There is no such thing as “Social Media”

For the past several years I have hitched my name to the phrase social media. I used it as a handle to describe the mix of blogs, photos, status updates, and other methods of personal broadcasting that I used to get the word out and solicit feedback on new ideas. In the past, there was a clear distinction between media produced this way, collaboratively, often by amateurs, and that which was popularly referred to as mainstream media.

We’ve reached a tipping point. In my mind the lines between social media¬† and other types of media are so blurred that it’s not even useful to distinguish the two, just drop the “social” because all media is now social. Take these examples from just the past few weeks:

Along with others, I first heard about the crash landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson via twitter. I was also amazed to see the twitpic photo featured on the network news stations – quality of composition was trumped by a camera phone that was in the right place at the right time. While the first reports were from twitter, more comprehensive coverage was to come later from the professionals but the twitpic and reader comments made up an important part of the overall package.

For the inauguration yesterday, CNN and Facebook shared a single URL. On the left side was a live video stream from CNN while on the right side was a stream of comments from Facebook.

CNN & Facebook

Screen Capture by Steve Garfield

While the video was very compelling, I have to confess that the real-time commentary from the peanut gallery on the right was absoultely captivating. If you measure media by the amount of attention given, most of my time was spent on Facebook feed. Mashable’s got more details on the numbers but it would be interesting to see a heat map of where people collectively spent their time on this page.

A couple years ago I asked how to define social media. In that post, Stowe Boyd said that is was defined by the, “annotations or social gestures left behind by active readers, such as comments, tags, bookmarks, and trackbacks.” Based on that definition, what we saw on CNN yesterday, and the ease with which people can create, reference, and annotate all media, it’s no longer useful to segment out something called “social media.”

There is no such thing as social media when all media is social.


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20 thoughts on “There is no such thing as “Social Media””

  1. Hi Ian, I agree with you that it’s all media, but many people want the emphasis to be on social. (Except business, of course, which sometimes calls it real-time communication.) I think what is amazing here is that participants really want to distinguish what they do as opposed to what CNN does. All my best, Rich

  2. Hi Ian, I agree with you that it’s all media, but many people want the emphasis to be on social. (Except business, of course, which sometimes calls it real-time communication.) I think what is amazing here is that participants really want to distinguish what they do as opposed to what CNN does. All my best, Rich

  3. All media is making the shift to be more inclusive. From the texting of votes on American Idol to the broadcasting of twitter IDs on CNN, it’s a new world. I just wonder if the print newspapers can make the transition. Letters to the Editor are a tradition but the news cycles have trained us for more immediate feedback.

  4. All media is making the shift to be more inclusive. From the texting of votes on American Idol to the broadcasting of twitter IDs on CNN, it’s a new world. I just wonder if the print newspapers can make the transition. Letters to the Editor are a tradition but the news cycles have trained us for more immediate feedback.

  5. Excellent post. But while I agree with everything you wrote, I think you may have gotten carried away with a little rhetorical hyperbole :-) As Julian says, all media is (and always has been) by definition social. I think the blurring exemplified by the CNN/Facebook and newspaper/TwitPic examples is that of the legacy (and artificial, I might add) line between “conventional” or “mainstream” media and “new” media. However, I think this is more a matter of new media maturing to a point where it can deal meaningfully in the currency of conventional media (i.e. eyeballs). When you think about the fact that Facebook now has 50M US users, that CNN is partnering with them doesn’t really sound all that revolutionary. IMHO, the more concrete distinction that will continue to remain for a while is that between passive and participatory media. While passive media (e.g. feature films, broadcast tv) is generally associated with “conventional media”; companies and participatory media (e.g. blogs, youtube videos) is generally associated with “new media” companies, it is a matter of correlation not causation. “Conventional media”t; companies will continue to explore participatory media as “new media” companies will foray into passive media (e.g. MySpace “Quarterlife” and “Roommates”). I fully agree with you that the intersection of the best of passive media (e.g. production value) and participatory media (e.g. community) holds immense promise of which the CNN/Facebook integration is only a preview. But for the foreseeable future, I believe quality content will continue to be produced at both ends of the spectrum.

