The Buzzword Social Media Is DOA In 2010

You have to love the wiki definition for buzzword:

A buzzword is a term of art or technical jargon that has begun to see use in the wider society outside of its originally narrow technical context by nonspecialists who use the term vaguely or imprecisely. Labeling a term a “buzzword” often pejoratively implies that it is now used pretentiously and inappropriately by individuals with little understanding of its actual meaning who are most interested in impressing others by making their discourse sound more esoteric, obscure, and technical than it otherwise would be.

This definition perfectly describes the largest buzzword of 2009 and 2010:  social media.

It’s a buzzword not just because it’s overused, but because it has become too generic to describe anything in a meaningful way.  When all websites and all media are social, social media as a term ceases to be relevant.  It’s too bland and undescriptive, and has come to describe the internet as a whole.

Buzzwords have a fatal flaw we’re quick to forget:  they are “throwaway” terms, in that they are doomed to be obsolete.  Not that they can’t be taken advantage of while popular, they certainly can.  But they’re buzzwords for a reason.  Any industry tires of them and with time they become considered a cliché and used mostly by the new or uninformed.  I’ve seen this happen repeatedly and cyclically in all of the industries I’m involved with:  technology, marketing and music.

Social media as a buzzword encourages articles like this one at Forbes.  Read the following graphs from the story, and mentally replace “social media” with “the internet” and it wouldn’t change the meaning.  In fact, it makes it more accurate:

I primarily use Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and LinkedIn, in addition to my blogging, but I have become less and less enamored with social media over time. Although I was never a rabid user of Twitter, I did initially use it on a regular basis but now will frequently go days between tweets or without even looking at it…

..The reason for this isn’t just the novelty of it all wearing off. It’s more that it’s become less pleasant due to the amount of spam that is permeating the social media space, coupled with the overbearing commercialization that is taking place. Layer on top of this the erosion of privacy and it doesn’t look good. Even my college-age daughter, a prime demographic for social media, complains about these same issues.

Let me repeat this again:  this is not social media.  This is the internet. And the internet isn’t going away.  Whether the buzzword social media lasts is another story.

A quote from Steven Hodson crystallizes this nicely:

Just because we slap a new term and some soothing pastel web pages together it doesn’t invalidate what came before it. It doesn’t change the fact that we have been socializing on the web long before someone invented the marketing term of social media. It sometimes seems though that the tech world has this inbreed need to proclaim something as new and totally different than what came before when in fact this isn’t the case.

I’ll freely admit I’ve used the term social media in posts and in titles here for the simple reason it attracts traffic, links and attention.  As a marketing blogger, I consciously take advantage of that.  It was an obvious play for bloggers in the technology or marketing niche during the last three years (you should do the same thing for hot topics/terms your niche – taking advantage of trends is huge).  But in 2009 it reached a tipping point and was far too exploited, misused and misunderstood causing it essentially to become meaningless.

Would I name a blog or company with social media in the title?  Not a chance, and my personal opinion is sites like Social Media Explorer, Social Media Examiner, Social Media Rockstar and others (content 100% aside) take a huge risk by building brands on top of a buzzword.  They are tagging themselves to a term which – while popular today – is easily cast aside.  Mashable may be tagged as “the social media guide” right now – but they were previously “social networking news.”  Love him or hate him, Pete Cashmore is smart:  he’s riding the trend for attention.  But he’ll move on to another tagline to keep his site at the bleeding edge.  The strategy is simple and effective.

Unless it’s an actual brand term you are working to grow as an individual or company, if you use buzzwords in your name you’re banking a large part of your strategy on something you do not control.  Buzzwords can and do fall out of favor.

Many blindly share articles from major and obscure publications simply because they mention social media.  I see “thought leaders” do it all the time.  In many cases I know they are sharing the content blindly as I’ll actually read it the story and see it’s either inaccurate or a tired rehash of what’s already been said.  Especially in cases where the story shared is from people who obviously know better, it’s clear they only read the headline.

Businesses and media – including bloggers – will continue hyping the term well into the future.  But I’m noticing more and more it’s used by those who don’t have real social proofing or proven results themselves.  16,000 “social media experts?” Really?

I get the feeling many other seasoned digital marketers are not burned out on the internet, but burned out on the buzzword social media.  I’ve consciously minimized my use of it in on this blog in 2009, however in 2010 I’ll be using it even less.  How many of you feel the same?