Social Media’s Bad Name

Social media has a bad name, not a bad reputation

Chad Anderson
Jul 19, 2018 · 10 min read

The “Social Media” label, as it relates to how we, as marketers, classify it, is archaic. “Social” is nothing more than a colloquialism or label for all platforms and tools that are built on the backbone of the modern internet.

Think about it, everything is “social” in 2018 and it’s imperative that we evolve our marketing approaches and strategies when we think about the role that it plays in the modern marketing landscape.

Social Media came along during the Web 2.0 era. That was 15 years ago. Which essentially makes it a Trilobite from an Digital evolutionary standpoint that has ushered in the modern Web 3.0 era.

Here’s the point behind the science/history lesson: There have been radical changes to the web and social media since the 2.0 Era.

There is no arguing against evolution. So, why do marketers still use these platforms and tools as if they are in their early, non-evolved forms?

There’s been mass extinctions and transformation taking place all around us, and the very definition of what we consider to be social media needs to evolve with it. Definition time!

The Definition Social Media:

so·cial me·di·a
forms of electronic communication through which people create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages and media.
Where users to communicate and connect with and find people, and share similar interests through groups, networks, and location.

This definition covers the broad strokes and essence of social media, but is it really applicable to what “social” truly is in 2018? My contention is that social media is ultimately just media. It’s not a handful of platforms for brands to broadcast from, just because they can. It’s a series of mature platforms. (More on that here.)

If the definition of social media platforms is/was “to connect and share with other people”, isn’t that just the entire modern internet? This passé classification may have held-up a decade ago; But in its mature, modern form social now encompasses thousands of apps and platforms. In a 2018, gig-economy connected world, categorizing thousands of nuanced platforms under a singular umbrella is flawed thinking. That’s why there are so many marketers and brands getting it wrong.

But how can so many brands, both big and small, follow this thinking? They throw hundreds of millions of dollars at creating the same content across staggeringly different platforms and somehow expect it to have an impact? I’ve been around it professionally since 2005 and I don’t have an answer as to why this thinking permeates so many brands’ social media marketing strategies — other than it is/was “new.” But I do know how the masses have misread, mistreated and ignored the power of it.

Rethinking the Perception of Social Media

It’s clear that social media has grown into a beast that is bigger and more culturally impactful than could have ever been predicted.

My question/mission is to reclassify and rethink the current landscape of Social Media platforms in a Web 3.0 world. If you peel back the layers of the platforms, they are all ultimately just “Media Aggregators”. Definition time!

A platform or utility that collects related items of content and displays or links to them.

Ok, so Media Aggregator isn’t an ultra-sleek handle or naming convention. (Damnit, Jim! I’m a Strategist — not a Copywriter! Timely Star Trek reference) But I think what it lacks in sexy it makes up for in specificity. I think the definition of an aggregator does a better job describing these modern internet platforms than the social media definition does, no?

Following this “Aggregator Thesis”, let’s deconstruct how we approach social. Specifically, how and why we create content on these platforms. A few considerations going in:

1. Be open to understanding how and why each platform “aggregates content” and the nuances behind each.

2. Be open to understanding how people’s psychology, mindset, behavior, needs and expectations are vastly different when they’re on each platform.

3. Come to grips with the fact that the platforms that we designate as Social Media do not even classify themselves as social.

Facebook: Media Company
Twitter: News Publisher
Instagram: Visual Inspiration & Discovery Platform
YouTube: Video Search Engine
Snapchat: Camera Company
LinkedIn: Professional Network
Pinterest: Visual Discovery Engine

There you have it. These are the alpha-predator networks that we have lumped together as “social media/networks” and not a single one use that term in how they describe and position their own services.

Hell, Twitter might be the last pure social media of the old guard — and even they changed their App Store category from Social to News in 2016. It’s less about how the platforms classify themselves and more about how it influences their positioning within the landscape. That is the principal reason why they cannot all be rolled up under a single marketing strategy.

Does it matter if social media remains “just social”?

It absolutely matters. How well does your social content strategy hold up when it’s distilled through the complexities and variations that comprise media companies, news publishers, visual inspiration platforms, and a camera company? I’m going to go out on a limb and say, “not great”.

Are you analyzing decisions based on the nature of the platform?
Are you considering each platform’s areas of differentiation?
Are you creating content that is designed for each individual platform?
Are you looking at each platform’s desired experiences for their users?

