Draft: Social Media Definition

I’ve got an
engagement coming up on Wednesday, where I’ll be asked a bunch of questions
about social media, and how "big companies" are handling it. This
should be a good forum for a couple reason, not the least of which is that I
have no clue what I’ll say yet.

 

(For the record, I’m
not a huge fan of the title of this seminar, though I’m proud to be a part of
it. It’s an urgent question for those in the corporations that are trying to
make sense of it, but ultimately there’s no right answer, or any reasonable claim
to an authoritative opinion. It’s still so early, and no one has this figured
out; A discussion about this topic at this point is 98% theoretical. Anyone
who claims any different is a goofball. Thus, it’s a perfect subject for a
gathering like this.)

 

When I gave my last
talk at MiMA, about Web 2.0
and what it was and wasn’t, I had been thinking
about it for a while, had talked to some folks about it, and even had a deck
ready to go. The talk worked out pretty well, but I don’t have the same prep going into this next talk. And, to make it worse, I’m
going to take away the cliche crutches and forbid myself from using both the phrases "Web 2.0" and
"engagement". And, to make it even more challenging, I may forego
"dialog", "twitter", "the user is in control" and
"next generation". And, please splash a drink in my face if you hear
me mention Web 3.0 or the "semantic web".

 

 

Slouching
Towards A definition

I slouch because I
am not fully confident i can describe "social media" any better than the next guy, much less tell you how best to do it. I know it when I see it. But, not everyone does, so it
may be worth the effort to craft definition. There are plenty of folks who have tried to define
"social media", but most refer to the technology that underlies the media
itself (ajax, api’s, RSS) or the places that people go online (blogs, twitter, myspace, facebook) or in
place of some subset of social media, more broadly (e.g. – social networking,
micro-blogging).

 

I guess I’m a little
less concerned about how we define it, but here goes: Social media is the online content left
by people as a by-product of being social. Let’s unpack this.

 

"The online
content…" this one is simple enough. Social media, however we define it,
seems to require the "online" descriptor. Offline "social
media" is, well, just people being people. Without the internets mediating
the interchange between people, it’s just talking. And, online is where the
artifacts reside or are archived. And,
for corporate weasels like me, where we try to advertise.

 

"…left by
people…". Again, people seem core to being social, so ‘people’ seems
essential to a good working definition. Code generated media is always
possible, and god knows I love robots, but without humans interacting with
humans, it’s not really social. A key point is that "people" !=
"brands". While I think there’s a role for brands in social media,
it’s critical that the focus stays on real, breathing, emoting people.

 

"…as a
by-product…" The artifact of people interacting is, in fact, the evidence
that something happened, that some person talked to another person (or people).
The record becomes the media, the vehicle through which others can participate.
Or, that I can co opt to advertise on .

 

"…of being
social". This is where it gets interesting. There are tons of ways we can
define "social", but there are a handful of common behaviors that we
could all point to as examples of someone being social: connecting to others as
part of a group, talking to someone else, listening to others, sharing whatever
they have for the benefit of the larger community, creating something for the
benefit of the community. Whether its sharing a picture of your kid at a
ballgame (thinking that everyone will get even a little joy out of seeing your
beautiful child at a game), posting a new way to defeat malware on laptops in a
user-group, or posting a review or
rating of a recipe on a blog, other consumers will get some value out of the
exchange.

 

Next
Up: What is the Sound of A Brand Being Social?

As a marketer, my
focus is on what the rise of social media means to me, and how my brands can
thrive in a media landscape dominated by people powered
media (as opposed to media powered
media). In a broadcast world, the brand is whatever my ad tells you it is, at
least until you experienced it yourself. Now though, projects like Noah Brier’s BrandTags.net should strike fear into the
heart of every marketer.

 

Tomorrow night: What
does social media mean to a brand marketing team?

Link: Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association: Events.

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