Innovation. Ideas. Insight.

Shared Media v. Social Media: A variety of viewpoints

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 good conversation here and on Twitter, so I felt it was worth exploring further. I reached out to several people I highly respect and asked for their thoughts on the matter. The results were as insightful as they were varied. I wanted to collect them here and share them with you in hopes that we can continue the discussion.

First, DJ Francis from the OnlineMarketerBlog lays out a really well-reasoned argument before ultimately disagreeing with me, stating “All social media is shared, but not all shared media is social.” Bonus points to DJ for this passage:

In a past life, I was an apostle of structuralist literary theorist Roland Barthes and his Death of the Author essay. I concur with Barthes that “[t]o give a text [or content] an Author” and assign a single, corresponding interpretation to it “is to impose a limit on that text.”

Um, yeah, I was just discussing Barthes the other night while watching the Real Housewives of New Jersey. Right then, moving on…

Matt Hames, who writes a blog called People Like to Share will surely be on my side, right? Well, not exactly. He likes the term participation:

So instead of social media, or earned media, or interactive, or whatever title you want to put on this new world where people can share stuff, I say call it what it is: participation.

These day, 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.

Patricia McDonald of BBH Labs (one of my new favorites) had some great thoughts on the subject:

I think Social Media is fundamentally about people. Social media doesn’t necessarily require content in any traditional sense, it requires a purpose for individuals to congregate around. That might be a piece of content to share but it’s just as likely to be a cause, a utility, a value exchange or a collaboration.

“Social media” is undoubtedly a seriously overused phrase right now-and when it’s used to describe any and all kinds of user generated content, it probably doesn’t fit any more. Is a blog really “social media” if it doesn’t empower the community to come together, act together and be more powerful and useful together than they are individually? My real bugbear though is that because its strongest association at the moment is with social networking, it’s hard for some businesses to understand the profundity of what’s really happening with things like social lending, social product development and do on.

I’m not a huge fan of semantic debate for the sake of it, but I do think there are some genuine nuances here that are worth exploring not purely for the intellectual satisfaction but because they come back to the fundamental question for all marketeers; what are we trying to achieve? What is the commercial imperative facing this brand, what is the role of digital in helping us solve it and what, therefore, do I need consumers to do differently? When we address those questions some of these distinctions do become important in practice not just in theory. So in some cases I may want to make my consumers my media channel and bring down the cost of paid for channels (earned media), in others I may want to build a utility my consumers return to again and again, driving frequency of interaction with the brand, in which case I may be in the business of social media. Nuance may actually become quite important in giving social or indeed shared media (which I do believe are different) a clear and demonstrable commercial effect. 

Ross Popoff-Walker, who writes the Annoying Design blog asked some interesting questions:

What’s the larger behavioral trend that would make “sharable” relevant now? Or is “shareable” just a more proper term than “social” ever was?

Two trends I’ve been talking with clients about lately:
– Consumers trust peers and friends more than brands, eg: consumer reviews hold more weight than ads.
– The audience for social networks is widening, extending to Boomers and Seniors.

All media is indeed sharable, because it’s just data on the web. But two things effect if/how people share any media:

1) where they see it — if it appears on a blog like Boing Boing it’ll be sure become viral, as opposed to say, my blog🙂

2) the content itself — does it incite conversation by being simple, culturally relevant, and cool.

So, the conclusion I’ve come to, is that this is mostly semantics. But that as consumers trust peers more, they’re more likely to share content from smaller and more diverse sources. Increasingly, it won’t just be boing boing posts that lead to the next highly-shared link — it can come from anywhere.

Tim Malbon, from MadebyMany puts forth the following:

I agree with you that Social Media is a problematic term in so many ways. I’m not sure that the term Shared Media is an awful lot better – I understand your point of view but I think that this ultimately boils down to a semantic gloop that gets you twisted up and not a lot further forward. As always we come at this from a different angle – we’ve been designing and building community platforms and applications since 2001 (I did two massive online communities that year – one for British Gas called YourSource.co.uk, and a start-up motorcycling community called madaboutbikes.com). TIt was all about community then. This debate has been taking place whilst I have been re-reading The Perfect Storm, the story of eBay. What struck me very powerfully is the total absence of the term ‘social media’. I don’t think it existed before about 2004, by which time “online community” was already *at least* ten years old.

“Community” as a term is so much more accurate, so much bigger and all-encompassing. The Internet and WWW has always been about communities. I don’t know the real provenance of “social media”, no idea who coined it, but I strongly suspect that it hails from the moment when marketing people started to reduce Teh Interwebs to the status of a marketing channel. This was a crime against humanity. It probably also arises from the period when online ad revenues took off seriously (I think they picked up hugely in 2004 after the low point of the dot com crash in the early noughties).

We still use the term community wherever possible over and above social media, which I find it very narrowing. The Web is *a lot bigger* than a marketing channel. It’s not merely ‘media’ – not Shared Media, not People Media, not any type of media. Calling it media of any sort sounds as stupid as calling the offline world ‘media’ – as in, “Look outside the window child, up above the fields and houses… look at the lovely media…” It’s not a channel, it’s a jihad. However, having got all incensed I think we should also all just calm down and remember that we’ll need to constantly change words and evolve our terminology. We’re trying to hit a moving target, things are still moving rapidly and we’re living ina period of constant and sustained change – which is pretty exciting. I’m glad I don’t live in a world where everything is well-defined and has cast-iron meaning.

Juicy stuff there from Tim, bravo.

For the last word, let’s turn to Faris Yakob, author of the Talent Imitates, Genius Steals blog:

1) where they see it — if it appears on a blog like Boing Boing it’ll be sure become viral, as opposed to say, my blog🙂

2) the content itself — does it incite conversation by being simple, culturally relevant, and cool.

So, the conclusion I’ve come to, is that this is mostly semantics. But that as consumers trust peers more, they’re more likely to share content from smaller and more diverse sources. Increasingly, it won’t just be boing boing posts that lead to the next highly-shared link — it can come from anywhere.

“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.”

On that note I turn it over to you, the reader. Your comments are encouraged.

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