Why I Have Begun to Hate the Term 'Social Media'

The Phrase Has Become So Undefined It Has Outlived Its Usefulness

By Published on .

My first SXSW experience was humbling and overwhelming. I was asked to do a panel based on my Ad Age post: "Has Facebook Jumped the Shark?" from 2010. I was fortunate to be joined by industry heavyweights like Mark Rosner, CEO of Zedge, a mobile community 40 million strong; Kunur Patel, digital reporter for Advertising Age; Hank Wasiak, an award-winning ad industry veteran and partner at the Concept Farm; and Mark Sherwood, Saatchi's head of integrated planning. I was even also joined by colleagues Joy Dibenedetto and Donnetta Campbell of Hum News to help report on the session.

Almost immediately, the audience "jumped" into the conversation and in real time someone tweeted: "luv it when a tussle breaks out…" The spirited conversation was centered on whether "social media" was a "great gift" as Hank Wasiak beautifully said or, as Kunur Patel and Mark Sherwood believed, a fundamental shift in how people connect led by Gen Y.

And as the session progressed and the conversation heated up, I realized that much of the "tussling" was simply because there was no consistent understanding of what "social media" was. For some, "social media" meant a new connective layer for the planet (powered by Facebook). For others, social media was the social layer for the planet with a new definition of "privacy" (powered by Facebook). And for others, social media was so broad it meant anything that let people share anything -- which covers a lot of ground beyond Facebook.

I know people got lost in the room. I know I did too.

So right there in the middle of this "exuberant" discussion, my frustration with the term "social media" reached a tipping point. I had come to hate the term because it has become so undefined and unusable resulting in much confusion. In short, for me, the term had outlived its usefulness.

So what do we call this changing landscape now and how do we work with it?

The best construct I can come up with is to define the marketing world as two camps: the "one-to-many" camp representing the marketing model of the last 25 years (e.g. one brand markets to many people), and the "many-to-many" camp, where we reframe social media as a lead performer (but not the solo performer) in a bigger, newly emerging community-centered marketing system.

It's not an either/or situation but a maturing of thinking that allows us as marketers to work both systems for optimal effect. At a 30,000-foot level, here's how they differ:


Definitions matters and now more than ever, so marketers need new ways to describe the things that still matter.

Judy Shapiro is chief brand strategist at CloudLinux and has held senior marketing positions at Paltalk, Comodo, Computer Associates, Lucent Technologies, AT&T and Bell Labs. Her blog, Trench Wars, provides insights on how to create business value on the internet.
Most Popular
In this article: