Social Media Lies: Definition of Social Media

There is a lot of buzz about social media and its application for marketing.  It seems to be a topic nearly every chapter of organizations like the Society for Marketing Professional Services are having events about. And you will hear a lot of commonly held truths in these events. Unfortunately, many of them are straight up lies. Let’s look at some of these lies in greater detail and you’ll see what I mean.

The Definition of Social Media is a Lie

This may sound crazy, but hear me out. Has anyone truly defined what social media is? I haven’t seen anyone clearly define it.

Let’s look at some definitions of social media:

  • “Social media is media designed to be disseminated through social interaction, created using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques.” (Wikipedia)

OK, that sort of makes sense, right? But that’s assuming you don’t understand a few definitions

  • Media:  “a medium of cultivation, conveyance, or expression;” (Webster’s Dictionary)
  • Scalable: “having the ability to easily grow” (Websters Dictionary)

  • Publish “To disseminate to the public” (Websters Dictionary)


Let’s look at the definition again.

  • “Social media is (a medium of cultivation, conveyance, or expression) designed to be disseminated through social interaction, created using highly accessible (dissemination) techniques that (have the ability to grow).”

What falls under this definition?

Ever attend a webinar? That’s dissemination through social interaction, created using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques. By definition, a webinar is social media. I bet when you think of social media, you don’t think of webinars.

How about a web forum? Medium -check. Dissemination – check. Social interaction – check. Highly accessible and scalable – check. So a web forum is social media too.

What if I was to walk over to Philadelphia city hall, stand on the steps and make a grand speech or hold a town hall meeting with the crowd of passers by? Is that social media by definition? I think you could argue that it is.

How about something like a blog? Maybe some of them. But not popular blogs like Seth Godin’s. There is no comment feature on his blog, so there is no social interaction going on there. By definition, Seth Godin’s blog is not social media.

Who coined this phrase anyway? Google doesn’t even know.  

The truth is that when people talk about social media, there are talking about several different clearly defined things, including social networking sites (like Linkedin and Facebook), video sharing sites (like YouTube), blogs, and microblogging services (like Twitter or even Google Wave).

But very often they fail to mention social news sites (like Digg and, photo sharing sites (like flickr and Snapfish), collaborative creation tools (like wikis and Google Docs) and even location based services (like Foursquare and Gowalla). All of which clearly fall under the so-called definition of social media.

The reason you don’t hear much about these things is that

  1. It is perceived that people don’t use these sites for business.
  2.  Most “social media gurus” and preachers don’t actively use these sites.  
  3. Including these sites would make the discussion of “social media” too broad .
  4. Well, you can’t cover all that in an hour presentation.

By definition, so many sites and services are “social media” that you might as well just say “the Internet.”

But the “Internet” cannot be productized and sold to businesses as a solution to their marketing woes. “Social Media” is a concept that has been productized and sold by so-called social media experts as that elixir. It’s the new snake oil. The term social media is in itself a lie. It is just a term people use to get you to buy their services. And chances are, you may have fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

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