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Let’s create a movement to remove the words ‘social media’ from the business lexicon.


This article is the fifth in The Anthill Guide to Online Marketing for Small Business (and Startups) series. In past articles, we have asked ‘Why are you bothering with online marketing in the first place?‘, identified common ‘terminology associated with online marketing‘, revealed how some websites ‘artificially inflate Page Impressions’ and showed you why there are ‘better ways to beat banner blindness than using cleavage‘. Today, we’re start our exploration of ‘social media’ (and explain why we think the term needs an overhaul).

Social Media: These two words do more harm than good.

Lawyers have a grand racket going.

I should know this, as I trained alongside the best during my university days.

At the conclusion of my BA LLB, I stumbled into the egalitarian world of PR (let’s face it, almost anyone can qualify for a career in PR, for better or ill). At the same time, many of my peers chose to embrace a profession that even its members would describe as elitist (sometimes with relish).

This is because, for centuries now, the wigged-brethren has worked extremely hard to master the art of language, either deliberately or indirectly for the purpose of exclusion. And, for most part, the legal profession has succeeded. (And anyone who has suffered the pain of a thousand-fifteen-minute-increments will agree.)

I was forced to read many papers on the subject during my five years of exile and self-flagellation, as preparation for the nastiest torture of all. (Articles!)

But it wasn’t until working for international public relations agency IPR (can anyone guess what the acronym stood for?) that I truly understood the effect of this ugly evolution.

What’s the meaning of ‘unfair’?

It was my first day (it may even have been my job interview) and I was asked to draft a media release about an injustice, which I can’t recall, and I used the word ‘ unconscionable’.

My boss at the time, senior consultant and co-author of Mad Max, the eccentric James McCausland, asked me what I meant  by the term. I naively answered, with the air of a self-righteous Melbourne University graduate, ‘Unfair.’

With the intense stare of a true iconiclast (who, incidentally, had lost the war against errant eyebrow and nose hair some decades previously), McCausland hit me with the full-force of the first expletive I had ever heard delivered by ‘adult’ (outside the telly, of course).

He said: “Well, why the FUCK didn’t you write UNFAIR!”

So, why the F*CK would you say ‘social media’?

It’s time to use an expression coined by the fathers of early cinema and ‘cut to the chase’.

Over the past five years, the commercial world has been obsessed with the expression ‘social media’. For many moons, it has been uttered with the same reverential tone as the word ‘convergence’ a decade before. (And, by the way, does anyone know anyone who still uses the word ‘convergence’? No? I thought not.)

This is simply because most people using the expression have never really understood it.

And, as a result, it has been peddled as a panacea for whatever commercial problems ‘ail ya’, with the zest of a spiritual healer or snake-oil salesman. Is it any wonder that ‘social media’ experts were so quick to adopt the descriptors ‘guru’ and ‘evangelist’?

So, today, I aspire to remove the mysterious garb of the social media experts and consultants (among whose fraternity I have accidentally acquired membership).

“Get me on The Twitter!”

More than one reader will have heard this question, most likely uttered by a senior member of management, a company CEO or a client. An equal number has also probably asked it.

“My son says I need to be on The Twitter. Can you get me on The Twitter?”

I too have been asked this question, in its many permutations. (“Can you help me set up a LinkedIn account?” “My business needs a Facebook page.”)

In most instances, the first thing that I will do is refer the curious Georgina to my first article in this series, “Why are you bothering with online marketing in the first place?” This is simply because all marketing (online or otherwise) must be governed by a measurable result.

In fact, this should apply to all aspects of business.

The second thing that I will do is try to define ‘social media’ in terms that even the most senior veteran of commerce can understand. (I don’t write this to be glib. I know full-well that these same veterans could wipe the floor with my commercial knowledge. Yes. I am a sponge.)

Here’s what I say:

Forget the expression ‘social media’.

Ban it from your brain.

Now, replace it with the word ‘sharable’.

Social media has been both praised and blamed for many things.

But what it does best… in fact, it does little else… is help a message to be shared.

To put this in context, I’m talking about:

Businesses sharing information with customers; Customers sharing information with businesses; Customers sharing information with other customers; Management sharing information with staff; and Staff sharing information with management.

These are things that already happen. Social media just makes all these things easier.

Social Media 2.0

So, despite some initial resistance (and fear), it’s pretty clear that most business owners and marketers have now learnt to love the share-able nature of social media… even if they haven’t yet figured out that this is why they love it.

The first wave of acceptance came with the realisation that if their customers were going to be sharing information about them anyway (on Facebook, Twitter etc), it might be beneficial for them to listen to the conversation.

The second wave came when the same people discovered that it might even be worth attempting to join the conversation, and share information of their own.

Now, organisations have similarly adopted tools like Yammer or internal wikis to help employees share information with employees. Information is no longer just shared down. It is shared upwards and across.

The goal to be imposed on business owners should not be about adopting social media — or even embracing it. The goal is to find aspects of the business that would benefit from the more efficient transfer of information — for marketing purposes or simple management.

Could it be time to create a movement to remove the words ‘social media’ from the business lexicon? Why deliberately confuse and exclude, when it’s easier to share.