When Social Media Goes Away

I just got back from a “social media” conference. It was a fantastic conference, put together by the fine folks at Jugnoo. It was chock full of what some people like to call “social media” rock stars, like Geoff Livingston, Gini Dietrich, Danny Brown and Gary Vaynerchuk.

(Here's a news flash. These folks aren't really “social media” rock stars. The truth is, none of them really spend much time talking about “social media”.)

What I loved about SocialMix was that I finally feel like the conversation at these events is moving beyond “social media”. To be blunt, I'm really flippin' sick and tired of “social media”. We have taken the tools of the modern Internet and put them in an ugly box, tied tight with a tacky ribbon. We guard them and protect them like they are some secret recipe for becoming a millionaire. We say things like “Garyvee used Twitter to make 50 million dollars, so I want to do that too!”

Don't you see how ridiculous that sounds? Gary didn't make 50 million dollars off Twitter. Gary made 50 million dollars because he worked his face off. He did it because he figured out a way to use channels (video and micro-blogging) to sell stuff. The goal was (and is) always selling stuff. The goal was not Twitter. See the difference?

Social media is going to go away. I don't mean it's going to die. In fact, it's here to stay, so you'd better get used to it. What I mean is, eventually, we won't call things “social media” anymore. It will be media, communication, channels, marketing, or in other words, terms that have existed for eons.

And that also means, if you're entirely focused on social media as your sole profession, it might be time to think again.

My wise friend Ian Gordon said the most remarkable thing the other night at dinner, so remarkable that I'm ready to have t-shirts made. He said, “There are no telephone consultants.”

His point was that when the telephone was invented, it was a huge shift in the way people communicated. In fact, lots of people were against it. They found it complicated and confusing. Why would I ever “telephone” someone when I could just go see them or write them a letter? What ever would I say on a “telephone”?

Sound familiar?

Over time, people got the hang of it, to the point where the telephone itself took a back seat to what it was useful for. People focused on the communication, not the device.

Today, when I pick up the phone to call someone I don't think to myself, “Ok! I need to speak to Jon. What tool should I use to do that?” I just pick up my phone and dial. (You could substitute email in that example if you like.)

How many email consultants are there? Telephone consultants?

And how many “social media” consultants are there? Exactly.

Eventually, “social media” will become so ubiquitous that we won't even think about it as such. Yet so many people are banking everything on being an expert at Twittering.

It's time to move beyond the tools, people. I hate to break it to you, but Twitter won't make you 50 million dollars. Blood, sweat and tears will.

The conversations I was grateful to be part of at SocialMix revolved around storytelling, context-relative influence (the only real kind of online influence, in my opinion), and effective communication, not the new features of the latest social platform. Not “viral”. Not “engagement”. Not “relationships”.

It's time to move beyond “social media”. It's a buzzword and only takes us so far.

There are no telephone consultants, because people don't care about telephones. They only care about what telephones do.

I don't care about “social media” either. I only care about what it does.

[photo by greggoconnell]


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  • July 29, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    Marc, I love the classic phone picture. You told the story with a pic, nice!

    • July 29, 2012 at 2:18 pm

      Sorry – Susan, got my feeds wrong! Loved this.

  • July 29, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    Totally agree! We do a lot of social media specific consulting right now but always with the disclaimer that we think social should just be a part of a comms/marketing strategy. Thing is, we understand that right now so many people are so overwhelmed that they want help walking them through how the tools work.
    This post made me think about how pab was so much more about content than about podcasting. Makes so much sense for things to evolve that way.

  • July 30, 2012 at 6:52 am

    I’m passing it on to my colleagues in government. Everybody with influence is so obsessed and fretting about all the tools that nothing at all is being communicated in the meantime. Tools!

  • July 30, 2012 at 7:19 am

    It was so great to meet you, Susan. And I agree, social media are a web design feature set, e.g. a comment box and/or a rating system (likes, etc.).

    Everything else goes beyond that into diverse relationship and knowledge exchange, and we are so far away from understanding what this difference is that I fear the conversationalists will never catch up. I just read a post today about how customers can say bad things about you online and that’s social media. Um, is it 2006 again?

  • July 30, 2012 at 9:09 am

    Preach on, sister! I totally agree!! I also love the typists analogy – there used to be pools of typists inside organizations. Now we all type.

    It was so much fun to finally meet you! You’re absolutely darling and wicked smart to boot! Next time we need to find a way to sneak away so we can have some one-on-one time (that’s the introvert in me).

    Hope to see you soon!

  • July 30, 2012 at 2:05 pm
    david coates

    So right, Susan. The ga-ga school of gadgets always gives greater weight to the medium than the message and treats their tools as if they were religious icons. Few realize the gallows humour in McLuhan. Tweet, text, email, it’s all just messaging. Now, about that content thingy.

  • August 7, 2012 at 1:06 pm
    Javier Espinoza

    “It’s just another set of tools” that’s what I tell everyone, and you’ve done a great job at pointing out how people forget to see the simplicity of these tools. Some oversee it on purpose to oversell these tools (some of the many consultants), others have an aversion to new things and they naturally don’t understand them.
    It is our job to keep on going, until hopefully everyone will use these tools as easily as the phone, or TV.



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