Innovation. Ideas. Insight.

Viral? Social? How about Shared?

In Ideas, Innovation on May 28, 2009 at 8:53 am

UPDATE: Some fantastic comments on this below, make sure you read those. Also, a related post today from Patricia McDonald of BBH Labs here.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to be asked by Adam Broitman of A Media to participate in an article he wrote for iMedia Connection – Social Media: Whose job is it anyway? In addition to myself, industry heavyweights David Berkowitz, Shiv Singh, Michael Lazerow, Christine Perkett and Shel Holtz all contributed their thoughts on several thought provoking questions. It’s a way worthy read you should definitely check out.

After reading it, I got to thinking about one of the specific questions:

“In two years, will the term ‘social media’ still be relevant?”

My hunch is that the answer is “yes, it will,” but that doesn’t mean I think it is the most appropriate term. In fact, I think “Social” along with our dear friend “viral” both need to be rethought and/or scrapped.

Did you say Viral? Cough, cough, I’m feeling ill

Remember back in the day, you know, last year, when everybody wanted “Viral Videos” that would magically spread across the land, showering your with traffic, sales, etc.? Yeah, well then smart people like Mike Arauz, Faris Yakob and others shed the light on this concept and I’m not seeing the term “viral” used as much, at least not by Social Media marketing practitioners.  While I understand the original analogy, let’s be honest, who wants to engage in conversation or interact with a virus? Aren’t viruses things to be avoided? Come to think of it, that’s how I think of a lot of the “viral videos” out there now. Quite frankly, I don’t want to see another video of people dancing in a subway station; or kids lifting their eyebrows to the beat (see, I’m not even going to link to them, you know which ones I mean though).  I think the term “viral” has seen it’s time come and go.

Social Media? When was the last time you had a cup of coffee with a blog post?

Let me go back to the original article, in which Adam asked: What if the term “social media” is wrought with flaws from the onset?

 “In two years, will the term ‘social media’ still be relevant?” The alternative being that all media will inherently be social, and ultimately treated as such. The multiple choices were:

  1. Yes
  2. Yes, but I am not happy about it!
  3. No
  4. I sure hope not!

I was shocked by the response. All but one of the respondents answered “yes.” The outlier answered, “I sure hope not.”

It is my belief that the term “social media” will still be around in two years, but I hope the industry matures to a point where we realize that all media is inherently social, and that what was once deemed “social media” is now part of a larger trend in media — participation.

Let me reiterate: All media is social!

I’m not sure I agree with this, and here’s where I’m going to put forth my alternative term.

All media isn’t social, all media is shareable

I don’t think we can attribute a quality like ‘social’ to an inanimate object. To me, people are social (or not); videos, posts, photos, podcasts, etc. are simply content. Now, that content can generate social interactions between people – generate conversations, drive debate, challenge preconcieved notions – but the content itself is just that, content. If I write a blog post but never publish it, is it still ‘Social Media’?

I think the term Social Media still has relevance, when you add the word Platform at the end. A Social Media Platform (or Network) such as Twitter, Facebook or Flickr provides an opportunity for people to be social.

Shared Media – Now we’re talking

So what is good content? It’s shareable. In the PR industry they talk of earned media, as opposed to the paid media of the advertising industry (aside: Check out Greg Verdino’s take on earned media v. earned attention as well as Matt Hames’ piece on earned v. social). I think Shared Media fits nicely between earned and paid. Yes, your paid media can be shareable, but you have to earn the share by having quality content and by sharing it with the right people in the right way.

I think the term Shared Media also speaks more accurately to what is actually happening. When you pass along that great content you are sharing it. The content isn’t doing it (like in ‘Social Media’), the person is. It’s not inherent in the content (like the notion of ‘Viral Videos’), it’s based on how the content is utilized.

Let’s hear from Adam again from his Imedia article:

The word “media” itself involves two parties — a sender and a receiver. The word “social” is based on theories that involve the co-existence of people. If two people co-exist in an ecosystem and one does not respond to a message, there is still information that is sent back to the point of origin (the information being, “for one reason or another, I am not interested in your message”). Given the advanced nature of our information technology, the excuse, “I had no way of responding” does not hold water, leaving us in a state where the lack of a response is, in effect, a response.

Yes, but a lack of a response does take the ‘Social’ out of ‘Social Media.’ Shared Media allows for the possibility of one-way as well as two-way engagement.

I’d love to hear from the folks who participated in Adam’s article, as well as Adam himself, Mike and Faris too. And please share your thoughts here as well.

  1. Great points; shared versus social. Ultimately, we are saying the same thing, but the semantic distinction is crucial in understanding the overarching issue.

    Shareable, or as Jenkins might say, spreadable are both fine with me.

    Thanks for your help on this piece!

  2. Ok, I’m going to count that as 1 vote for Shareable. 6,453,781 more and I think I’ve coined a term.

  3. Hi Rick,

    Thanks for the interesting follow up post. I really do like the “shared” label. I have to wonder, as a PR professional with clients always wanting that “earned media,” if “shared media” would be as in demand. Companies and brands put a lot of value on the earned part – the sharing and social part is just becoming (slowly) understood and respected. It will be interesting to see how that grows and changes over the next year or two.

    Christine Perkett

  4. Thanks Christine – I’m counting that as another vote for Shared! You bring up a great point, the perception of the client. I don’t think any of us can accurately predict what’s going to stick and be adopted down the road, everything is open for debate it seems right now.

