ImageIn the beginning, social media was like talk radio; it was a niche place where the socially estranged hung out.

Now, social media has become the way society holds public discourse. “Social” is everything we do.

So using the phrase “social media” is holding us back from proper understanding of its cultural importance. It is holding organisations back from embracing its manifestations.

This month I came across this headline: “social media criticises new law.” The story referred to condemnation from members of the public about some regulatory changes. The range of posts quoted showed it wasn’t a technology or a certain type of people who were complaining about the law; it was the general public. Framing the criticisms as occurring on “social media” condemned them as occurring “over there” – in a niche part of the community. They clearly weren’t – it was simply ordinary people expressing their opposition.  

I had an epiphany: social media has matured to the point where it is no longer something unique and special. It is ubiquitous. Its various channels are the way societies now conduct public conversations. It is how we express ourselves. It is how we nut out what we like and don’t like, what we agree and don’t agree, what we’ll tolerate and won’t.

Social media has taken over as the “public forum.”

This is a critical paradigm shift for those working with social media, and for organisations using it.

For those working in social media, their speciality has just got less unique, and less mysterious. Thank goodness for that. Now we can appreciate that we’re dealing with most human expression, and most transactions of ideas and products. What that means is that there should be no “social media” department. Few will specialise in “social media”. There will be no “social media” business or entrepreneurs. Everyone will need skills in digital / online communication as part of their jobs.

For organisations, social media just got easier and less frightening. If everyone is doing public discourse and interaction online, then it simply how we do our sales, R&D, PR, marketing, production. “Social media” will be second nature to all disciplines. The aim of an organisation still the same as always; to adapt to cultural developments, and adopt new technical skills.

When clients ask us to help them adopt social media, we do not set up a social media unit or dedicated specialist. We integrate use of the tools and concepts across their organisation. In our view, the aegis of social media is public relations. Only this discipline understands the full organisational transaction and reputation with the public. And every other discipline of an organisation is helped to use social media freely in its daily work.

Calling this phenomenon “social media” is technically accurate; it’s multimedia we use to be social. But continued use of the phrase risks ghettoization of the concept. The sooner we get this phenomenon out of the hands of “social media” experts the better. My observation is that most social media enthusiasts are driven by what it can do to change people and society, rather than how human nature is changing social media.

The longer we refer to “social media” as if it’s unique, the longer we hold back spread and evolution of its advantages.