Social media – if you haven’t heard the phrase a hundred times recently, you must spend less time on the internet than I do. I’m not trying to exaggerate to make a point either, Google returns almost as many results for “social media” as it does for “mass media.”
So let’s put some meaning and historical context behind this oft-used buzzword.
What is Media
The word media derives from the plural form a Latin word that describes someone acting as a “go between.” That is, if person A wants knowledge from person C, the medium is person B who speaks to both C and A.
Over time, the definition of media has evolved to all forms of “go betweens.” Psychic mediums [sic] act as the one who connects the customer to supposed psychic spirits. The television and print media inform the everyday consumer of the knowledge passed on from the high gods of government and commerce. Even if you ask Joe what Sally was doing last weekend, Joe is acting as the medium between you and Sally.
The point is: information gets passed along, and the distribution mechanism of information isn’t always the same as the originator (author) of the information. When this is the case, the distributor of the information is acting in the role of media.
All Media is Social – Until Mass Media
Prior to the advent of mass production of media information – say, before Newspapers, Television, and Radio – media was a completely social affair. The town crier would socially interact with the serfs and inform them of the king’s will. The priest would mediate between the congregation and their various gods.
Mass Media sort of lost ground with the social aspect of media away while decimating the competition anyway using their superior reach.
It began with newspapers, a simple combination of movable type printing presses and cheap paper. Information could be provided to a writer and with an overnight industrial process, everyone could be connected to the information given by the author’s source. The author, the printing press, even the newspaper boy acts as a media to convey that information – but the process becomes highly unsocial.
The author is not directly interacting with the reader, and the newspaper boy eventually realizes his actual job is to increase sales. The editors and publishers are also keenly aware of the fact that the media itself requires funding to run – if there is no paid demand for early mass media, there is no media.
At best, there’s a social aspect to the consumption of mass media – we talk about what we saw in the newspaper, or on TV last night. Yet in many ways, mass media is not an improvement from older forms of media because it presents more of a one-directional flow of information.
The Internet is a Social Media with Mass Media Reach
The internet has always been a social media. Even before the internet had gone global, most acts of connecting computers for the purpose of communication is social. LAN Parties are social events, local dial-up bulletin boards were highly social communities with functions very similar to internet message boards and online games, so as long as computer networks were growing, so was social media.
So what is this social media everyone is talking about? Isn’t it Facebook or Myspace or LinkedIn or Twitter or something? Kind of – Not exactly in my opinion.
This social media is the means of communication and broadcasting created by the internet – by the networking of computers. In this arrangement, the computer and the digital transfer of communication is the medium between people.
It is a new mass media without the barriers to entry that mark the old mass media. Where once you needed massive printing presses, now you just need some website hosting and a blog to reach the same potential audience. Your video or audio creations could be seen by a few or by thousands, but you won’t need expensive broadcasting towers and scarce licenses in order to compete and find out just what kind of interest there is.
While the potential audience is incredibly vast, there are still connections that must be made before anyone sees what you’ve published. Even with the best connections and most visible links, most surfers will only ever see a fraction of the internet that is out there.
So What’s the Buzz?
From a practical marketing standpoint, the commercial goal of social media is to increase broadcasting reach on the new computer-based platform, influence consumer opinion, and drive sales – but there’s a lot more to it then that.
Mass media has come to affect the entire course of human society – of all endeavors, fields, and even hobbies you can think of. Media is not an end unto itself, it is a means of accomplishing and furthering these causes that inspire people to action. It is not just about how information can be shared, but what new information will be created by the synthesis of ideas. The internet promises to continue that tradition.
So while the internet has always been a means of social interaction, the popularity and traffic trends affirm that surfers want even more social websites. Growing total traffic numbers also mean that the status of internet as mass media is only becoming more and more assured.
What does it mean for your business or organization? How does it create sales? Don’t worry, I’ll get to that in future posts. I have a whole social media category to fill up now, so I’ll be exploring more of the details that turn this potential into a benefit for your website building endeavors and business goals.
What do you think about social media? Let us know, share your comments below and feel free to link to your own personal profiles so we can get a look at how you organize your online media activity.