Social media: Why it's the worst phrase in marketing

I have been involved in social media since the early days when Facebook was exclusively used by college students. I helped build one of the first and largest social agencies, MRY -- now part of Publicis Group. I have since founded a social marketing platform for large brand marketers.

So, how can I view social media as the worst term in marketing when my career has been built upon it? In short, it's a misleading term that confuses both consumers and marketers. Here's how:

It's NOT media

It's communication. It's how we communicate with groups of friends, share photos, and make plans. It is also a filter that we use to personalize what we read, watch, listen to, and do. Our social filters are key to achieve relevance in what we consume and how we remove the rapidly expansive noise.

To marketers, social media is still media -- a term that leads the industry to focus on what can be bought and broadcasted. Media is a conduit to reach people, but social is a desired behavior for all of their communications. This behavior will deliver consumer engagement far superior to the mass media of the past.

Social media has its share of haters

There is still a significant portion of the non-geriatric population that doesn't feel that social media has a place in their lives. This is especially true of those of us who are not Millennials. I have many friends above age 34 who won't use Foursquare, Flipboard or Spotify because they "don't do social media." The stigma around the term immediately triggers thoughts of endless streams of spammy comments, useless personal updates, and compromised privacy. This nettlesome term stops the haters from improving their day to day life by instantly finding places to go, curating personal newsfeeds, or discovering new music seamlessly.

It's holding up superior marketing

Social media is not a siloed marketing discipline. This falsity continues to create artificial barriers for marketers and their agencies that greatly reduce their abilities to connect with consumers. In fact, Altimeter recently found that only 28 percent of companies had a holistic approach where lines of business and business functions were working together for a common goal. For most brands, there continues to be an agency that "owns social media." But why? Social amplification and engagement are (or at least should be) a part of nearly all messaging. 

So, let's agree to change our vernacular

Perhaps this seems like common sense to most by now, but the mere existence of the term social media sets us all back. It does injustice to the experience and value that people seek when engaging online. People are not looking to visit a social media site or app, they are looking for the relevance and utility that comes when apps include social technologies. 

So, what should we use instead? Much of what is referred to as social media is really social technology. It is the technology that has enabled people to message, comment, vote, blog, share, "like," tweet, vine, pin, check in, and view peer-curated content. It is social technology that enables marketers to listen, respond, test, crowd source, engage, connect, and collaborate with their customers. 

Social technology innovations will continue to power a broader creative class, give voice to those without one, and help us all connect to the world, the people, and the interests that we care about.

So, let's all agree to stop using the phrases "Is social media a fad?" and "We need to determine our social media budget."

Brandon Evans is the CEO and a founder of Crowdtap.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

 

Comments

jeremy swinfen green
jeremy swinfen green October 17, 2013 at 1:08 PM

I agree with this wholeheartedly. One tiny thing: at the risk of being called a clever clogs, and as a distinctly geriatric digital marketer, I would point out that social media didn't start with Facebook (or even MySpace). We used to talk about viral marketing and user generated content in the late 90s and early 00s (I ran a social media campaign for Philips in 1999). Before the WWW came along in 1991 (I think), pretty much all you could do online as a consumer was "social media" in the form of bulletin board discussions. Social media technology and consumer behaviour underpins the internet - which is after all based on telephone lines! Without a detailed understanding of the drivers of online social behaviour marketers will only tap a tiny part of the potential of digital marketing.

Joe Buhler
Joe Buhler September 19, 2013 at 6:59 PM

I couldn't agree more with the opinion expressed here. In fact I've advocated the same since shortly after first engaging with people using social web tools about six years ago. Personally, I've always preferred the term social web as I find media too restrictive. It is about human interaction enabled by social technology, or technology used for social exchange. The reason so many organizations are not successful in their social engagement effort is precisely due to their thinking in terms of silos. You can't just "do social" but ultimately have to "be social" to succeed.

Matt Hames
Matt Hames September 19, 2013 at 5:45 PM

Even more, social media sites are merely "websites" to the general public. Not only do we need to stop using the term social media, we need to rethink the term website. The general public doesn't necessarily distinguish between your website, your wikipedia page, or your Facebook page when getting information.

Joel Gunz
Joel Gunz September 19, 2013 at 5:18 PM

Thanks for a good article and I mostly agree. It's for the reasons you state that social media (sorry!) strategy ought to be in the purview of PR firms (IE pros who understand the high touch nature of relationship building) that have a deep understanding of Social who work closely with client-side advocates. Ad agencies treat Social like any other media platform and they biff it almost every time.

kevin lynch
kevin lynch September 19, 2013 at 5:15 PM

I agree, Brandon-enough of the silos. What if organizations decided to only have certain folks responsible for grammar and punctuation? Not everyone is as proficient or prolific in social media but it should be seen as a required skill across the enterprise--not just marketing.

Kevin Lynch
ComBlu, Inc.