Social Media Is…Still Not New

Social media wasn’t new last year. It wasn’t new this year. And it won’t be new next year. In fact, it hasn’t been new for well over a decade. And yet it is wrongly declared new all the time – usually by those just starting to use the web for directed outcomes or are confused as to what social media is.

The other day Adam Kmiec wrote a post which yet again trotted out the “social media is new” line:

So if we have “experts” today, that would mean someone would have been practicing social media marketing since 2004. For all intents and purposes that’s impossible. The concept of social media marketing is roughly 2 years old.

Saying this might be good for pageviews, but it’s just not inaccurate. I commented on Adam’s post and noted that social media isn’t new, citing forums and boards as just an example of a social tool that has been around since the popularization of the consumer-driven web.

Adam ceded the point and noted he meant that the term itself is new. But that doesn’t really matter. First, the concept of social media was actually developed with a retrospective look. The first people to ever use irrigation to divert water likely didn’t call it that, rather later on another group stuck the term on it. Doesn’t make it new. Second, social media must remain platform agnostic if we hope the term to be at all meaningful. Otherwise it is reduced to nothing more than a buzzword. Despite not always having a specific label (actually, we used to just call it the web) many have been participants in using social tools (for fun and profit) for well over a decade.

Perhaps Adam, as he rallies against the hype (as he is known to) is equally caught up in buzzwords as the rest of the marketing and technology industry.

As technology blogger Steven Hodson noted:

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.

Indeed. In the same post, also cited is a quote from MIT professor credited with inventing the web Tim Berners-Lee:

The Web is more a social creation than a technical one. I designed it for a social effect – to help people work together – and not as a technical toy. The ultimate goal of the Web is to support and improve our weblike existence in the world. We clump into families, associations, and companies. We develop trust across the miles and distrust around the corner. What we believe, endorse, agree with, and depend on is representable and, increasingly represented on the Web. We all have to ensure that the society we build with the Web is of the sort we intend.

According to the web’s creator, his vision (in retrospect as this quote was from his book published in 2000) was for the web to be a social tool. He accomplished just that.

So all we can do is continue to encourage you to ignore industry buzzwords and realize that yes, in fact a generation of people grew up using the web and have been in essence marketing their ideas socially. And alongside that a generation of businesses and media have been using the web to build digital communities surrounding their brand.

Funny that GigaOM picked up Adam’s story and quoted his point about social media being new. GigaOm is a blog which has thrived for years due to their community’s interest and has posts dating back to 2004 and earlier. They are a business built on social.

Blogs are social media, as Brian Clark notes:

I just see so much unnecessary confusion out there.

What do you think?

Is it because people with vested interests in confusion portray social media as something radically new when it’s mostly an evolution of the old?

That’s probably about right.

While it might be new to some, I’d say the concept of social media is already formalized. In fact, we’re already trending to a third iteration of the web which will be uniquely personal in addition to social.