A digital engagement glossary

DictionaryThis glossary of social media and digital engagement terms comes from a recent piece of my strategy work. It’s skewed towards the government sector, in terms of language and examples. Feel free to use any of this that might be useful for other purposes. Or to challenge my definitions. Or, perhaps, to add glaring things I’ve missed. There are probably no definitive answers to some of these, but I hope you find them interesting and thought-provoking.

Blog: Derived from “Web log” – originally a regularly-updated journal on which visitors (and the original author) could leave comments. Now generally used for a site (or section of a larger site) where text-based content can be created in the form of short articles, almost always open for comments to be posted. These comments may be subject to some degree of moderation.

Campaign site: Website created in association with a specific promotional campaign; usually for a defined period of time; may include facilities to receive user feedback and present an opportunity for engagement.

Commentable document: A facility for hosting a document under review, usually divided into manageable sections, and permitting comments to be left for the author – and to permit dialogue between commenters. Combines some of the features of a wiki for collaborative working, but retaining an initial document structure throughout. Has been used on a number of government policy documents made available for digital consultation. One tool that delivers this functionality (an implementation of WordPress) is Commentariat. e.g. http://interactive.bis.gov.uk/lowcarbon

Content-based networking sites: e.g. YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, TripAdvisor – sites based on content of a certain type (e.g. video, images, reviews) with a strong element of user feedback, user-generated content (UGC) and elements of social networking (e.g. ability to create groups, forums, favourites, peer-to-peer relationships etc.)

Crowdsourcing: The use of digital (or other) media to allow the contribution of information or ideas from a wide range of people, usually around a topic, a question, or a request for innovative suggestions.

Dashboard: a utility that searches and aggregates information from many channels across the internet, and displays it all in one place, in real time, for management, monitoring or consumption purposes. Example: http://www.netvibes.com/socialcare

Digital engagement: The use of interactive techniques to improve service delivery and information provision via digital media technology.

Email subscription: Although not ‘social’ in terms of community formation and peer-to-peer interaction, allowing users to register email addresses to receive personal(ised) updates represents a form of digital engagement. Digital tools build a two-way relationship: the user receiving content, and also experiencing some sense of being part of a community, even as information recipient.

Forum: Area for registered members to discuss specific topics. Can form part of a wider overall site. Characterised by a core user base making multiple contributions and often sharing relationships or culture. Forum content may or not be moderated.

Group: A type of forum generated by users within a social networking or similar type of site. Shares many of the characteristics of a forum, but can be more volatile. Members (who are a subset of the members of a larger form or social network) will typically interact for a shorter period of time, usually around a specific single issue. Creation of fan pages (or similar designations) also effectively forms a Group.

Metadata: Information about information. Often invisible to the user, metadata allows content to be classified, structured and sorted. Tags represent a use of metadata.

Microblogging: e.g. Twitter, Identi.ca, Yammer (the latter within corporate environments). Member communities sharing short message content, openly and by direct peer-to-peer message. Highly flexible in their use, and prone to rapid escalation of issues: creation of “a Twittermob”.

Moderation: Editorial judgement over or control of user-generated online content. Numerous varieties exist, from moderation by peers or by the site owner/author, to outsourced arrangements where professional moderators assess and process comments on a larger scale.

Post: To publish content to a blog, micro-blog, forum or website, either as a new topic or as a comment on existing content. Also, as a noun, to describe the content posted (synonymous with ‘blog post’, ‘forum post’ etc.).

Private social networking site: A social network intended for a specific community of interest. Offers similar features to an open social networking site, but almost always sets conditions and controls over entry and participation. E.g. sites set up using Ning.

User-generated content: Any content provided by users, rather than the owners of an online environment. May or may not be moderated (see above)

User feedback: A specific type of user-generated content: that created as a response to provided informational content. Can take the form of freeform text comments, ‘votes’, likes/dislikes, or more detailed survey-type information.

Social bookmarking: A method by which people can store, organize, search and share articles, blog posts and other information. There are many different libraries, each with their own bookmark, including Digg, de.lici.ous and Reddit. Increasingly, posting content links as tweets or to Facebook profiles provides a common form of bookmarking.

Social marketing: The use of marketing techniques to achieve desired social outcomes (e.g. behaviour change). May or may not involve the use of social media. Included here to avoid confusion with social media marketing.

Social media: Digital tools that permit people and organisations to interact freely with low (or no) barriers to entering a conversation. The nature of the relationships between social media users is often as important as the content they share – the ‘social’ aspect is very important.

Social media marketing: The use of social media to promote a particular cause or product. May or may not have social marketing implications. Included here to avoid confusion with social marketing.

Social networking site: A website offering general-purpose networking features to all who may want to join. Facebook dominates the adult market; Bebo has a focus on a younger/teenage audience; MySpace is now focused on music/video content and may be regarded as a content-based networking site, albeit one with a high membership.

Tags: Keywords describing online information that allow other users to search for relevant information.

Twitter: The best known of the micro-blogging platforms. Users contribute short messages, either on the twitter.com website, or using a number of third-party ‘client’ applications: whatever the route, interaction happens in a consistent and open way. Terms include:
Tweet: to post content (short messages up to 140 characters long)
Re-tweet: to republish another’s post. Good for spreading messages widely, or adding commentary to them
Hashtags: words or phrases preceded by ‘#’. This allows them to be grouped together and easily searched.

Webchat: A structured discussion using instant messaging to a host, who then responds. Usually moderated.
Example: http://webchat.number10.gov.uk

Wiki: An open collaboration environment in which users may freely (or with some controls) create and modify content as a community. The best known example is Wikipedia, where an open community collaborates to create an encyclopaedia, but wikis can be used for tasks as varied as communal creation of a policy document, or managing the names and interests of attendees to an event.


Dave writes… Paul Clarke is a very nice man who is also very clever and good at lots of things. He blogs at honestlyreal where a version of this post previously appeared. You’ll find him on Twitter – @paul_clarke. He’ll also be coming to the Learning Pool conference on 12th May to take a few photos and join in the conversations.

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Dave Briggs

I'm an experienced senior manager in digital and ICT, looking for interim engagements to modernise technology teams to help organisations transform.

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