Find your voice and get your story straight
Drowning kittens is bad. But it’s hard not to drown kittens when drowning kittens is so damn convenient.

Drowning kittens is bad. But it’s hard not to drown kittens when drowning kittens is so damn convenient.

Every time you say “social media” someone somewhere drowns a kitten.

I said this during a presentation at the Social Media Academy‘s “Social Media In Scotland” conference a few weeks ago.

I said it with the best intentions.

I was trying to make the point that lazy language can be insidious and lead not just to bad attitudes but also to bad strategic decisions.

“Social media” is lazy language of the most insidious kind. In fact it sucks. (If you click and read that Forrester blog link, it says most of what I’m about to say, only better, by the way.)

To be more precise it’s the “media” in social media that sucks. Social is unequivocally good.

  • Media = something you pay for.
  • Media = paying for eyeballs allows you to control your message.
  • Media = one way and one-to-many broadcast.
  • Media = event-based content with long lead times.

Most of the brand marketers who now have responsibility for social strategy decisions are what would, until recently, have been called “advertisers.”

And it’s very difficult for any advertiser to drop the advertising mindset whenever the word “media” is used.

“Social media” is a very convenient industry shorthand but it can lead to anti-social behaviours.

  • Social = something that you don’t pay for (that at least is the big attraction for most “advertisers”).
  • Social = not just accepting loss of control, but planning for and embracing it.
  • Social = dropping the “on-message” mindset.
  • Social = two way, one-to-one, many-to-many and personal.
  • Social = continual, rapid, real time interactions with very short, if not non-existent, lead times.

So, in just about every way imaginable, “social” is the antithesis of “media”.

“Social Media” is an insidiously convenient oxymoron.

And the drowning kittens reference was just intended to get people to think a little each time the insidiously convenient phrase left their lips.

What I hadn’t really thought through is that I was on just before lunch at a “social media” (meow) conference.

Meaning that the speakers after me mostly had to apologise in advance of their talks for the havoc they were about to wreak on the world kitten population. Even then they were met with frequent audience sniggers at every mention.

I’m sorry.

But it works.

It works in the same way that asking yourself whether it would be acceptable to play with a Rubik Cube in the same situation whenever you check your mobile device in company makes you think twice about doing so.

Every time you see a tweet that mentions “social media”, retweet it with a #drownedkitten hashtag.

(Liking myself slightly less for including “kittens” as one of the tags for this post.)


  1. Wilson

    I do agree the term “social media” has become without a clear meaning, if it ever had one.

    But I think the characterizations you list of “social” and “media’ as separate words are also unfair and (too) colloquially based. I don’t get – at all – that media is “one way and one-to-many’ or “something you pay for;” media is, as puts it and the increasingly-archaic examples notwithstanding “the means of communication” in one sense but also as commonly used to mean any means of information exchange, such as “what media will you be sending that on?” with an answer such as “on DVD.” Media is a rather neutral term, and I think that’s even more true for younger than older people, even if it’s only because of the corruption, perhaps, of the term media in today’s “web 2.0” times. Equally, the characterizations of “social” above seem merely and purely connotative. And social is hardly unequivocally good, whether it’s the mobs of the French Revolution or the rush-to-judgment we see social aspects amplify on the web today.

    That all said, it’s admittedly an aside. The important question is do we adopt the one-to-many and many-to-many (which would also implicitly include the many-to-one connections crowdsourcing, so-called and in some of its forms, is an example of) as suggested elsewhere (the article at which referred me here), or another set of terms. I will comment more at adage given the author’s proposal there.

    1. Hi. Thanks for the comment. I agree that, from a dictionary definition point of view, there’s nothing inherently “wrong” with the word “media”, nor with associating it with the word “social”. At least there’s nothing wrong in theory.

      In practice my experience would suggest that there is a problem. Media means more than just “means of communication” to most advertisers. It brings with it a lot of baggage as detailed in my post that can be at best unhelpful when said advertisers start thinking about whether and how they should operate in social spaces.



  2. Pingback: The Arrogant Expression of a “Social Media Expert” (Part 1) | Human Plus Design

  3. Pingback: The Arrogant Expression of a “Social Media Expert” (Part 1) | Playful Experiments.

  4. Pingback: Challenges in Social Media | Playful Experiments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.