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“Social Media” as a term is redundant and obsolete.

Today I sparked a whole conversation in Twitter about the term “social media.” Here is the edited (for ease of reading) conversation. Weigh in with your own opinions in the comments (or tweet me at http://twitter.com/purplecar).

My comments are in bold.

PurpleCar: Getting a little sick of the term “social media.” Networks are social by definition. All recorded communication is media. It’s antiquated.

mikeyil: agreed

greendeeds: agree with you. The term “social media” is just so generic.

charleshope “social media” is a dumb term anyway.

PurpleCar: @charleshope agreed.

mleis: It’s the only term society could agree upon to describe making the adjustment to ubiquitous computing. Is what it is. Cliches are good. They hurt but they’re good. We all know what they mean.

PurpleCar: The time for calling the phone system “Ma Bell” is over. The time for calling communication online “social media” is over too. @mleis

PurpleCar: RT @deanwhitbread: calling it “social media” is like calling the telephone the “telephonic interpersonal talking machine”

potsie: Shall we re-introduce consumer generated media? 😉

PurpleCar: @potsie I don’t see why, in general conversation, we need to identify who made the media. Unless it’s relevant, we don’t need to categorize.

potsie: It all depends on the audience. Some clients are still comfortable/think about traditional and social media separately.

PurpleCar: @potsie I say “paper copy” or “print book” – I make distinctions about the tech, not the product.

romez: How do you feel about emerging communication technologies being referred to as “New Media” ?

PurpleCar: “New Media” is a stupid term, too. New tech is fine. What it does isn’t relevant. It’s new tech or it’s old tech (like the wheel). @romez

MattTGrant: I absolutely agree re: “Social Media” – name me a medium that isn’t social? it’s like saying “social language.”  sometimes I will say “emerging media” instead of “social” – at least it gets at the temporary novelty of the new.

PurpleCar: A Medium is something through or by which something is accomplished, conveyed, or carried on (m-w.com) (inherent social quality). but that’s my point. It’s emerging tech, delivering human communication. I say we just call it media and point out the tech diff

MattTGrant: The question is are “social media” essentially different from traditional media? A wiki is really different from a newspaper. The difference is the “two-way-ness” – I can edit a wiki – I can’t edit the newspaper – I can tag on Flickr, I can’t on TV (yet)

PurpleCar: @MattTGrant That is amateur vs. professional media. Sponsored vs. volunteer. That is where the difference lives.

BigBossBgilbert: “New media” (to me) describes new forms of media delivery (podcasts, for instance). Not sure what you mean.

PurpleCar: Media hasn’t changed. Delivery systems and participants have changed. Media hasn’t changed. “New media” makes no sense. @BigBossBgilbert

BigBossBgilbert: I think it’s also a question of the way news is being handled. There’s big difference between online reporting and print.

PurpleCar: @BigBossBgilbert How is there any difference between online reporting and print? There’s just a diff b/w amateur and professional reporting. Even with the iPad that will be able to have inline video with print, that is still just regular old media on a new device. I say “tweet” when I use Twitter, “update” for other services, “video” for YouTube. I don’t say “I put some social media up on YouTube.”

hchybinski: LOL thank heavens you don’t say that – because it sounds dumb! LOL

PurpleCar: @hchybinski Yes it’s all media. To call it “social media” is redundant AND too general of a term. Trying to think of other redundant terms…

BigBossBgilbert: That sounds like the opinion of someone who’s never written for both. There’s an enormous difference.

PurpleCar: @BigBossBgilbert If you run a search on my name, you’ll see I’ve written for both. Journalism is good or bad. Has nothing to do with tech.

BigBossBgilbert: I’m not talking about the thoroughness of reporting, I’m talking about the difference between online and print delivery mediums. The most cursory, basic example would be the concept of a “deadline”

PurpleCar: @BigBossBgilbert What makes you think online reporting doesn’t have deadlines? I’m really confused at what you are saying. I write for some online pubs and I can tell you, there are deadlines. I’m saying “social media” as a term is obsolete. Online or off. Good or bad. New tech or old tech. It’s all “social media.”

