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What do you really mean when you say “Social Media”?


As a marketer, you probably use the term “social media” several times a day. But, what do you really mean when you say it?


Today, I’m going to propose a more accurate way to speak about social media, with the objective that if you can communicate more effectively about social media, then you’ll be able to strategize and manage it more effectively as well.


“Social media” has become a catch-all phrase for everything that’s happened online since 2005. If you remember, that was when Web 2.0 technology went mainstream, allowing users to easily interact with websites. Back then, there were only a handful of interactive sites out there, and so we needed a name to distinguish them from the rest of the UNsocial web, which was basically just digitized print. Collectively, these special sites became known as “Social Media.”


But, of course, it didn’t take long for the rest of the web to catch up. And, today, the distinction is meaningless because there’s no longer any special group of interactive sites. Every site today has the capability to be interactive.


So, what is social media today? It’s the internet — as first envisioned by its inventor Tim Berners-Lee.


In fact, the next time you see an article on the subject, just replace the word “social media” with “internet” and it will pretty much read the same.


Just think about the conversations you have every day. What do people really mean when they say things like “We want to bring our social media to the next level” or “We need a social media expert”?


It’s only when you ask them what they mean by “social media” that you can begin to understand what they’re really talking about. It would be nice to discuss online marketing without having to take this detour.


For operational purposes, the phrase “social media” has become so broad, it’s meaningless. So, for that reason, it fuels miscommunication.


But more importantly, it fuels sloppy strategic thinking and slows the development of your marketing program in the same way you might imagine it would hurt medicine if doctors referred to all the organs as “guts” or if virologists referred to all microorganisms as “germs” instead of giving each its proper name.


You get the point: If marketers are going to think and communicate with any precision or professionalism, then we need a more refined vocabulary.


First of all, next time you’re discussing online marketing, pause before you use the term “social media” and ask yourself what you really mean. In most cases, I bet you’ll be referring to either online networking or online publishing.


Both are part of what we call the content continuum.


Use the term “online networking,” also called social networking, when you’re talking about interacting with people one-on-one online. It could be exchanging comments on a blog, liking a post on Facebook, or simply following them on Twitter. It can also be exchanging emails or talking on Skype in real-time. The important thing is that it is personalized communication as opposed to mass communication and it is happening online. This can be useful to establish relationships with key opinion leaders, deal with complaints, clarify misinformation about your brand, or amplify praise.


Use the term “Online publishing,” also called content marketing, when you’re talking about creating and publishing text, audio, visuals, or video online. You can do this via websites, blogs or on YouTube, but usually with the objective of establishing thought leadership, facilitating a specific target group, or attracting search traffic. This can be useful to preempt the sales process by familiarizing people with your brand before they are actively searching for a solution, or, alternatively, getting on their short list once they are shopping.


It’s hard to talk about online networking vs. publishing in isolation because basically it’s all content. These two are actually two ends of the same stick that we call the content continuum.


The content used for online networking tends to be more spontaneous and personalized, but has a short shelf-life, and so lower SEO value.


The content used for online publishing tends to be more planned with less personalization, but a longer shelf-life, and so a higher SEO value.


So, to sum up, the term “social media” is an out-dated expression that should be replaced with more precise wording.


That would save us all time and confusion and, more importantly, help you develop more precise online marketing objectives and strategies for your brands.


REMEMBER, use it or lose it. If you don’t put this to work within 48 hours, it will self destruct.   

Good luck.

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