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Three Laws of Social Media


This post originally ran on the Huffington Post



Social media. Two average-sized words that carry a tremendous amount of meaning. However, we have yet to create a working operational definition for social media.


Some define it as a concept — the democratization of the spreading of information. To others, it’s a product — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. And to many, it’s an experience — user-generated content.

As you can see, there are several different ways of defining social media, but throughout each definition — just like other sciences — there is an undercurrent of non-negotiable laws governing how information is spread using social media.

The correlation between the hard (physical) and soft (social) sciences that exists can be found in the structure, the building blocks, of each. This correlation rests in the laws defining each science and as we continue our social media evolution, we should take a step back and look at the laws that define this space.

These laws can help us understand why social media a) is the logical next step in the evolution of media and b) has changed the way we send and receive information.

The three laws of social media:
1. When two or more users are put in contact with each other, there will be a net exchange of information between them unless or until they cease to exchange information.

Once contact has been made, each user’s connections are now open to more information, creating what has been defined as the social graph.

With the introduction of social networking technology – allowing us to disseminate information in real time across space to others and actively respond to messages – our social graph has grown exponentially.

If we look at the advancements of mass communications technology, we can see how each significant invention has broken down both time and space, but also increased its reach. The social media conduit has, just like the telegraph, radio and television, altered the way information is spread and consumed.

2. Information can be transformed, but cannot be created or deleted – content is at once both innovative and repetitive. In other words, information – in the form of status updates, links, etc – is not new, just changed. Information circulating in the social sphere is just repurposed from other aspects of life.

Since social media is predicated on the open flow of information, it should be noted this flow is a form of content transfer. This is why social media is important: because it’s a two-way conversation between people and people, between brands and people, between industries (journalism, celebrity, etc) and people, whereby the flow of information is unfiltered.

Throughout history, this flow of information was just a trickle in the spigot of life, being broadcast by the few to the many; now it’s a tidal wave of information. This is why social media has changed the way we send and receive information – the democratized process of information flow is now embedded in our cultural psyche. We’ve opened up Pandora’s Box and the world has changed; indeed philosophically, social media has become an integral thread in the fabric of our society.

Our era is called the “Information Age” for a reason. Social media has left its footprint on this age and as we move forward, the pervasive idea that information should be both accessible and free is as strong a tenet of democracy as the ability to criticize the government.

Unfortunately, because of this non-filtered approach, information tends to be very noisy.

3. On a social media network, content that occurs will tend to increase the digital entropy of the social sphere.

In data transmission and information theory, entropy is a measure of the loss of information in a transmitted signal or message. In social media, digital entropy can be defined as a measure of how much the content within a social network is potentially available to a user’s network to inform (or entertain) and how much of the content is potentially manifest as empty space.

Basically, the amount of information spread from user via a social network and received by his/her network is dependent on a) how many people in the network can see the information (i.e., if you post on Twitter about your lunch during the Grammy’s, reception of your message will be low) and b) how many people care.

Social Thermodynamics?

You’ll notice the laws of social media are similar to the laws of thermodynamics. As we all remember from our 11th grade physics class, physics is the study of matter and its motion through space-time, and we can look at a parallel definition of social media as the study of information (matter) and its delivery (motion) through tools like Twitter/Facebook/etc. (space-time).

Just like my high school baseball coach used to say, “It’s all in the fundamentals.” Building blocks, whether amino acids, grammatical and derivational morphology or subatomic particles, all help us understand the world around us and as we continue to alter the social media landscape (think what it was in 2007 vs. 2005 vs. 2002) we will still adhere to these fundamental laws.

Have you thought about any other laws in the social media universe? Let us know in the comments below.


About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is the content strategist for The Washington Post. Prior to that he was the media reporter for Digiday. Additional bylines include: The Atlantic, The Awl, Pacific Standard, Mashable, Huffington Post, Mediaite.


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