I’ve never been entirely happy with the term “social media”, to me it doesn’t seem to describe anything — it was a term that sort of stuck for the want of anything good to describe the “whole sort of general mish-mash” of people communicating online.

“Social” is a particularily meaningless word, or actually what I mean is that it means too much. It has connotations of friendly interaction, or welfare or even socialism. The term social media has also been expanded to refer to the tools that people understand as being for it, so much so that people (organisations, really) can claim to be “doing social media”, when all they are really doing is publishing things on the net. The Obama teams’ non-comment-allowed use of YouTube for example, is not any more social than a radio broadcast or TV address — it just allowed them full control. That’s not to say that it was wrong, after all going where your audeince is is good advice, but it’s not “social”.

When I, or other people who think a lot about “this sort of stuff” talk about “social media” we mean the converational bits — Twitter-ers tweeting each other, comments on Flickr photos, blog posts that either host or contribute to conversation (comments, links, trackbacks…) and so on. We also talk about “joining the conversation”.

So why don’t we refine our terms and talk about “conversational media”?

Conversational media is where everyone can have the means to join in.

What do you think?

9 thoughts on “Do we mean “social” or do we mean “conversational”?

  1. Great idea… Social Media is an insiders jargon that is difficult to comprehend. Jargon is simple for insiders to use, but is often meaningless to outsiders. When I try to explain what Social Media is I often have to switch to simpler term’s such as “word-of-mouth” and “online conversation” so that they can understand what I mean.

    @james_rock

  2. oh no – and just when the council finally got round to organising an internal ‘social media’ group. there’ll be chaos now I tell ya. I daren’t tell them.

  3. @Jo, we just start using it — there was a tangle between “social network” and “social graph” for a while last year. As we start to study these things more, we’ll need proper accepted definitions, which might mean breaking things down more.

  4. Hi Jon. Delayed response; but my problems with the word ‘conversation’ are the following:

    1. It suggests a degree of turn-taking and exchange – this doesn’t necessarily happen with social media
    2. Real time: I can leave an e.g. twitter discussion for days and then return to it – can’t really do that in a conversation
    3. You can’t really have a conversation with more than a handful of people. Thousands of people participating in something is great, but it’s not a conversation
    4. I would say that there are varying degrees of conversation (ie dialogue, discussion, response, exchange) between different social media platforms e.g. having a discussion on Twitter is more conversational than e.g uploading photos in a flickr group. You may simply upload 10 photos and then vanish – there’s no discussion or intercourse there.

    Perhaps something is as conversational as the participants make it; but I wouldn’t whitewash all with this word.

    I know what you’re saying about the term ‘social media’ and there’s something to be said about finding a new term that suggests interactivity, collectivism, exchange, communication, participation – just not sure that ‘conversational’ is the right one ….

  5. @Fiona, I see where you’re coming from, but I feel your definition of conversation is unnecessarily limited — you can converse with any number of people, over vast spaces of time and (er) space — although it practise people converse with a limited number of people over a limited timescale even online.

    To me “interactivity, collectivism, exchange, communication, participation” and “dialogue, discussion, response, exchange” would be a couple of good collections of synonyms — implying that “conversational” isn’t as far away from being a good term as you think.

    Totally open to someone (please!) finding a better one tho’.

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