BigBossBgilbert: Agreed, but you’re painting with really broad strokes here. Let’s take that all the way out and say that any form of media that exists where you can interact with others is “social media.” And no, “deadlines” as a concept online are obsolete. The internet simply exists, there is no printing cutoff. Which is to say that stories are ongoing. Updates are constant. That changes reporting in a fundamental way.

PurpleCar: @BigBossBgilbert stories were always constant. Their ongoing quality was just ignored by the writers after the initial soundbite/story.

BigBossBgilbert: But the medium itself changes how easy it is to update that. The difference between updating an existing story online and doing so the next day in print is ENORMOUS. Also, the direct interaction between writer and reader is far more apparent online.

PurpleCar: @BigBossBgilbert but listen to what you are saying. Communication has increased. Info flows more. It’s all just media. More of it, but same.

BigBossBgilbert: Sure, but there’s no harm in specializing your reporting based on the medium. In fact, it’s greatly beneficial to your reporting.

PurpleCar: @BigBossBgilbert That means our habits are changing. It doesn’t mean someone has invented a new medium, say, like info exchange via DNA. You would be forming your reporting around the tech and the environment, much like writing for NYT vs. small town rag. I hear what you’re saying but you sound like the rest of the old newspaper guys who really want to believe its “new” media.

PurpleCar: Anyway, I’m just saying “new media” should be “new tech” and “social media” should just be “media” or specific terms like “tweet” or “video”

BigBossBgilbert: You’re really nitpicking here. And yes, “new media” does mean “new medium.” It’s fair to call online-based news a “new medium”

PurpleCar: @BigBossBgilbert In a few years, the terms will fade and blend in, when people assume it’s online & paper is more rare. I’m an early adopter

BigBossBgilbert: Agreed! But it’s ridiculous to not parse the two now as they’re still pretty separate.

JustinKownacki: “New” always disproves itself over time. We need to subdivide the media, the tech & the distribution. No “new” required.

PurpleCar: @JustinKownacki exactly. “new” will fade, as will “social.” We need to use more specific terms for which media. NYT article. Blog post. Wiki

ericsmithrocks: but… @bigbossbgilbert is a full-time blogger for @joystiq, not an old-timey newspaper guy. Though his cap is very Newsies-ish.

PurpleCar: @ericsmithrocks yes, I know. I said he sounded like one. I’m just annoyed with the term. It hinders communication and is useless.

JustinKownacki: This is the danger of hastily-applied signifiers creating information muddles down the line. “Podcast,” anyone?

PurpleCar: @JustinKownacki agreed.

PurpleCar: Most people should be using the term “networking” or “networks” when they say “social media.” Making a Facebook fan page is networking.

JustinKownacki: The lack of demarcation between “social media” and “social marketing” also makes me apoplectic. But that’s a different rant. 😉

PurpleCar: @JustinKownacki YES! Or MARKETING. Thank you! Calling media “social” when you really mean “marketing” is misleading and slimy.

PurpleCar: Maybe I can get @chrisbrogan to stop using the term “social media” and just use the specific terms like marketing, networking, online, etc.

PurpleCar: This article uses the term “engagement ads” — see, that is way more accurate and truthful than “social media” http://is.gd/7e2vh

Gruven_Reuven: Might be old school now, But I still prefer Howard Rheingold’s (@hrheingold) term “Virtual Community.” You should read his book “Virtual Communities”. I highly recommend it. The virtual circles we create are mini communities.

PurpleCar: @Gruven_Reuven Yeah, I don’t know how much “community” is a falsehood when one talks about online or virtual networks. Not sure on that one.

Gruven_Reuven:  depends on the community. I’m still a part of a close knit mailing list community that’s been around since 1991

PurpleCar: @Gruven_Reuven The jury is still out on that for me. The whole perceived intimacy trap with online relationships can’t be ignored

georgedearing: liking @PurpleCar’s stream today

danieljohnsonjr: Catching up with @PurpleCar’s updates today. Wise she is, yes.

