Wednesday, August 5

Exploring Social Media Semantics: Falls

Jason Falls, principal of Social Media Explorer LLC, presented a potential challenge with social media: not everyone who practices it is comfortable with the term. And while many carry similar definitions, few have embraced the same definition.

The good news is that it doesn't matter when people listen. The bad news is people don't always listen, which can confuse the professional arena (probably not the personal arena because, frankly, most people don't care) much like there is ample confusion over public relations, with its varied definitions and even more practices.

The reason it doesn't matter is because as long as Falls defines it before speaking about it, we all know what he means.

Social Media can be best described as mediums, mostly on the Internet, that allow users to add or generate content to published works, creating conversations and sharing around the content and conversations. — Jason Falls

It's similar to the definition I use prior to presentations. Yet, as similar as they are, the two meanings eventually diverge.

Social media describes online technologies that people use to share content, opinions, insights, experiences perspectives, and media. — Richard Becker

The good news is that it doesn't matter because I listen (and so does Falls). So when Falls says that "A blog doesn’t qualify as social media unless the ability to comment is enabled," I understand where he is coming from even though my construct absolutely allows for blogs to disallow comments and still qualify as social media because any conversations about the content can still happen anywhere — on forums, message services, and whatnot.

The bad news is that most people, clients and even some colleagues, don't listen, which is why so many companies hire public relations firms to do nothing more than media relations. And, it's also why a design studio in my market recently adopted the term "integrated communication" when in fact all they mean is that they can make their various designs all look the same. (Integrated communication means something much different to me, and I hope to you too.)

While the challenge might be semantics, the real blame belongs to whatever point at which bad marketing intersects a living language.

For example, once upon a time, "blogs" were really "web logs" until the population employing them abbreviated the name as they will and do. Corporate marketers and executives, which loathe the name for no other reason than it sounds bad, came too late to change it (even though several have tried unsuccessfully to do so since).

They did, however, find some wiggle room as blogs failed to define other channels of communication online, which the online population described as "new media." Corporate marketers and many company executives didn't really like the term new media either, and successfully repositioned it as "social media" on the basis that "new media" wouldn't have a name when it became old. Since, we've seen social media called anything and everything from social computing to collaborative marketing (eek), with reasons that range from trying to create a better definition to less admirable attempts to highjack the coining credit.

All of this has been going for a very long time. It will continue to do so, which is why I generally stay out of the name game. Let whomever call it whatever they want. As long as people who listen take the time to discuss definitions, it will all work out.

The reality is over the long haul, I don't expect the term social media to survive as it will eventually be absorbed into integrated communication (which is okay, even though I prefer the strategic communication umbrella better. Not that it is up to me). But for now, social media works because most people understand it, especially when it is defined as simply as possible.

As for my presentation definition, that is the intent. After I define social media, I break it down a bit further. The media part means online technologies. The social part means people. Because at the end of the day, that is all there is.


Jason Falls on 8/5/09, 12:27 PM said...

Well said, sir. I'd offer more definition, but as usual when reacting to your posts, there's little need.

Rich on 8/6/09, 5:32 PM said...


Thank you sir. Your post was excellent as well.

All my best,


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