Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Do we need to define social media?

I think we’re all starting to over-complicate how to define social media, what it includes and what it doesn’t. We need to understand where people are talking to each other, recommending or slating stuff, but I think the terminology we use is largely irrelevant. It's like 3G - when that term was first lobbed around, consumers didn't care (or even know) what 3G was – it was an industry definition. What people cared about was “I can get video on my phone”, or “my Internet's really quick". (And while I think of it – do most people know what ‘media’ includes? Most people I know outside of media / marketing industries say ‘I saw it on TV’ or ‘I heard it on the radio’ or ‘I watched it on YouTube’.)

Maybe we should apply the same approach to social media. If you work for Top Shop, then your customers are all over MySpace, but not Facebook. If you’re iPhone, you probably want nice things said about you on the zillions of iPhanatic forums. And so on. So whether social media is media or not probably won’t matter in the long term.

I know that we need to advise clients, and clients use these terms – but I don’t think we need to worry too much about tight definitions. Social media to me is anywhere that people gather to talk about stuff, where they run the environment. Any marketing definitions we apply now will change in five minutes, anyway.


Mat Morrison said...

I get really antsy about the term, I'm afraid. I think that if we say the word "social media" often enough, we become word-blind. We begin to think that this space is like any other medium - that it is (for instance) brandable, buyable and so on. That someone somewhere owns it.

In fact, I'd suggest that social media is something like "the fossil record of a set of social activities (conversations included)" That's still deeply clumsy.

Kate Hartley said...

Mat - I take your point, particularly when it comes to clients thinking they can buy social media. Which is why I really liked your post social markeitng and why we shouldn't talk to strangers http://tinyurl.com/8ycobx. It would be great to get to a point where we all understood social media well enough to get that this isn't space we can control.