Why we’re stuck with the term “Social Media” (and why it’s maybe not so bad)

I was feeling a bit grumpy and cynical yesterday morning when I wrote my post Six Reasons “Social Media” needs a better name. And while I still feel it’s a clunky term, online a book launch event I attended last night with Shel Israel for Twitterville: How Businesses Can Thrive in the New Global Neighborhoods made me feel a whole lot better about the topic. So today, nurse as promised, I’ll deal with why we’re stuck with the term “Social Media”,  and tomorrow, I’ll introduce you to a number of alternate terms that could be used instead of “Social Media”.   But I promise to be less grumpy in the meantime…

SM - T-Shirt
Venn diagram showing the other side of S+M: get yours at www.despair.com/somevedi.html

The bad news: “Social Media” is here to stay (for now)

After conducting a quick poll today among some Twitter and Facebook folks and at last night’s event,  I was unable to find a single person who claimed to love or even really like the term. But everyone seems to use it – if only grudgingly or occasionally.

For example, I asked fellow word-nerd and blogger Nancy Friedman for her thoughts, and the response speaks volumes:


But the human brain abhors a vacuum, and there is obviously a need for a collective term for all these technologies and practices. So like the girl who goes to the prom with her 15th choice-date, we seem to be stuck with this term (at least for the evening).

The good news: it’s not that bad

Remember I said I’d be less grumpy today? Well, here’s the positive spin:

1) It could be a lot worse. At least “Social Media” is a term that tries to capture all the right ideas – albeit clumsily. At least the average human can get a sense of what it means – that is unlike an impenetrable bit of academic (i.e. “semantic web“) technical (“Context-aware pervasive systems“), or other (“Sesquipedalian Obscurantism“) jargon.

2) We’re not committed forever. Because the level of passion for the term is so low, like the girl at the prom, we can hope that someone swoops in and makes us a better offer.

Which is why tomorrow, I’ll talk about alternatives to the term “Social Media“.

Sesquipedalian Obscurantism

One thought on “Why we’re stuck with the term “Social Media” (and why it’s maybe not so bad)”

  1. Not stuck! Not stuck! Okay, perhaps I am a compulsive “namer,” and yes, I do have my own glossary, but this one is special. “Social” in social media is frankly a limp and lifeless term. It has no meaning. What does it say? More so, now that business has become completely invested in it. Here’s a nudge for tomorrow’s article: I call it NEW MEDIA. And I teach. And by the time my classes are done, they’re calling it new media. The thing is, while “new” is not totally descriptive, it is and will forever be accurate. Media is changing constantly and fast. It is perpetually new. As it changes, so do I and so does my material. To be new. Adaptation is about what’s freshly changed — or — new. The thing we will remember social media for is that it made – or at least heralded – all communication becoming social or socialized. But it’s still a subcategory. Under “New Media.”
    Keep up the great work!
    Suzanna Stinnett
    Author, Cloud Alchemy

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