When I ask small business owners what ‘social media’ is, odds are I’ll hear a string of platform names. Y’know … Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.
When I ask them what ‘social media’ is for their business, their answers can be more varied than – as the old story goes – a group of blind men feeling up an elephant.
Some think of social media as a megaphone for their products and services (promotion). Others consider it a way to build relationships with their customers (conversation). Many feel like it’s a noisome burden (What do I say?). While still others couldn’t answer the question at all, even if their next sale depended upon it.
The overarching theme among the definitions I hear and read, though, describes social media as an appendage. Or worse, an afterthought.
As in, I write a blog … and then post it somewhere (or everywhere). And that’s about it.
And, honestly, who could blame them? When social media is something businesses are taught is separate from them. A space where we are intruders. A tool we must master.
Ugh. No wonder so many businesses find defining social media a challenge. Never mind figuring out how to participate in it!
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I believe that business’ social media confusion stems from the single, persistent, and absurdly archaic perception of business as a static entity.
Certainly, we are only a handful of years removed from a decidedly more-straightforward business model that didn’t require more than 1) hanging up a shingle, 2) paying for a listing in the Yellow Pages, and 3) advertising in/on the local paper/television.
When networking was done at the lodge, bar, barbershop, or church. Relationships were built within a 25-mile radius. And customer feedback was given in-person, via the postman, or a letter to the BBB.
It really hasn’t been that long since this was the reality for business-owners. I’m 38 years-old and I have it in living memory from my first business. But, you know what? I also remember putting gas in my car for $0.99/gallon and printing out MapQuest directions.
The point is … it may have only been a decade (and a half?) ago that we did business in static, pre-formulated, unchanging steps. But the business world we occupy today is light years from that model. Like GALAXIES away.
So, no. Social media is not the sum of Facebook posts and Tweets you make about your business. Not even close.
Social is inherently embedded in the DNA of everything a business creates – from the very beginning. Because today, marketing means jumping into a lightning-speed conversation that is already happening. And jumping in with something interesting to contribute.
Businesses who find ways to accept and embrace this simple 21st century truth elatedly understand that business is no longer static. Rather, today’s businesses are living, changing, always-already crowdsourced organisms.
Yeah, that was an awesome sentence. It’s even got some Derrida in it, y’all. So sit with it for a minute.
———– Postscript ———-
The word “medium” was introduced to the English language at the exact moment that welcomed the 17th century. It literally means, “an intermediate channel of communication.”
For business, and for the subsequent 400 years, “media” referred to anything that allowed the one-way transmission from business to customer.
“Social” media heralded two- and multi-directional avenues of communication. And though it’s come fast at us, it was inevitable. Foretold, in fact, by the very definition of communication – which has always meant communal – what we share.