Reasons To Be ‘Social’: Part Three

I’ve been having a very interesting exchange on Twitter which – as usual with such exchanges – has enabled me to clarify what I think and raise questions in my own mind to chew over. That’s half the beauty of Twitter right there, really.

Here’s the exchange:

@bounder:”conversational media” a better term than “social media”?

@dogstrust: Is it all conversation? Arguably Flickr & YouTube isn’t. Social encompasses conversation but conversation leaves some out, I think.

@bounder: flickr is, youtube can be – i think leaving the bits out where people are using the same tools to broadcast is a good idea

@dogstrust: I’m still not sure why “conversational” is better. Conversation is a vital part, but is it all of it? What’s wrong with ‘social’?

@bounder: it doesn’t really mean anything is the problem (and it has the same odd connotations as “community” has picked up)

@dogstrust: It doesn’t? Doesn’t it just mean interacting with others? That’s all the definition I ever wanted… Open to alternatives, tho.

@bounder: i really don’t think the word “social” means anything at all – it doesn’t describe an action – conversation does.

@dogstrust: Does ‘social media’ need to describe an action? Isn’t it describing the platform for action? Not arguing, genuinely interested!

@bounder: i think the description of the platform is too fuzzy to understand, and nave never been happy with the term

@bounder: for example, i’m not a YouTube expert, but I think a lot about how people use it (the action rather than the platforms)

@dogstrust: So they’re using a particular medium in a conversational way. The umbrella platform is still a group of media that are social, no?

The conversation is still ongoing, so by the time I finish this post, it might well have changed what I’m thinking right now. Still, I’ll launch ahead.

I’m not a fan of jargon. I appreciate that there are some uses for it, particularly in scientific or philosophical contexts where there is the possibility of cutting through a whole load of unecessary explanation if you use a handy jargon shortcut. Sometimes the term appears as if by magic . Social media is just an evolution of the term “social networking”; an evolution that happened, in my opinion, because people generally aren’t actively networking in the professional sense but just having a conversation. This is of course @bounder’s point. But I still don’t see the need for a change of jargon.

There are two reasons:

1. Changing the way everyone thinks of something is near impossible – think how long it takes to reclaim a slang derogatory term. People are now thinking “social media”. We can call it whatever we want, but the wider world won’t catch on and it just makes us focus on correcting a linguistic point somewhat unnecessarily. This is the minor reason.

2. The major reason is that ‘social’ is a perfectly good and reasonable description. Conversation is a large part of how human beings -a social animal – communicate. It is the cornerstone of my professional social media approach. But where ‘conversation‘ still has a strongly implied sense of verbal communication (that’s not the entirety of it, of course, by a long shot but that is how it is still widely read), ‘social‘ includes lots of elements which I think apply particularly well to web 2.0. It’s about informal gatherings of groups with a common topic. If that’s not social media, what is?

As I see it, social media are not the activities but the platform for the interaction. If it’s an inaccurate term, by all means campaign to replace it. I’m not married to the term; if there’s a good reason to bin it I’ll help lead the charge for more accuracy and meaning. I’m just not convinced that that good reason is really there.


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