So, yeah…kind of important. You may think it’s splitting hairs to separate the networks out into sub-categories. I get it. That’s because in the 2.0 Era, it made sense to have sub-categories to discern them — because no one knew what they were or what they did.

But in the era of Web 3.0, we have to deconstruct and rethink how loosely we throw around the term “social” as a catchall term because it does exactly the opposite of catching all of the platforms. The volume of platforms and apps that “share updates, images, video, music or text and connect people” have rapidly expanded and the lines of the former sub-categories have been dramatically blurred.

The Web 3.0 landscape has social species of all kinds and the world of “social communication & sharing platforms” is all of a sudden a very crowded place. By it’s definition, there are thousands of social platforms, with tens and hundreds of millions of users that span the globe and include every possible demographic.

The even greater issue at play is that by continuing to think in terms of these Web 2.0 social sub-categorizations, it dictates what becomes an incredibly poor strategy for the platforms.

“Put the short video here, put the long one here. Put the images here and size them differently here. Put the shorter text and hashtags on this one.”

This is playing defense not going on offense and offense is what wins championships in this evolutionary, predatory game.

It’s time to play the “Is It Social?” Game!

Remember the rules, if the network “creates online communities, helps to communicate, share information or connect with people of similar interests —
it’s social!” 60-Seconds on the Clock…

Is Spotify social?
“Soundtrack your life, browse music collections of friends, artists and celebrities.”
160M+ Users Globally

Is Venmo social?
“Connect with people. Remember the moments you share with friends.”
22.9M MAUs

Is Quora social?
A place to gain and share knowledge to better understand the world.”

Is Nextdoor social?
“The hyper-local private social network for your neighborhood.”
160k Neighborhoods, covers 75% of all of the U.S.

Is Waze social?
“Community-based traffic navigation app. Share real-time traffic and road info,”
65M MAUs, 185 Countries

Is Slack social?
“Slack (channels) bring conversations and people together to do better work.”
8 Million DAUs 500k Organizations

Is Uber Pool social?
“Together, we save. Match with riders heading in the same direction, share the ride and cost.”
100k Users, 250 Uber Pool Rides Given

Is Houzz social?
“Bringing homeowners and home professionals together in a uniquely visual community.”
40M MAUs

Is Goodreads social?
“The world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations.”
75M MAUs

Is Tinder Social?
“Meet new people nearby.”
50M MAUs

Bonus Round!

Anonymous Social Sites/Apps!
Reddit 1.69B 215 MAUs
Whisper 250M MAUs

Social Commerce sites!
Polyvore/Ssense 25M MAUs
Etsy 47M MAUs

Lightning Round!!

Sharing Economy and Peer-to-Peer Commerce!
Uber 75M Users!
Lyft 23M Users!
Airbnb U.S. 55M+ Users!
DogVacay/Rover! 285k members!

That’s time! You win! They are all social! Your parting gift is a DogVacay for your pet, while you’re magically whisked away to a Spotify Party with 160 million of your closest friends! You’ll also be going home with a random Tinder hook-up you matched with, and a gaggle of suggestive emoji’s used in Venmo payment messages by your college friends!

There are no more sub-categories, social has permeated and engulfed everything. Web 2.0 Social thinkers are content dinosaurs, and we already went into and came out of the proverbial Ice Age. Web 3.0 thawed the ice, and out came a rapidly evolving ecosystem of new platforms and social creatures. Which requires an evolution of thinking from marketers.

The Riches are in the Niches (& Nuances); Follow the Money

If you are not creating content for the platform and serving the needs of the people on the platform — you are staring down extinction too.

Thousands of platforms have crawled out of the slime and carved out niches. With that, comes nuance. Frustratingly, this is what get’s ignored by marketers because it’s where the modern consumer lives.

If we start to actually watch and understand the why behind the what when platforms make changes, things get clearer. “Follow the money.” (All The President’s Men, a timely 1976 reference). Whether it’s new features, adjusting algorithms or even the ones that die off — Follow. The. Platform’s. Money.

When a platform adds or removes features, changes their algorithm, or acquires a smaller tech-start-up you follow that money. Reverse engineer what changed to determine the platform’s why behind the changes. These changes and tweaks to features and specialization map to what the platform’s business goals — so, you can be damn sure that they will affect yours.

