It would be difficult to find two popular buzzwords that are in more of a quagmire than social media and Web 2.0. The two terms are used, confused and abused on a regular basis. We’ll look at how to distinguish them from each other. (For background reading, see Understanding Social Media: What You Need to Know.)

In the end, it is a matter of precedence. Web 1.0 was seen as a one-to-many online platform where a few businesses, organizations and individuals held a one-way dialog with people over the internet. They could pass on information in a variety of ways, but the interaction was limited.

Web 2.0 was seen as the next step for the web. The main concept of Web 2.0 was many-to-many content. Individuals could set up their own websites and blogs, post videos, and fill the web with user-generated content. Part of the Web 2.0 package was an easier platform to work with. For the first time, people with little HTML experience could set up a decent site through third-party software. In fact, many of these platforms were entirely web-based, meaning that almost any computer would do.

Then came social media, which fits neatly under the whole Web 2.0 evolution in that it centers around easy-to-use platforms that allow users to generate content. What makes social media unique among Web 2.0 innovations is the introduction of web-based sharing. Prior to Twitter or Facebook, you could always email an interesting piece of content to your friends. Social media, however, simplified this process right down to the click of a button. As such, social media is a Web 2.0 innovation not only because it encourages user-generated content, but also because it extends the focus to the users by allowing them to curate other content to share among their networks.

Web 2.0 was first and social media has grown out of Web 2.0 and the creation of the user-generated web. You can refer to social media as a Web 2.0 innovation, but referring to Web 2.0 as social media is incorrect because it ignores all its less social aspects, such as blogs, YouTube and so on.