September 22, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

A Social Media Existential Crisis

A Social Media Existential Crisis

Today I hit a breaking point. One of those rare moments in life when you break out of the autopilot that is everyday human experience and stop. Something that you’ve taken for granted suddenly changes in your mind. Your entire construction of reality up to that point is called into question, and you are forced to redefine normality.

What was it? And what did it have to do with “social media”? Well, I’ll tell you.

I watched a cartoonist argue about social media with a fictional character on Twitter.

Once I realized the absurd and surreal nature of what I was witnessing, the term “social media” popped into my head, and I started to think about what it actually means. It certainly has all the feel of a buzzword without meaning, but who am I to judge? So, I did what anyone would do: I asked Google.

After a barrage of ads from “accredited social media experts”, “social media success coaches” and companies wanting to perform a social media audit, I still had no answer. People wanted to charge me money for their expertise in something I have yet to get a definition for. My head spins.

So I turn to wikipedia. You know what they say: if it’s on the Internet, it has to be true.

Social media is an umbrella term that defines the various activities that integrate technology, social interaction, and the construction of words, pictures, videos and audio. This interaction, and the manner in which information is presented, depends on the varied perspectives and “building” of shared meaning among communities, as people share their stories, and understandings.

Right…..I am now less intelligent for reading that. So basically “social media” is any activity that results in anything, anywhere, as long as people are around and technology is involved somewhere. If that’s the case:

  • If I’m riding on a subway with an ’80s style boombox blaring, and people are around, that’s social media.
  • If I bring a fishing pole into Petco and have a friend record the reactions of people who think I’m a lunatic while I try to catch a beta fish, well, that’s social media.

Well, if that’s true, being a social media expert sounds like a pretty sweet gig.

This morning, I saw an article on Mashable entitled “Are Social Media Jobs Here to Stay?” by Ben Parr. In it, Mr. Parr says:

Let’s face it: Social media has become one of the hot buzzwords in tech circles. It used to be Web 2.0 and social networking, but now we have moved on to a broader term that encompasses not only social networking, but blogs, podcasts, user-generated content, social bookmarking, microblogging, and lifestreams. The rise of all these forms of new media has also created demand for people who can help companies position and market themselves within this new realm.

So, why do we talk about “social media” as an area of expertise? Aren’t we really talking about promotion? We’re now defining a role based on the tools used to achieve goals. We’re not interested in hiring a painter, instead we’re looking for a paint roller guru. Who wants a lion tamer when you can get a whip expert?

Am I just worrying about semantics? Maybe. But maybe not. Here’s my theory:

When you use a vague term like “social media”, you sound mysterious. Saying “I’m a social media expert” is a lot like saying “I am an alchemist. You wouldn’t understand.” The mention of the term suggests a closely guarded set of skills used to achieve an unmeasurable goal resulting in instant riches. And there’s always someone that will say “here’s my money. Do your thing” rather than “I don’t understand what you’re selling. Please explain it to me.”

Am I bashing the slick tools that comprise “social media?” Not at all. I love things like Twitter, blogs, video, podcasts, the whole thing. If it’s shiny and has a beta invite available, I’m all over it. But in the end, they’re just tools. Means to an end.

A ladder isn’t very useful when you’re not trying to get to an elevated position. But if you need to clear the roof, it’s the best.

Have a great weekend. This is Nathan Burke, keyboard pressing expert, and mouse click guru.

Nathan Burke is the Web Community Evangelist for Boston area tech startup matchmine. He also co-authors Blogstring.com.

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