I have been involved in social media for about the last 5 years, although it has gone by many names: grassroots, word of mouth, new media, Web 2.0, viral, social networking, etc. It seems like we have finally arrived at a term that everyone is comfortable with: social media. It appears that the reason why most are satisfied with social media to describe the blog/podcast/MySpace/Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn phenomenon is that what all these technologies have in common is that they are all about conversations. They encourage people to engage with each other.
I think that is a great way to describe the explosion of conversation technologies. However, I would argue that based on this definition, all media is social. All media encourages conversation, good or bad. However, social media simply captures that conversation in a nicely oraganized format online.
There are many who think of social media as a tactic only and fail to realize that it is, in fact, a cultural phenomenon. Much the same way that you feel frustration when you can’t fast forward through a commercial on a DVR because we have become accustomed to controlling our content, we feel frustrated when a brand does not have the proper tools for discussion online when we need to react to what they are doing. The conversation will take place, online or off. Wouldn’t you rather have take place in a way that you can faciliatate and participate in that conversation? This is what made shows like American Idol so popular is the ability for the audience to engage with the brand.
So while I praise the industry for arriving at a standard term for all of the online mumbo jumbo, let us remember that all media, when used correctly, should be social. So why not use social media to capture the conversation?