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Communicating About Social Media

Does Such A Broad Definition of Social Media Cause Problems?

Yes. In fact it's a huge unrecognized problem because of the way social media is discussed both within social media platforms, and by standard media such as television, or print publications. Here's why.

If you take a look at the variety or types of social media we indicated were accepted as falling under the umbrella of social media, you'll find the range is huge. Let's look at two media types as examples.

On one hand you have Twitter, which is a platform to which people can send messages no longer than 140 characters, and characterized by the need to have "followers" (people who have chosen to see everything you "tweet". It's primarily text based.

On the other hand (we actually would need many many hands to go through all the possible tools), is YouTube, the leading site where people share their videos with each other, and can comment on them.

Both are (oddly enough at the time of this writing) NOT commercially successful (i.e., they are not making money and have not yet), but it's what they don't have in common that is the problem.

People use Twitter and YouTube differently.

They are completely different technologies

To use Twitter effectively and use YouTube (let's say for business) requires different skills and different approaches because the users use the platforms differently and for different reasons.

To talk about social media, or to provide advice about how to use "social media" for business purposes, is nonsensical, because the tools and platforms within it are as different as a semi-trailer truck and a moped. It may be true both are similar in some respects but it's rarely useful to include them in the same category of things.

The Result: Both supposed experts on social media, users, and traditional media lump everything together, and clearly communication is impaired because the reader or listener simply doesn't know whether the originator of the communication is referring to Twitter, or Facebook, or YouTube, or the friendly neighbourhood blog. And they are all different. The results are we can't have conversations beyond the superficial. The overall understanding of how the different kinds of "social media" work is impaired, and any advice about "social media" has to be looked at as mostly wrong.

As an example, the buzz in the media has been that small businesses need/must be involved in social media if they are to compete (that's nonsense anyway), so many small businesses are jumping in on that basis, but not all social media approaches will work at all for a small business. As a result of the imprecise advice and communication, what you have is the potential of millions of dollars of wasted effort and opportunity costs on the part of small business, AND, the sullying of the use of all social media platforms as a result.

Even researchers tend to lump everything together, particularly in the titles of the reports, contributing to the horrible muddy communication.

Now doubt, many "expert" will argue with this. The next question of interest, though, is Why are people communicating in such a terrible way about social media?


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Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992. Since then Robert has trained thousands of employees to deal with angry, hostile, abusive and potentially violent customers. He has authored over 20 books on various subjects, many published by McGraw-Hill.


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