Why “Social Media” is neither

I recoil a little every time I say “social media.” I think the term is just plain wrong and fuels misconceptions. I prefer the...

9 Jun 2010 2005 Views


I recoil a little every time I say “social media.” I think the term is just plain wrong and fuels misconceptions. I prefer the term “peer-to-peer networks” instead. Here’s why.

Social Media Stigma 3 First is the word “social.” For many business people, this word conjures up images of teens gossiping and other frivolities. Which is exactly what many executives still think social media is all about and why they don’t want their brand associated with it. While peer-to-peer networks are used by teens to socialize, statistics show the overwhelming majority of users today are adults who use it for commerce.

Second is the word “media.” The least successful way to use peer-to-peer networks is to try to push your sales pitch out through them like traditional media. This is the default approach that many marketers adopt when they enter the social media space. And when it fails, they blame social media for not delivering. Peer-to-peer networks are not media in the conventional sense of the word and should not be used in that way.

Social media has little to do with socializing nor is it media as we know it. The real power of social media is the ability for millions of consumers to speak among themselves and form communities without having to go through a proxy, such as our traditional media infrastructure. Until recently, this mass-communication monopoly prevented the average person from having their say in a mass-conversation dominated by big corporations.

This is not a mere matter of semantics for those who have been working with clients to help them see the potential in peer-to-peer networking. Its wasting lots of time and money. The term “social media” seeped into the collective consciousness of many business folk years before they had any real knowledge of the phenomenon. During that time they created their own ideas about what “social media” is based purely on the name. Today that means weeks and months of costly unlearning before peer-to-peer programs can be implemented.

Understanding the possibilities that peer-to-peer networks create for marketers and harnessing them is the new frontier in marketing. And the first step towards unlocking the power of peer-to-peer networks is to get beyond the term “social media.”  If you could rename social media, what would you call it?

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Sean Duffy | @brandranter
Speaker, consultant & founder of Duffy Agency, the flipped digital agency that provides accelerated growth to aspiring international brands.