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There’s no such thing as social media

12 November 2009 2 Comments

Social Media. Have you ever really thought about this phrase? It’s a bit daft, really.

Media isn’t social. People are. It doesn’t describe what you mean when you use it to suggest the conversations around a brand or a cause.  It puts the emphasis on the location rather than the substance or purpose of the communication. We don’t talk about ‘social transport’ or ‘social stadiums’ or ‘social eateries’. So in truth, it really is a very misguided choice of words.


In it’s purest form, Social Media is any public or published medium that facilitates conversation between more than two people (I use the word ‘public’ with caution, as it can be an invited participants conversation only out of public view and still be tarred as Social Media). If that’s the case, the opinion column of your favorite newspaper is social media. Letters to the editor could fairly be described as social media. The comments dialogue attached to this blog post. The notice board at your Mom’s flower guild meeting. Hell, the wall covered in graffiti on your walk home.

So I suggest we stop casually throwing up this rhetorical phrase with such a liquid splattering of ignorance for what we’re actually saying (if it’s a medium, isn’t it social by definition?). The phrase has had its day. I’d like to think we’re maturing to a better place. We need language that offers greater precision and insight to describe what we mean when referring to this space. As we come to better understand the potential for valuable conversations in media we’ll develop language around it that reflects this. We need to guide our clients to a richer, more informed expression of their marketing ambitions in socials spaces. What those different words are is yet to be defined and I don’t assume to dictate an answer. That’s something we can debate and resolve in public conversation. Something we can rally behind. A cause. A larger conversation.

Ironic that the means to the answer is the very thing we’re trying to describe, don’t you think?

- David Shearer


  • Michael Beavers said:

    Yes, agree. Also hate the term “social media consultant”. What have all these digital strategy people been doing for the past decade and a half? The only thing that has changed is that the Web is finally living up to its original charter to connect people through an open, noninterdependent network. The exciting thing, on the other hand, is that the consumer software involved in this transformation is catching up with and altering human behavior.

    This is not ‘media’ nor a way to ‘reach’ people. This is a constantly shifting body of products that marketers are attempting to co-opt for their own nefarious purposes. (I write this with affection.)

    Everyone be nice now. Your market is on to you.

  • David Shearer said:

    Very eloquently put, sir. Thank you.

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