Parasites and their social hosts form many different relationships. But what kind of selection regimes are important? A look at the parameters that determine fitness of the two parties suggests that social hosts differ from solitary ones primarily in the structure of transmission pathways. Because transmission is, both, the physical encounter of a new host and infecting it, several different elements determine parasite transmission success. These include spatial distance, genetic distance, or the temporal and ecological niche overlaps. Combing these elements into a ‘generalized transmission distance’ that determines parasite fitness aids in the identification of the critical steps. For example, short-distance transmission to genetically similar hosts within the social group is the most frequent process under sociality. Therefore, spatio-genetical distances are the main driver of parasite fitness. Vice versa, the generalized distance identifies the critical host defences. In this case, host defences should be primarily selected to defend against the within-group spread of an infection, especially among closely related group members.