PurpleCar: @danieljohnsonjr @GeorgeDearing thanks, guys. I rant, therefore I am. It’s anti-social media. 🙂

richpalmer: @PurpleCar That’s why we follow you! 😉 It is nicely antithetical.

georgedearing: @PurpleCar you could be the voice behind my new venture @shitsocialmarketerssay / that says a lot..in a good way..really


Today I will change the name of 2 of the subcategories on this blog: Social Media and Social Media Gems to Media and Gems. I’ll think of more descriptive titles later.

This was a lot of fun. Thanks to everyone for weighing in. What do you think about the term “social media?” Are there comments in the Twitter stream above that I haven’t addressed or missed? Let’s continue this conversation in the comments.

Christine Cavalier, PurpleCar

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mark Clayson 28 January 2010, 9:48 pm

    Many employees have been firmed for social media. I think any thing has its both sides. Social media plays an essential thing in our life, however, the way to use it must be take in to serious consideration.

    Hope to get more ideas from you.

    • PurpleCar 28 January 2010, 11:14 pm

      Mark, thanks for coming. I have to say, I don’t know what you mean by “firmed” — you mean hired? I think this may be a case of two great cultures separated by a common language…

      Anyway, I’m not saying that “social media” don’t exist, I’m saying that the term is silly. All media is social. It’s whether the media is online or off, on paper or on the radio, etc. We need to make distinctions about what type of media it is, not whether or not it is social. That aspect is already implied.

      Hope to get more ideas from you, too.



  • TheMacMommy 28 January 2010, 11:29 pm

    Loved this conversation – as always. I enjoy the pot-stirring you do. It’s like when you go to a buffet and there is the chowder just sitting there with a layer of skin on top that has built up. Some would be content to just dip the ladle in and scoop out their desired portion. Then there is you, diving the ladle in and stirring it up, getting the flavors to mix and make it more interesting. You don’t just let it all settle. I appreciate that. I’ve heard/read you say this before and ever since I’ve always thought twice about using social media as the vocab term. I prefer “social networking” as a broad term and agree that the specific mode, i.e. video, blog, show, etc. should be used whenever possible. Even my Twitter “lists” I call “communities.” Anyhow, as always, thanks for provoking the thoughts!

    • PurpleCar 29 January 2010, 12:20 am

      YAY The MAC MOMMY is here!
      I am honored.

      Thanks so much. We’ve been connected a long time, you and I, and I value your opinions. Love the chowder reference. Yes, that’s me. I think it takes a certain kind of bravery (or, “stupidity” as I like to call it) to roil up the soup, as it were (go take a look at my next post http://www.purplecar.net/2010/01/29/dataisordataare/ if you need another shining example of my “why-do-I-constantly-bring-this-on-myself” disease). So it’s nice to hear that someone benefits!

      It’s funny that you mention that I’ve said this before about that term. Have I? I totally believe it, because it’s very me to get annoyed at things like this. AND totally like me to nitpick a term then in the very next blog post support fudging the grammar rules! But I’m basically all about progress, and “social media” holds us back and doesn’t speak the truth, and “data” is better if treated as a mass noun.

      ANYWAY… thanks a ton. I’m happy to hear that you’re communicating effectively with descriptive terms and not using generic, obsolete ones. People will see you as helpful and clear, and your message will get to them. And isn’t that what, in the end, we all want?

      love you!



  • Andrew 29 January 2010, 12:47 am

    Hmm, it’s certainly not true that all media are social. There is nothing inherently social about water, for instance, or sound. In the realm of human communications, broadcast media and print media operate on a less granular time scale than Twitter or Facebook. The former are, of course, still social, but there is relatively more production time and labor involved in the rejoinders. I’ve always thought the term “Social Media” nicely captured the immediacy and relative informality of the latter channels. And it’s a far less unwieldy term than, say, “Conversational Media.”

    • PurpleCar 29 January 2010, 10:08 am

      Hey Andrew. Thanks for coming.

      All communicative media are social. If one is a scientist running assays, then one may use a medium like oil or water to get a cell on a slide. The media there, oil and water, aren’t social.

      You have fallen into the same false thinking that most people do with this subject: you are basing your decision about the term on whether or not the media is produced professionally or by an amateur. You say “there is relatively more production time and labor involved in the rejoinders” in what I assume you mean as traditional professional media. You go on to say that “social media” means “immediacy and informality” to you, which indicates to me that you are talking about amateur communications.

