Is “social” the new black?

January 27, 2011 · 10 comments in Social Media

I was on a Social Media Club panel in San Francisco when I ad libbed a forecast that “2011 will be the year in which the word ‘social’ is inserted in front of all other words.” It became my most retweeted comment of the night.

While some still complain that the term “social media” is inaccurate, it seems to me that it has become fruitful and multiplied. Off the top of my head I can name:

  • Social analytics
  • Social CRM
  • Social business
  • Social learning
  • Social intelligence
  • Social graphs
  • Social shopping
  • Social network
  • Social commerce
  • Social customer care

“Social is the new black,” quipped Jennifer Bohmbach [l] on Twitter when I pointed out what was going on. Is she right? Is “social” a word that is becoming always appropriate and always in style?

Or is it just another case of spiraling buzzwords, a tendency in marketing to make whatever old garbage your shoveling seem current and at the center of what’s happening.

As Kai MacMahon told me on Twitter, inserting the word social in front of whatever it is you do or sellgenerates publicity.

But the end result may be more confusing than helpful. Janie Graziani [r] said “I often feel I’m in the middle of ‘social mania.’”

So do we all, or so it seems. I had something to do with the popularization of the term “social media.”  It is an imperfect term at best. But a key point was that the web was allowing people to have conversations with peers as they did in real life. It was different than broadcast media, which is one-directional and involves talking at people rather than with them.

I’ve always thought that the social part of the term would fall away and it would just be called media, because the social would become so obvious.

Now, we have a social here, social there, social, social everywhere. On the list of ten terms above, some actually mean something. Some are relevant to ideas that are new and different and some seem inane to me.

SocialCRM is hard to define but it means something that is new and different from traditional CRM. The same can be said for social analytics.

But some terms, like, “social commerce,” seem to me to be little more than fresh lipstick on an ancient chicken. It refers to retailers harvesting Facebook fans by offering discounts and coupons. This is not social to me. It is traditional marketing and merchandising in a new venue.

There’s nothing wrong with it, but it just isn’t about conversations. To me social commerce is when you and get to know each other in social venues and we start recommending restaurants, cars and places to travel to each other. We buy from people like us rather than marketers like them.

Perhaps it is because I’m a writer, but I think most people feel like this: Words matter. They matter a great deal. We make war and love because of words. The word “social” is starting to get over used. The original meaning is starting to erode. There is very little you and I can do about that, nor should there be.

But I kind of think it is a shame.

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Benito February 7, 2011 at 12:18 am

The importance of the word ‘social’ wich is taking place in this internet era could be related with the huge and important role that people are playing for the first time in Media History. Before this event media never were social really.

Saatchi_grads February 5, 2011 at 9:01 pm

We completely agree. And we also agree with Dan Greenfield re it replacing “e”.

So we started this Twitter account, and this experiment: – . I don’t want to spoil it too much, but please check out the link, and if you agree with it’s reasoning, click ‘Get involved’ – all it involves is a follow/mention on Twitter.



Dan Greenfield January 28, 2011 at 10:46 am

It makes me think of the time when “e” was added to everyday business terms as in e-commerce, e-learning, e-business, etc. Sometimes we name things for what they aren’t: horseless carriage for cars and wireless telegraphy for radio. In time, I suspect it will disappear – replaced by a whole new term or dropped as redundant.

Dmitri Eroshenko @Relenta January 28, 2011 at 5:17 am

“There is no such thing as society” – Margaret Thatcher. Indeed! Societies — and social networks — are about communications. Strip them away you have not much left. LinkedIn would become a glorified resume depository. Twitter would just disappear. It boils down to three types of conversations:

1. Between you and your customers
2. Between your customers about you
3. Between your staff about your customers

So I agree, just like the prefix “e” disappeared, so will “social.” Social networks is just another channel for conversations.

Love the “new black” sentiment. Right on, Shel! A very enjoyable read.

Andre Varga January 27, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Social socials!

Rusty Cawley January 27, 2011 at 1:47 pm

You couldn’t be more right, Shel.
Unfortunately, “social” is about to lose all useful meaning.

Pablo Edwards January 27, 2011 at 10:57 am

I think you have a more than valid point about it being the new black… I wasn’t sure about it when I was the title, but I like where you took us.

Brian Reich January 27, 2011 at 10:56 am

I agree, it is kind of a sham. And words so matter (I have a chapter in the book I am writing right now about the importance of language in the context of communications, engagement, etc). Its easy to throw words around, but they really do have influence – and when mis-applied, its very dangerous. People won’t realize that until the word social is applied in a different way to the challenges that exist for organizations of all types – and things don’t look as good.

Social Failure
Social Criticism
Social Attacks
Social Mobs

Imagine what people can do to undermine a brand, take a movement off course, destroy a reputation, etc. when they put their imagination too it. And with all the exciting social-ization platforms and tools there to fuel it, its only a matter of time. Maybe people won’t toss the word around so flippantly.

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