  6. Excellent post. But while I agree with everything you wrote, I think you may have gotten carried away with a little rhetorical hyperbole :-) As Julian says, all media is (and always has been) by definition social. I think the blurring exemplified by the CNN/Facebook and newspaper/TwitPic examples is that of the legacy (and artificial, I might add) line between “conventional” or “mainstream” media and “new” media. However, I think this is more a matter of new media maturing to a point where it can deal meaningfully in the currency of conventional media (i.e. eyeballs). When you think about the fact that Facebook now has 50M US users, that CNN is partnering with them doesn’t really sound all that revolutionary. IMHO, the more concrete distinction that will continue to remain for a while is that between passive and participatory media. While passive media (e.g. feature films, broadcast tv) is generally associated with “conventional media”; companies and participatory media (e.g. blogs, youtube videos) is generally associated with “new media” companies, it is a matter of correlation not causation. “Conventional media”t; companies will continue to explore participatory media as “new media” companies will foray into passive media (e.g. MySpace “Quarterlife” and “Roommates”). I fully agree with you that the intersection of the best of passive media (e.g. production value) and participatory media (e.g. community) holds immense promise of which the CNN/Facebook integration is only a preview. But for the foreseeable future, I believe quality content will continue to be produced at both ends of the spectrum.

  7. Strauss you know me too well! This post was a grain of sand slipped into the oyster, something meant to generate some discussion. Let’s come up with a better label than “participatory media” though – it sounds like an ailment!

  8. Strauss you know me too well! This post was a grain of sand slipped into the oyster, something meant to generate some discussion. Let’s come up with a better label than “participatory media” though – it sounds like an ailment!

  9. Watching inauguration coverage with coworkers gathered around a laptop recreated the feeling of a viewing party or family video night in the living room. We watched and commented out loud. More often than not, our thoughts were echoed by the stream of Facebook comments. When Obama got out of the limo during the parade, we were all concerned for his safety. But the FB friends let us know that we weren't the only ones also nervous for the secret service. CNN and FB must have learned from the social chatter during past events. Everyone on Twitter was talking about Blitzer's hologram interview on election day. And yesterday, CNN and other mainstream web sites were Dugg and linked to from Twitter more than blogs. I took a look and gathered it into a couple of lists … http://almightylink.ksablan.co.....d-twitter/

  10. Hey Ian I view the term and the associated technologies as still being valid and distinct from the traditional broadcast media. Social media enables the distribution of person to person communication in a way the traditional broadcast media can never do. I think what broadcast media is doing is merely trying to capture what is perceived as a sweet-spot demographic. IMO what CNN did was not social media. When comments are broadcast on TV it is no social media that is the broadcasting of social media My view of social media has to do with the social groups and people I am connected to. That is why I use social media to connect with groups and filter out the noise. Now when the CNN feed is able to allow me to only see my friends comments that will be a closer new world. I do not feel that the media is trying to be more inclusive I see american idol using text votes as well as call in votes primarily as a tool for measurement. This iReport trend as a way to get free content , a possible scoop on the competition, and to measure the traction on topics. Do not loose the faith. Social media has, is and will continue to connect people in truly meaningful ways.

  11. Hi Greg, Great to hear from you! I would agree, broadcast TV is not social at all until it is brought into an environment where "social gestures" such as comments and annotations can be added. Hulu is an attempt to do this but not really because you can’t remix it. The tipping point I was referring to was cnn.com which added Facebook Connect so that you could see a stream of comments not only from the Facebook community but also a filtered view of just your friends on Facebook running alongside the broadcast of the inauguration. The live event was something that you wanted to share and this setup made it natural. Kevin below sums up the emotional experience perfectly. I haven’t lost faith. To the contrary, I think that “social media” is such a washed up term that it really has lost its meaning. Jonathan Strauss below suggests that “participatory media” is a better term which I agree. I just hope we can come up with a better label!

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