Social Media Is Ubiquitous, But Still Special [Rebuttal]

Is Social Media Irrelevant?

It’s a common human story.

Something new enters the public consciousness and there are years of debate concerning whether it’s only a fad or has the staying power to become a long-term fixture in society.  That is certainly true of social media and all the related topics, such as social media selling and the two biggest questions: “Who in my company should manage social media?” and “Is social media important?”

Mark Blackham recently published a piece on Social Media Today entitled, Everything is Social, so ‘Social Media’ is Irrelevant,” with the main point being to stop treating social media as an area that deserves the attention of specialists and experts.

While I agree that everything is social, I would never concede that social media is irrelevant.

First and foremost, social media is not new.  What has changed is that socialization and media have switched from digital to analog.  Today consumers, marketers and communicators can now finely tune and target our media and our socialization with modern social media. Where once dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people used computer-mediated communications, we now have a billion-ish people on Facebook, including 79% of the US population.

Social Media is Ubiquitous, but Still Special

What is social media? Let’s define social media to be the amplification of human socialization through technology.  Social media has existed in many forms for probably several hundred years. The fax was invented in 1889.  In Victorian England the mail was delivered in London up to 5x a day; a Victorian lady could set up a luncheon by post in the same way we can today by email or Twiter.  Indeed SMS texting isn’t much different than how the fictional Sherlock Homes mastered the use of the telegraph STOP.  Today, many of us are masters of the Tweet and Facebook status update.

Modern social media has existed since the dawn of shared computing resources from time-sharing systems of yore to the real pioneers like The WELL, The Source, 1000’s of Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) and their direct descendants: Prodigy and AOL.

Because there is such a large percentage of the population online and making use of social networks, there is a critical mass attached to it.  We have seen that power in the bloom of the Arab Spring and the support groups that were created after Superstorm Sandy.

Mark Blackham is correct when he says of social media, “It is ubiquitous,” but wrong, in my opinion, when he says, “it isn’t anything special.”  It is special because it’s digital and ubiquitous.  And that’s the rub of it all.

Mr Blackham says, “Social media has taken over as the public forum.”  It hasn’t.  The public has taken over social media.  That’s a small, but important distinction.  Twenty years ago, social media was the exclusive domain of computer hobbyists on The Well, The Source, and denizens of BBS.  Today, the public has computers at home, work, and on their person (phones and tablets), so they [the public] have come to social media…not the other way around.

Training for Process and Procedure

Even though Blackham’s thesis “Social Media is Irrelevant” is false, he makes an insightful and important point about the social organization.  He states, “When clients ask us to help them adopt social media, we do not set up a social media unit or dedicated specialist. We integrate use of the tools and concepts across their organization (sic).”  That is the only correct approach.

Back at the dawn of modern social media we debated if it belonged to the marketing department, the PR team, or the ad agencies.  And at the dawn of telephony it was thought that every business would have just one telephone device.

“They” couldn’t imagine a phone on everyone’s desk.  At the dawn of email, people needed training and again many asked, “Why does everyone need this?”  In the case of both the phone and email, senior management had a lot to fear including what people would say, how they would say it, and how this might impact risk and productivity.

The same is true about social media.  Like email, people need training.  Not training in how to be social, but training in process and procedure.  During the introduction of telephony people needed to understand the common protocols for politeness (Social Media Netiquette).

No one today would limit a business to one phone and one email account, yet they willingly limit a business to one set of social media accounts.  Mark Blackham is right that social media shouldn’t be a specialized activity.  It needs to be something we all do at work and, if we so choose, in our personal and family lives as well.”


About the Author: Harry Hawk is a social media consultant for the social media teams at Commodore USA, Leske’s Bakery, and New York Hand Made Breads.  He is also part of the social media team for The Food Film Festivals.  Connect with Harry on Facebook and Twitter.

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About Jonathan Payne

I'm the Founder and Author of My Social Game Plan, where I've spent the last six years writing about social media marketing in an effort to help business owners and marketers stay on top of the rapidly-evolving marketing landscape.

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  1. This is an interesting perspective; ubiquitous and unique.

    Unique is possible because the connections inherent are totally distinct to each person – I can connect with all my friends and my particular stream of information is unique to me and my connections.

    The danger comes in when we allow ourselves to narrow our viewpoints down to just the folks who agree with us – over and over again – a sort of thought echo chamber.

    “Social Media” as the term as been used, abused, and totally bastardized to become everything from a “marketing panacea” to “the thing I use to Tweet with William Shatner”. Again, I suspect the definition is recursive: it’s a method of taking in and publishing information in a totally unique network.

    It’s pretty hard to evaluate blog posts on social media in any case without that common definition, but I definitely like the light you’ve shed here! 🙂

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