rate calls but why not enable us to configure a group of friends and call them all at once just as we would send them all a text message? An instant social application of existing technology - teens would love it.


As a direct consequence of enhanced conversation and connectivity comes the ability to collaborate more effectively. Collaboration tools of all types already existed before the current race towards making things more social but the social element acts as a facilitator. The business implications are obvious but the reach should be extended beyond the corporate setting - clubs and groups, student projects, volunteer work can all benefit not only from the utility afforded but also be doing away with the need to come together in one physical location


I won't apologise for repeating myself - social media is all about people. The tools exist because people demand them and those people, and the inspiration they provide, are the most valuable resource that social media has to offer.

While the meaning of 'friend' is distorted we can build great online relationships with like minded individuals from all over the world which should supplement (and not replace) our normal face-to-face acquaintances. If possible we should also strive to take these new friendships away from the computer, be it by voice or in person, non-typed communication can extend our connections far beyond that which we can achieve by keyboard alone.

In life we build a circle of friends based on our location and experience, the same applies in a social media context but with the advantage that we are not constrained by those same factors. Not only do we extend our sphere but we can gain additional benefits with regards to our reputation.

New blood

There are a number of users who are not social media mavens already on services such as FriendFeed but these are the tech savvy crowd who would otherwise find alternative means to achieve what they currently can with whatever service they are using. When people talk of the desire to see social media go mainstream these are not the target audience being discussed.

In the first instance I don't think it's a case of getting other users on existing services but more a case of identifying where people could benefit from the things social media hopes to achieve. We should perhaps be taking the lessons we learn and using them in other real world applications to improve existing tools rather than try to thrust new ones in peoples faces. Once we see a shift in offline behaviour we may then be able to migrate people but they will not want to use "social media" just because we say they should - it generally goes against what people currently accept as the 'right' way to do things.

Social media is a product of the internet but everything we strive to achieve has it's derivation elsewhere: in what we call life so why draw distinctions between the two. We must employ the same tactics we use online to our daily dealings, perhaps then we will be able to convince others of the utility afforded by online services. We need to be selling social media as merely an extension of what we already do - just another tool to change life for the better. Perhaps then we can add a sixth C to the social media list: culture.

Related Posts
  1. Nice breakdown of the 45 C's Colin. I think Contribute is actually going to be pretty easy for non-social media types. Directly posting a URL into FriendFeed is a contribution, and can spark very good discussions. That's where mainstream adoption of FriendFeed will be.
  2. ryanbrymer says: #
    You are on point as always. I for one can attest to the value of carrying our social media concepts out into the real world.
    Why is it, though, that it is so easy to intentionally contribute (blogging everyday, liking, etc.), but it seems to be so hard to be intentional in real life?
  3. colinwalker says: #
    Perhaps it's because social media is detached from our “real lives”. We are under constant pressure at work etc. so may be more guarded whereas, for most, the internet is a means of escapism – perhaps many are more relaxed in this environment without the aggravation of the daily grind.
  4. Mark Dykeman says: #
    Fair point about “Comment”, Colin. I'm probably making bad assumptions about people's intentions, it just reminded me of things I'd seen in social news.

    Every new user deserves the benefit of the doubt.

  5. Nice work expanding on the 5-C's Colin. I appreciate your insights. I also like where your thoughts are going regarding a 6th C for Culture. Social media does have a neat and in some ways unique culture – I have been seeing others posting about culture and I wrote an article last week on Twitter's Connecting Culture:

    Just like off-line we see varying cultures around the world. Through online social media tools cultures are forming as well.

  6. […] those of you who still have questions about social networking and what it can do for you, Colin Walker has a good write-up on the Five C’s of Social Media – Contribue, Comment, Conversation, […]
  7. oldskoolmark says: #
    Excellent post. Great sum up of what social media stands for. I've been trying to examine the ROI of using social media to enhance a brands reputation because of its newness to some ppl, but with my latest post,

    maybe social media shouldn't be measured at all and should be part of what we are in our day to day work lives, part of our culture.

  8. Lacy says: #
    This is a great summary of social media. I think that you're correct in saying that we can add Culture to the 5 C's that are already in existence.
  9. David says: #
    The big one listed here being – Collaboration. People are always questioning – what am I supposed to talk about ? what are we supposed to do? Collaboration is the key. Collaboration is the value you can get from these sites – whether its meeting people and gaming all night, sharing favorite websites, blogs, shopping sites or tackling a web design project – collaboration on anything takes your weakness (or lack of knowledge in something) and compliments it with strengths from another. A collective effort.
  10. Annette says: #
    Where can I find reliable statistics about the user behaviour in blogs and other social media? So far (as I am only a bginner) I'm using social media as an addition to my regular website and to promote it. But some poeple say there was no use for a regular website at all anymore an that only blogs are the future. But are there really so many people contributing substantial posts and doesn't social media risk to end in itself and to distract us from what we wanted to do in the first place?
  11. Matthew Gain says: #
    Great post Colin – we just need a nice little diagram we can all slip into our presentations now. 🙂