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Social media is…

As a thought experiment, I asked followers on Twitter and friends on Facebook this little question:

What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think of social media?

Sure enough, the myriad responses are as diverse as those responding. Some use the ingrained buzzwords: engagement, community, interaction, filter, sharing. Some look at social media from a more humorous lens: hamburger, peanut butter, myself. Not surprisingly, though, is the number of people who responded negatively: douchebag, nerd, overrated.

All three of these groups are somewhat entrenched in the social media sphere: those who are influenced by others, those who are able to take the space (and themselves) not so seriously, and those who clearly are part of the growing social media crowd who have become disillusioned with the pomposity and flakiness of social media.

Additionally, a couple of lawyers responded, in their typical lawyer-fashion: privacy.

However, some responses hit closer to home for me: overwhelming, misunderstood, global, a communications tool (I know, it’s not one word, but you understand the meaning). These words/phrases, I believe, are a good representation of how communicators can help clients dip into the social media waters. We should embrace their fears with pragmatic guidance, as opposed to forcing the Kool-Aid down their throats.

When we put all these different lenses into focus, we start to get a colorful picture of what social media means to people. And while the space is still young, it expands exponentially everyday. As we move further across the S curve of the diffusion of innovations theory into the mass adoption stage, how will the general public view social media?

Will my parents, who have joined Facebook but not Twitter, or my wife, who doesn’t really have a ‘need’ for social media, define social media in the same way? At what point does our personal definition of social media match up with the consensus definition?

What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of social media?

About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is the content strategist for The Washington Post. Prior to that he was the media reporter for Digiday. Additional bylines include: The Atlantic, The Awl, Pacific Standard, Mashable, Huffington Post, Mediaite.


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