What Is Social Media? #smlondon

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Social media is all too often treated with a reverence that is not necessary. It is just another form of communication and shouldn’t be treated with any special rules which elevate it over any other form of communication.

Key takeaways

  • Social media is just another way to communicate.
  • It’s word of mouth but with the newest form of technology
  • Each platform has its own language
  • As marketers we should use social to listen as well as broadcast

What is social media?

Social media is simply another communication channel, just like email, web, mail and even verbal. It’s all too easy to think of it as something much more complex than it really is. I was at a social media seminar where one of the presenters mentioned this quote, and it’s one I’ve seen many times before but without really thinking too much about it.

Social media is the oldest form of marketing – word of mouth – with the newest forms of technology.

To really appreciate what it means we need to go back to the essence of communication. If we go back to before the written word, communication was people talking to each other. This meant individuals had the power. Then if we fast forward to learning how to write and particularly the advent of the printing press, it meant for the first time ever, there was mass communication. And with the advent of broadcast media such as television it meant brands had more power and individuals less. However, now with social media it has come full circle with the power shifting back to individuals. For example on social media the voice of an individual can be just as loud and powerful as that of a brand.

Going back to the quote, it means we shouldn’t treat social media with too much reverence compared to other communication channels. People are still people whether they’re interacting with a brand on social media, print, email or any other touch point.

Although it’s important to know each social media platform has its own “language” meaning they each have a different tone, conversational style and usually a different set of users with different expectations. This means it’s important to tailor content to each platform. For example you wouldn’t say the same thing on LinkedIn that you would on Snapchat.

An interesting and often overlooked dimension of the rise of social media as a form of communication is that it offers marketers a great research tool. It’s all too easy to concentrate on what you say and forget to listen to what others are saying. Communication is 50% listening and social media provides a great way to really listen to what people are saying!

Social media means very different things to different people depending on how it’s used. One thing is clear, it’s revolutionising the way we communicate and will continue to do so.

David Fitzgerald

David Fitzgerald is a social media specialist.