      I’m saying that social media are not just informal gatherings by friends on Facebook. All media are being taken over by professionals. Ads are everywhere. Engagement marketing is ubiquitous. If we keep calling it “social media” and perpetuate this false meaning of informality, people will be duped by advertisers and perhaps worse, more malicious entities. We need to start drilling down and calling each medium what it is, for clarity and safety.

      -Christine Cavalier, PC


      • Andrew 29 January 2010, 1:57 pm

        “All communicative media are social.” Not true, strictly speaking. All social life must have media to persist, but there are communicative media that are not social. A clock display is a communicative medium and not at all social, for example. Talking aloud to myself is communicative and also not social. My argument is totally agnostic on the question of professional vs. amateur production, it’s really about the time-scale of interaction. There are amateurs publishing books, zines, films, television shows and radio all the time. It’s really the physical demands of the form and the *relatively* formal rules that obtain in their production that makes them less immediately social. And I don’t think it’s dangerous or unclear to acknowledge that the way customers interact with professional communicators like Zappo’s or Comcast or political candidates via social media is more rapid and informal than it ever has been before. Or if there’s a danger, it’s not in our referring to it as “social media.”


        • PurpleCar 29 January 2010, 3:07 pm

          I’ll buy your definition of communicative media (i.e. the clock) but I’m not buying into the time-stamp argument as a reason for keeping the term “social.” Immediacy is a concept that is subjective and will change in definition for difference situations. I think you’d do better if you kept with the “two-way-ness” of some advertising campaigns for a reason to keep the term “social.”



  • D'Coda 30 January 2010, 4:16 am

    The proof of obsolescence is usage isn’t it? Not whether we approve or disapprove. There are many terms I find stupid and tiresome,but so long as they’re still widely used, I can’t add “obsolete” to my list of complaints.

    • PurpleCar 30 January 2010, 12:47 pm

      That is definitely a standard definition of “obsolete.”

      Here’s what Merriam-Webster’s (subscription level) says:

      Main Entry: 1ob·so·lete Pronunciation Guide
      Pronunciation: |äbs|lt, usu -d.+V
      Function: adjective
      Etymology: Latin obsoletus, past participle of obsolescere to grow old, fall into disuse, perhaps from ob- to, toward + -solescere (from solre to be accustomed) — more at OB, INSOLENT
      1 : no longer active or in use : DISUSED, NEGLECTED: as a : formerly but no longer current b : of a kind or style no longer current : OUTMODED c (1) of a postage or revenue stamp : no longer issued by a post office : no longer on sale as a postal or revenue item (2) of a piece of currency : no longer legal tender because demonetized or issued by an authority that is no longer in existence d of a business firm : gone out of existence : having ceased to conduct business
      2 : worn out : reduced to a trace : EFFACED: as a of a plant or animal part : indistinct or imperfect as compared with a corresponding part in related organisms : REDUCED, RUDIMENTARY, VESTIGIAL b of a lesion or an infective process : DIMINISHED, INDISTINCT, EFFACED
      3 : regarded as out of date whether currently in use or not
      synonym see OLD

      So you are using the first definition, subsection a. I’m using subsection b, “Outmoded” and the second definition, subsection b, “indistinct.”

      I think the term social media is obsolute because it is indistinct and outmoded. It doesn’t offer any detailed description of exactly what kind of media it is. Online communications have become so diverse that it isn’t clear to use the word “media” and not distinguish which types.

      Thanks for speaking up, though. I think your theory is interesting. The fact that the lexicon is fiercely holding on to the term should be a consideration. I’m opting to phase the term out because I want to know what kinds of media people are using. A Facebook update is a lot different than a YouTube video. A link is a lot different than an original blog post.

