Social media is somewhat of a trendy term in business these days. It’s essential for a company to use and be present in social media and engage with customers and stakeholders in the vast array of different social media services, they say. But what does social media even really mean in a business context? The majority of people tend to think that social media equals B2C marketing in facebook, and passively tweeting lame company mottos in twitter. This is not how I, and most of my colleaques understand the term ”Social Media”.
Let’s break it down. The word ”social” means ”relating to or involving activities in which people spend time talking to each other or doing enjoyable things with each other” and ”tending to form cooperative and interdependent relationships with others” (Merriam-Webster). The key here is ”spending time talking to each other” and ”cooperative and interdependent relationships”. The word ”media” or its singular form ”medium” means ”a means of effecting or conveying something” or ”a channel or system of communication, information, or entertainment” (Merriam-Webster). Putting these together, social media can be defined as being a channel or system in which people spend time interacting with others in a cooperative manner.
To me, social media as a term is much more than the traditional ”big 4” (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest.) in a consumer marketing context. Wiki’s are social media, crowsourcing platforms like GrabCAD are social media, collaborative tools like google drive or google hangouts are social media, social project management services like Basecamp are social media, even simple organizing tools like Doodle are social media. The list goes on and on. The point here is this: these tools are not only used to market products to customers. They are used to manage internal information, make sharing of information and knowledge more effective (e.g. Wikis, Google Drive, Yammer), gain external information to further product development and innovation (e.g. GrabCAD) and identify expertise in the organization (e.g. Skillhive).
So a pretty comprehensive selection of different services and tools fall into this category (not just the big 4) don’t you think? It’s my humble opinion that social media is much more than B2C marketing and a part time hobby for social media enthusiast. The term should be understood more broadly. Or maybe we need to think of another term? A term that represent the true meaning of these social mediums, without the negative connotations that years of belittling the possible business benefits of social media has bestowed upon the term.
This could also help to get the social media and it’s managers out of their hobbyist status in companies, and into the big league, where it’s seen as an important part of operating in the knowledge intensive, modern social environment. Okay, there are companies that are forerunners in using social media, and the situation is much better, than just a couple of years ago in general. Nevertheless especially in small industrial manufacturing companies and ”traditional” companies gaining competitive edge by utilizing social media is still in it’s infancy. There are also efforts to change this; For example, NOVI research center in Finland is part of a project that aims to bring social media tools and social procedures to small Finnish industrial and manufacturing companies.
I’m personally starting to give up on the term ”social media” and differentiating social media to mean the big 4 and other social networking sites and using terms like ”communal tools and procedures” to describe other tools that would normally fall under the umbrella term ”social media” as I see it. What do you think? Is it even necessary to define novel social tools as social media anymore?
Cheers! – Olli
P.S. Some reading on the subject and related topics:
- Kelly: Using an internal social network to solve real business problems
- Harvard Business Review: Social media: What most companies don’t know
- Jussila, Kärkkäinen, Leino: Social media’s possibilities in business-to-business customer interaction in innovation process
- Kärkkäinen, Jussila, Multasuo: Can crowdsourcing really be used in B2B innovation?