I’m Starting to Hate the Term “Social Media”

This post began life as part of a discussion on our internal “blog ambassadors” mailing list, talking about nomenclature, terminology, and what we should really call all of this bloggy, community, social stuff that we do. And yes, there is a heavy dose of irony here, considering that my job role is basically teaching and promoting “social media”.

I’m starting to hate the term “social media”. For a couple of reasons. The first is that it’s just getting so popular that it’s way overused (talking about the world, not Intel). It gets slapped onto everything. Kind of like Web 2.0. And also like Web 2.0, it’s become so broad as to be almost meaningless. Ask 10 people what Web 2.0 means, and you’ll get 10 different answers. Same with social media.

I find myself always having to explain/qualify what I mean when I say it. “Social media, you know, like blogs, community, Twitter, and stuff.” I’m trying to discipline myself to just be more specific and say what I’m really talking about. The one time “social media” still has some use, to me, is when it’s used as an umbrella term for all of these social tools that we use. But it’s even confusing to use it that way, because you can never be sure that other people think it means what you think it means.

Steve Rubel, who’s arguably the King of Social Media in the PR world, has been arguing for dumping the term “social media” for a while now (first at the end of 2006, and as recently as a couple of months ago). His point is that “it’s all just media” now. I agree with him.

Sometimes I feel like this guy (actually, I just wanted an excuse to use this clip):

So, what do YOU call all of this online, conversational, community-based, fun, interactive, social, text/photo/audio/video-based stuff that we do?


11 thoughts on “I’m Starting to Hate the Term “Social Media”

  1. I think we’re at apoint where all good media involves some sort of community feedback/participation. Perhaps instead of specially-labeling social media, we should be specifically calling out media which is not social.

    The term antisocial media sounds great to me.

  2. I feel the same way. Everything that has a url is being marketed as “Social Media”. Once Web 3.0 comes out then we’ll forget all about the term “Social Media”, the new term will be “Experiential Media” or something of the sort.

  3. The only place that people are getting sick of the term “social media” is in the echo chamber of the early adopters. 85% of America couldn’t give you any answer as to what “social media” is and I’d be willing to bet that 40%-50% of the folks in this country haven’t even heard the term “social media” as of yet.

  4. Ha! I tried getting clients to give up the term “web 2.0” and that was impossible. The problem is, you have to realize that the “social media insiders” speak differently than regular folks such as paying cuatomers.

    I predict that when we come up with a better term for “social media” we’ll still be explaining the old term next year even though we’ve moved to something else.

    Whatever new term we propose, though, could we please make it sexier and more serious sounding than terms like “blog” or “Twitter” or “wiki”?

  5. Man, Steve Rubel really brings the flow and the commenters. Thanks for the tweet, Steve! 🙂

    @Jonathan – The terminology is spreading beyond the insiders/influencers, though. That’s how these things work. We influence how other people use these terms. Three years ago, it was brand new and unique to see a PR guy get up in front of a crowd of bloggers, and talk about influence (thinking of Steve Rubel at Gnomedex 2005). Now, you can’t swing a dead cat in the PR/marketing world without hitting someone willing to preach to you the ideals of “social media”. Sure, it’s not mainstream in the sense that a gas station attendant in the middle of Arkansas could tell you about it, but a few years ago, neither was email, the web, and IM.

    These things start with the early adopters, and spread outwards from there through influencers. That’s how something becomes mainstream (mutating along the way, of course). That’s what I see happening here. I’m hoping to influence that mutation to get a more precise, useful, and less annoying lexicon to use when talking about this stuff.

    And yes, I realize that such a wish is probably hopeless. 🙂

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  7. Why is Media something you consume? For me, it is something I produce and consume. For the generation younger then I am, it is something for them to watch, share, remix, etc. By definition most of the 30 and under crowd don’t differentiate social and media, but for many of my clients, including those in ‘traditional’ (for lack of a better term for newspapers, tv and magazine) media, they seem to like the modifier for media. I have had this discussion with Steve a few times. We may be sick of it, but clients are always looking to understand the thing that is different than what they already do. My $.02

  8. Annie says:

    It’s just the “web” and what you do with it. “Pipes” and “interwebby” are my prefered terms…

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