  5. I’m enjoying the thought process here. I’m not totally sold on Shared just yet though. Consider conversational media, to throw out yet another buzzword. When I’m commenting on this blog, I’m not sharing it with anyone (though I might tweet it). Right now, I’m being social, and I’m engaging with the media which is a conduit for this social-ness. In that sense, the media here is rather social, even if it’s not being shared.

  6. Thanks for dropping by David. Since you did tweet it (thanks, btw) I will say it has been shared. Yes, right now you are being social by commenting (and now we are having a discussion, very social), but it wasn’t my post (the content) that allowed for that, it was WordPress (the platform) that connected us.

    So I’d argue that I have shared the content (by publishing the post) and you shared the content (as did Christine) by tweeting it. The social aspects were enabled by Twitter and WordPress

  7. I don’t think we have to be as literal around the term “social media” though – it’s more of a shorthand for media that is at the center of a social context or exchange.

    By the definition that would mean Time Warner is engaging in Shared Media anytime it delivers content to my set top box, or Discovery Channel is sharing content, or Rachel Maddow is sharing it by airing a TV show. If no one ‘shares’ it in that sense and no one else sees it, then it’s really stuff people are just doing for their own anti-social reasons (like writing a journal, perhaps).

    Also, I think your hair-splitting would mess up all other definitions. For instance, with paid media, the media wasn’t paid – the site owner or ad network was. But it’s media that someone paid for. Earned media gets even murkier – I mean, maybe some people didn’t really deserve it, or earn it.

    I still like social media as the general term here, but I’m enjoying the debate.

  8. David,

    Very fair points. Labels are tricky and ‘first to market’ really has its advantages. While I certainly think Shared Media has some advantages, I recognize Social Media can be argued for as well.


  9. Yeah it’s fun trying to figure all of this out. Thanks for sharing your media on Twitter though so it could be more social. 🙂

  10. I’m on board. I think the line you’re drawing between social interactions, between people, and content that through digital media becomes a thing that people use to be social is very important.

  11. […] has a really interesting post about the topic of shared vs. social. The crux of it: Shared Media fits nicely between earned and paid. Yes, your paid media can be […]

  12. I have to side with Henry Jenkins and his concept of ‘spreadable media’ –

    “Shared media” ignores just how important and non ubiquitous the behavior of sharing actually is.

    • Bud, I’m familiar with HJ’s term ‘spreadable media’ but must confess to not having read that post yet. Since it’s ‘a Jenkins,’ I’ll get back to you sometime in late-July. I very much value your opinions (and Henry’s), so thanks for stopping by.

  13. […] has a really interesting post about the topic of shared vs. social. The crux of it: Shared Media fits nicely between earned and paid. Yes, your paid media can be […]

  14. One distinction for me is that shared is easy and effortless. You hit a button at the bottom of a post, or simply forward. It means the content was worthy of your passing on and that you believe there’s credit to you, as well, for turning someone onto it. But it’s not social. Social requires more effort. You have to engage, express yourself, and even commit to a continuation of the conversation. So there is share, and their is socialize. Their is pass it forward, and there is express your opinion and add value to it. It’s still all part of consumer-controlled media, but two different things. As a marketer, I want people to share and pass forward. As a consumer, I want the opportunity to express my opinion and shape both the conversation and the brand.

    • Edward, great take, really interesting views. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing.

  15. […] advertising and investor relations and most certainly Social Media (actually, I prefer the term, ‘Shared Media’).  All these things matter because clients aren’t looking for an “ad” idea or a […]

  16. I think of it this way: Participation. We should be designing every communication for participation. Tactically, we can think paid media and earned media, but the goal moving forward with a communication might be: in what way will people be able to participate?

    Earlier it was mentioned that commenting on this blog was not engaging in social media. I agree. It’s participating. Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, those things we call “social media” have simple metric for participation. It’s the paid media that’s a little different. In paid media, we didn’t think to ask for participation, instead, we skirted around the edges of asking for the order; think “Just do it”.

    But now, things are obviously different, and we’re all working on a definition for that difference. But I think it’s simple: consumers can participate in an unprecedented way. They can review, comment, share, disparage, or celebrate a brand.

    So marketers need to craft communications that encourage the participation that will work best. And here’s the best part: the place that has the least amount of silos has a head-start.

  17. “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”


  18. […] communications for participation Jump to Comments Over at Eyecube, Rick is wondering about the term social media. I’ve wondered whether we’ve created a bubble using the […]

  19. […] week, my buddy Rick over at wrote an intriguing post about “shared […]

  20. […] In Ideas, Insight on June 3, 2009 at 8:43 am Regular Eyecube readers (both of you) will remember my post from last week asking if the term Shared Media wasn’t more accurate than Social Media. It generated some […]

  21. […] nessa página aqui que me levou para um texto do BBH Labs, onde se […]

  22. […] This post was Twitted by loopdiloop – […]

  23. Are you socializing the content, or the channel? Cos it seems to me that social media is collaborative media – people creating videos and photos and articles ( blogs) about a topic. Viral is social channels. as in, “take this cool agency created advertisement and send it to your friends”. if the content is not editable by the social network, then it’s not social media, it’s social network marketing or viral.

    For me, social means “society” not “party”. Shared limits media to medium or distribution no? As in the 4Fs (Find, Filter, Finesse and then Forward) but it ignores Creators.

    An important topic – too often we see brand generated content masquerading as social, simply cos a link got emailed around to a bunch of people. If it’s not edited by the network, it’s viral, not social.

    FYI only: Old post of mine on social media vs new/interactive/viral media

  24. […] Viral? Social? How about Shared? « eyecube […]

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