Social Media is Bigger than Jesus

If I gained one new follower every time someone told me the term “social media” was dead, Kim Kardashian’s Twitter game would be over.

Since launching Social Media Week in 2009 I have been drawn into these conversations more times than I care to remember. Whether it’s “social media” as a term, a way of labeling what we do, the industry we’re in, or even what we choose to call our conference, the question is always the same: “when will the term ‘social media’ become obsolete?”.

Terminology and industry vernacular come and go. Industry pundits and enthusiasts will quickly discard something if it feels passé, and just as quickly jump on the next thing as a way of boosting their credibility as future forward thinkers. I understand why they do this. There’s a real benefit from claiming these stakes, and personal brands are built on being early or even ahead of the curve when it comes to branding new innovations.

Remember “cyberspace”, “surfing the web”, “social networking”, “web 2.0”? All passé. All largely forgotten. But when it comes to social media, I think we’re talking about a different animal. One reason for this is is because the phrase has become more of a cultural meme than an industry one.

When asked how I define it, I try and keep it simple: “social” represents the means by which we communicate, enabled by many-to-many networks, and “media” is what we share, be it words, music, pictures or video.

With this definition in mind we should acknowledge the mark it has had on the modern lexicon because we are so impacted by what it represents. Our time and attention is completely dominated by social media, more so than anything else we engage in. More than music, TV, gaming, more than religion, more than speaking to our friends on the telephone, more than the time we spend with our friends, family and loved ones. Jesus, it’s even something we talk about more than, well, Jesus.

Within the last 31 days social media has been mentioned over 3.5 million times online. Within the same timeframe, Jesus was mentioned only 1.6 million times.

​*Chart at 10% sample*

Social media is bigger than Jesus. Yep, I said it. First it was the Beatles, then Oasis and now it’s Social Media. Yes, yes, I know, I’m being absurd. My tongue is firmly pressed against my cheek. But, whatever, the point is it’s a term has firmly established itself in the modern lexicon, and that’s ok. No, really, it’s ok. You don’t have to be ashamed to use it and you mustn’t be embarrassed that despite all our best efforts we can’t think of a better word, phrase or term.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the term has been overused, co-opted and bandied about in a ridiculous fashion over the past decade. As a modifier in language it’s a clumsy affectation. Social Customer Service is really just customer service. Social Journalism, is just journalism. And no, it’s not really necessary to have the word social media in your job title.

But, I do want to advocate for why it’s necessary for the term to exist and why it will be around for as long as technology plays a role in how we connect and communicate.

First of all, there is nothing that is so singularly all encompassing that encapsulates the shift in modern communications we’re experiencing today. Second, there has rarely, in the history of technology enabled communication, been a term that has been so widely used by people, regardless of the language they speak. Third, it is a term that has transcended technology and business rhetoric, reaching beyond the echo chamber of our industry.

When I’m drawn into these conversations or when I’m asked to defend my brand, or when a wise guy VC says to me, “don’t you worry that your brand will become obsolete in the future as the term becomes passé?”, I always give the same response: “no” and “why would it”?.

Here’s the fundamental reason why it won’t. As we go from three billion connected humans to six in the next eight years we will see technology continue to shape how we connect and communicate. And as long as humans want to connect and share, “social media” as a term will be the best and most universal way to define how humans are becoming more open and connected.

If you have a better way of encapsulating this, I’m all ears.

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