Why did the platform make this change?
How does it improve their positioning, differentiation and user experience?
What do they want this change to mean for the end user?
How does this affect or influence your current content strategy?
What new opportunities are available that weren’t before?
How can you test and leverage the change to meet your business objectives?

A fundamental understanding of details and nuances always leads to better strategic decisions.

Marketers and content creators that go through this exercise regularly are the ones that make hay while the sun shines. Those that don’t are the ones standing around when the meteor hits, only to watch a dust cloud block out the sun. Then they wonder why it all of a sudden became a harsher environment to survive in.

Platform Adaptability: An Abridged History of Evolutionary Moments

2013: Twitter acquired the all of a sudden smash hit VINE. Then abruptly killed it three-years later because all of the ‘Vine Stars’ had fled. The star content creators didn’t stop. They pivoted over to other platforms like Facebook Video, YouTube, Instagram & Snapchat and continued to thrive.

2015: Meerkat goes bananas at SXSW. Weeks after it’s release, Twitter cut off access to its access to their social graph and pushes newly acquired Periscope onto the platform. Ultimately, Meerkat morphed into HouseParty and Periscope has largely faltered living on Twitter. But even in its infancy, Live-Streaming was a $30B industry and tens of millions of early live-streamers were able to live on consuming and creating live content. They jumped to greener, “livelier” pastures of Facebook Live (2016), YouTube Live (2016), Instagram Live (2017) and maturing platforms like Snapchat (2014) Twitch (2011).

2016: Instagram launches Stories, copycatting all of Snapchat’s core features. The content creators that were already leveraging the power of ephemeral content on Snapchat had a minimal learning curve when Instagram Stories came along and creators that already knew the stickiness of the content and how to use short-form storytelling didn’t miss a beat.

2018: Instagram announces IGTV, a new feature and platform that allows for content that’s up to 60 minutes. The masters of vertical and live video story-telling on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and YouTube can all pivot to IGTV — it’s nothing more than long-form storytelling, but nuanced in that it’s vertical.

The common theme: The key to survival is adaptability and the capacity to be able to find a new environment/medium when the current one becomes hostile.

There are countless formerly “un-killable brand giants”. They were mammoths that roamed the land of the brands, and now they are fossils because they didn’t adapt. The modern age of digital and social media will continue to kill more of them.

Random Acts of Marketing & the Content-a-Saurus-Wrecks

When marketers “post because they need something to post” they fall victim to Random Acts of Marketing. These are same marketers that complain about organic reach declining, having to create video because it’s more expensive, or having to pay for something that’s no longer free or as simple as it used to be. These are the brands that look at social as nothing more than an additional means of distribution for the content and services that they already have, and thus they treat it like broadcast media. They are comfortable with the way things used to be.

Do you know who else wishes things were the way they used to be?
Dinosaurs and 99% of all other species to ever live that have gone extinct.

Now it’s not the same. Deal with it. Alpha Predator Mega Brands are dying off. The majority of the Fortune 500 companies that used to roam the earth and devour prey at will are no longer getting eaten by bigger predators with more teeth.

It’s ‘death by a thousand cuts’ that come from smaller brands that outmaneuver them. It’s kind of like a pack of bad-ass Raptors trained by Chris Pratt. Actually, it’s not even “kind of like” that — it’s exactly like that.)

The days of mega brands open-grazing free on channels are gone. Random acts of marketing gave rise to these Content-A-Sauruses. The most boring, noisy irrelevant content beasts to ever roam the interwebs — and it wrecks. It happened because too many marketers and brands have a fundamental misunderstanding of what social is and continue to abandon strategy and force a singular, outdated strategy that doesn’t add any value.

Simply changing copy and image sizes to post across all of your social platforms is boring, noisy. Don’t be a Content-a-Saurus-Wrecks. It’s lazy and it means that you are disrespecting the platform and thus you are disrespecting the people on those platforms by interrupting them with your lazy content.

A high-performance social /media aggregation platform strategy starts with understanding the platforms. Creating content for the platforms and most importantly for the users on those platforms.

So, do you want to be remembered as a fossilized Trilobite in a Museum or do you want to get your hands errr.. “claws/talons” a little dirty and evolve to stay alive and relevant?

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Chad Anderson

Written by

Digital Strategist 💡 Twin Dad 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 Aspiring woodworker 🛠 KC & Jayhawk enthusiast ❤️💙 Instagram: @chadstagrams_kc

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