Social media is a dirty word. There I said it. I wish the term had never been invented, never mind taken off in the minds of business, media and everyday people. It should be extricated from the records.
So you say "Calm down, Sean - it doesn't matter what you call something, they're only words".
Wrong. Words do matter. Shorthand categories and slogans have power. What's your reaction when I say "Glasnost", "Apartheid"or "War on Terror"? More specifically, why do we call TV "T.V."? Why has CRM taken off as a practice? Who defined the box of "search engine" and allowed Google to dominate it?
See, people like to define concepts and ideas into boxes - that's why we wax poetic and really like knowing and debating whether somebody is into rap music, rock music, country music or jazz. It defines their values and who they are (and we subsequently struggle when an artist comes along that throws the regimented distinctions up in the air).
And it seems like wherever the conversation turns to engaged, more progressive marketing it gets labeled "social media". In fact,the draft toplines of our Buzz Report suggest "social media is the darling of the professional set" lexicon. 60% of professionals use it to define our cool, interesting space that my company and many other credible companies deal in. It dwarfs any other term.
Here's my 5 issues with the term "social media"'s rise to prominence:
1) It's so much more than media- by calling it a media, it really demeans its ability to build value for a company - there are a tonne of benefits "social media" provides (generating insight, user-generated content and enlisting peer-to-peer support to name a few) that other media don't come close to delivering on. Consequently and unfortunately, when the same people that have performed so well through mass media, are encharged with social media - they try to transport the same rules, measures and practices of the previous mediums to this one. They miss out on the subtlety of how dialogue develops, how content is king, how organizations can change based on the exchange and how real customer engagement is better than transitory eyeballs and fans. It plain doesn't work.
2) It's ubiquitous to the point of meaninglessness - as we speak, there are 28,000+ people on Twitter who consider themselves experts or gurus of "social media". I'm sure there are many that are very good, but many have perhaps found themselves in mid career stress, Gen Y career ceilings or downsized from organizations and believe given low start up costs, fast learning curve and isolated examples of "instant celebrity" that they can become a "somebody" in this social media playground too. It's a liberating thought but unfortunately an incorrect one. One of the big reasons companies aren't jumping on the Klondike Gold Rush is the absence of rigourous, intensive study or practice in how to drive this list of diverse tactics for business value. There is a feeding frenzy that is starting to starve itself and are clouding how to easily to determine the best in the business to rise to the top.
3) Social media is the tool and only one of them - Social media is one sliver of the customer engagement pie. If we want to label it all as "social media" we create very little distinction between very different strategies and tactics. What of online communities? What of word of mouth? What of experiential marketing? What of influencer outreach and blogger seeding programs? What of user generated content/collaboration? These sub-segments operate under very different rules and guidelines. By being "vanilla" and calling it all social media, you easily lose the nuance.
4) Social media is what people do - it will be almost impossible for business people to catch up. In fact, more than 70% of marketers believe their customer knows just as much as they do in the realm of social media. Face reality, how are you supposed to compete in knowledge and experience with customers and prospects that could be spending 20-25 hours per week on Facebook, Twitter and other social appendages. For most of us that have other duties and a day job, you can't. Whereas you can be a pro at customer engagement or social influence marketing, you'll never be able to catch up to your audience in social media prowess. Stop trying and leave this term to the customer's domain.
5) Social media is faddishly silo - RIM's VP of Digital marketing said it best “2 years from now- if I still have a Director of Social Media - I should be fired!". By categorizing it, you allow it to be siloed into some department's job. I might agree with the notion there should be some executive accountability for it, but social media is everyone's job. Over the next few years, we'll see social media become part of what we do everyday across the company. My belief is the wheels will come off the cart and similar to how email and database marketing got subsumed into direct marketing, social media will start to take root in companies across customer service, marketing, media, research and innovation, that calling it something different will lose relevance over time.
What do you think? Is social media a curse word in your life as detestable as its predecessors "web 2.0" or "dot.com" or is it the lovable, huggable teddy bear that you embrace everyday?