      -Christine Cavalier, PurpleCar


  • Ruddle 16 March 2010, 11:56 am

    You can’t just pick and choose the meanings you want a word to have from a given definition. 2(b) is an anatomy term related to “a plant or animal part,” which is irrelevant to the conversation. 1(b)’s “OUTMODED” is predicated on “a style…no longer current,” which directly supports D’Coda’s point. The term ‘obsolete’ in current, consensus usage is determined by how widely used a word is. Just because you declare the term “social media” to be indistinct or arbitrary reflects an idiosyncratic viewpoint. True, many others may agree with your view, but as long as a critical mass of people think of social media as a distinct thing from traditional, one-way media, “social media” will be a term for this. In time, when the novelty of the internet wears off, and when people’s perceptions of online media settle on a new consensus, we might see a new term. I just think you’re being a little nit-picky and arbitrarily semantic when it comes to “social” as a modifier of “media.” It’s just a term we’ve implicitly agreed on using as a society to describe a thing we collective see as existing. Additionally, words aren’t always tied directly to their etymologies either. Think of the word “anybody” for example. We don’t mean literally any “physical substance of an animal or plant, living or dead” when we say this; obviously, it’s a term we collectively use to mean any person. “Social media,” like any other term in the history of language, is simply a signifier of a signified. There’s always going to be a disconnect between the two as long as we’re using words, which are inherently imprecise (due to their fluidity), to bridge that gap.

    • PurpleCar 16 March 2010, 2:04 pm

      Thanks for your comments.

      Actually you re a bit off the mark and reveal yourself as someone who probably corrects other people s usage. I can use any term I like, actually, because languages support the fluidity of which you speak (contradicting yourself in the process).

      It all comes down to what you think language is. I think language is a descriptive force with living changes and many shades of gray in meaning. The point of this post, in particular, is to show how non-descriptive and useless such a general and old-fashioned term social media is. You can argue about my usage of certain words until the cows come home, but at the end of the day my readers understood my point.

      What you meant to say was that my use of obsolete was hyperbole. Perhaps you should think first of the tone of language before you think about stretching out your misguided and under-educated (in this sense) fingers. Language is more than you realize, I think. You may want to start reading up on it as an area of study, seeing that you have an interest on exact usage. If you want, I can research some starter books for you. Let me know.

      Thanks for saying what I am sure several readers were wondering.

      • Ruddle 16 March 2010, 4:42 pm

        I have a linguistics degree from Harvard.

        • PurpleCar 17 March 2010, 8:18 am

          Then u should know better.

      • Andrew 16 March 2010, 6:01 pm

        I do think you were a bit harsh in this response to Ruddle. You’ve made an accusation of prescriptivism when, in fact, he or she is defending a resolutely descriptivist approach to language (which is entirely consistent with a linguistics degree from Harvard or anywhere else). There is a simple test for “how non-descriptive and useless such a general and old-fashioned term social media is.” And that test is how often its use in context occasions confusion among interlocutors. In my experience, everyday speakers do not have any difficulty understanding what is meant. Of course, it’s an empirical question, and any good descriptive linguist could devise an elicitation experiment that could show you a demographic distribution of the intelligibility of the term. That intelligibility is really the only question here. Your argument up top seems to suggest that there is some kind of lack of logical ‘fit’ between the term “social media” and the ‘facts on the ground’ it describes. This is, essentially, an ideology of correctness you’ll find in many prescriptivist arguments–that language fails to parse reality precisely right. It’s what Whitehead calls the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness. Anyway, still, there’s no cause for describing your commenters as misguided and under-educated! 😉

        • PurpleCar 17 March 2010, 8:28 am

          U r right I shldnt do tht

          Lol that was just to be funny.

          Seriously though, it s ridiculous for any linguist to suggest I cannot use a term in any way I see fit. Whether you fall on the prescriptivist or descriptivist side, you will still have to deal with varied use of language. I agree that I may push boundaries of meaning, but my point in my original post was clear. You may argue semantics because you both have a passion for it (which I adore) but you miss the intent of the communication.

          I was a bit harsh in my response, but I interpreted his comments as myopic and rude. Thanks for weighing in and giving me some further insight in what Ruddle was trying to say.

  • Dan 21 September 2010, 5:09 pm

    Social media is redundant. I wish there was a soecial term for this like there is for oxymoron! ARGH I’m sure the french have one, I mean they have a term for that phenomena we know as deja vous, which we use.