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Gini Dietrich

Why Social Media Isn’t Dying

By: Gini Dietrich | July 8, 2010 | 
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Guest post by Jelena Woehr, community coordinator for Associated Content by Yahoo!

What Would Juvenal Tweet?

Last week, Patrick Reyes asked “Is Social Media Dying?” Although Patrick’s post was insightful, I must disagree with its premise. In order to ask whether or not social media is dying, one must agree that social media was born, that social media currently lives, and that social media can die.

Social Media, William Robert Grove, and a Series of Tubes

In 1844, William Robert Grove articulated the law of conservation of energy: Energy can’t be created or destroyed, but it can change its form, like friction transforms the kinetic energy of a swinging pendulum into heat.

Human communication wasn’t forced into existence by an entrepreneur. Communication is as organic as the kinetic energy that powers a pendulum, and equally impossible to destroy. Social media is merely the latest in a series of pipelines (apologies to Ted Stevens) through which the energy of communication has been directed.

Essentials of Storytelling

When you log in to Twitter, you’re asked “What are you doing?” not “What is the square root of nine?” Open questions that lead us to tell stories are nearly always compelling. From oral storytelling to handwritten manuscripts to printing to social media, each major evolution in human communication has involved a more efficient, innovative and accessible way to do the following:

Shout to a crowd. Homer told stories on a street corner; @sockington tells stories in 140 characters to 1.5 million followers.

Whisper to a friend. Storytellers have passed on family secrets through oral history for thousands of years. Today, every major social media tool offers private messaging.

Gather a following. In 1774, 109 printers served the American colonies; among their printing projects were leaflets that built a following for the patriots who became revolutionaries in 1776. Now, of course, the acquisition of a massive following is a key goal in social media.

The More Things Change…

Not only are the essentials of storytelling consistent over time, the stories themselves remain much the same.

In Juvenal’s first satire, written in the first century AD, he complains: “If then the great officers of state reckon up at the end of the year how much the dole brings in, how much it adds to their income, what shall we dependents do who, out of the self-same dole, have to find ourselves in coats and shoes, in bread and smoke at home?”

Would Juvenal’s words be out of place at a political protest in 2010?

Why Social Media Isn’t Dying

Back to our initial three questions:

Was social media born? No. It’s just the pipeline through which age-old stories currently travel from storyteller to follower.

Does social media live? Not as a separate entity from the organic patterns of human communication.

Can social media die? No more than oral storytelling died when the printing press was invented. We’ll never Tweet our children to sleep instead of telling bedtime stories. Social media isn’t dying. It is, like all forms of communication, perpetually transforming and evolving.

What do you think?

Jelena Woehr is community coordinator for Associated Content by Yahoo!, but she has adopted the unofficial title of Self-Proclaimed VP of Snack Foods and Beast Snuggling at Arment Dietrich. She can be found on Twitter at @jelenawoehr or in Gini Dietrich’s kitchen as ‘Who is that strange woman pilfering my gourmet pasta and replacing it with banana bread?'”

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

12 comments
Jon Buscall
Jon Buscall

@Jelena - Loved your take on storytelling. I was thinking about business storytelling this week and completely forgot how Twitter is an integral part of this. You're spot on.

Twitter can be a great way of bringing new prospects into your story. A kind of story-catcher, if you will, that brings you into the unfolding narrative.

Great stuff!

Jeffry Pilcher | TheFinancialBrand.com
Jeffry Pilcher | TheFinancialBrand.com

What difference does it make whether social media dies or not? Who cares? Surely social media experts would have to find a new snake oil to sell, but other than that...?

It's remarkable that (1) someone would suggest social media is dying, and (2) that someone else feels compelled to defend the other side of the argument. In both cases, it seems that a rhetorical and quasi-controversial headline was used to drag page views.

Jelena
Jelena

Jeffry, in mentioning snake oil you actually make part of my point for me. The metaphor comes from, as I'm sure you know, traveling salesmen who sold "cure all" tinctures that were at best useless and at worst actively harmful. That's another ancient pattern of human communication that has simply gone through whatever the latest new, trendy pipeline is.

Social media isn't a cure for unfortunate and distasteful communication, nor has it substantially altered productive and positive patterns of human interaction. A shady salesman would be as much at home on a stage pitching literal snake oil as he is on Twitter. A competent marketing professional with a strong ethical compass and a feel for how people communicate will be just as much at home in the next pipeline that springs up as he is on Twitter.

I'd like to play one teeny-tiny role in putting to bed the fear of social media pros becoming jobless en masse when social media "dies." Anyone who's worried about that should consider their grasp on the nature of communication as it stretches through history, above and beyond the technology of any particular period. If they find they've firmly grasped those patterns and can interact comfortably with most anyone, they'll never have to worry too much about finding a job. Professionals who marry themselves to one technology and abandon its timeless human components may be justified in worrying.

Daniel Hindin
Daniel Hindin

Thanks for visiting, Jeffry. I think it's important to point out that both of the posts you mention were guest posts. We encourage our guest bloggers to write on subjects they're passionate about, and Patrick wrote his because it's clearly a topic he's interested in.

The original post set off a flurry of debate -- through comments on our blog and even more comments on our Facebook page.

One of the comments on our FB page was so impassioned that we were compelled to invite the commenter to write a guest post. That commenter was Jelena, and that's why you see her response in the form of the post above.

We love this type of discussion because it makes us think and keeps us all on our toes. I guess we'll just have to chalk this one up to different strokes for different folks.

Tim Jahn
Tim Jahn

EXCELLENT post Jelena! This is something I've been trying to communicate with people for a long time, and you've definitely done a much better job of that.

"Social media" as it is marketed and praised does not exist. As you so eloquently describe, "social media" is simply another pipeline and tool used to communicate.

This is very refreshing. :)

Jelena
Jelena

Thank you! I hope some of my metaphors can be borrowed by others who are trying to make this point. The perception of social media as some sort of huge evolution seems to be rooted in an overall misunderstanding of technology and how it facilitates interaction. Or, in some cases, it's a sales tactic. Either way, I'm a devoted social media-aholic, but I see it as transformational mostly technologically, rather than sociologically. We'll always have the same types of interactions, no matter what technology facilitates those.

Daniel Hindin
Daniel Hindin

Great post, Jelena! I'm somewhat of a history geek myself, and I love the background and research behind your argument.

It's good to be reminded once in a while that we don't live in a vacuum and that you can't have the present without the past. I'm interested to see where the future of communication will take us!

Jelena
Jelena

Thanks Daniel! It's a running joke in my family that my father can relate anything to the Roman Empire, so I chuckled when I realized I'd done that.

Courtney
Courtney

Jelena - Great Post. The manner in which we communicate will certainly shift from year to year, but we will not stop communicating. Social media is not a new, shocking idea. It is just a new way to communicate or share stories.

Jelena
Jelena

Thank you! That's exactly what I hoped to convey. "Social" and "media" aren't new concepts or separate from the rest of communication, so what's so unusual about shoving the two together?

Patrick Reyes
Patrick Reyes

Jelena, I completely appreciate your POV on this and enjoyed reading your post! More importantly, I look forward to getting to know you!

If you'll indulge me, here is my take going along with your initial 3 questions:

WAS SOCIAL MEDIA BORN? I say yes. The term "social media" really didn't come into prominence until 2007-2008 (if you base it on the graph I referenced in my post). MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. have all given life to what most of us who read this blog are passionate about and make a living off of.

DOES SOCIAL MEDIA LIVE? Again, I say yes. Many people make a living off of these tools for business whether it be in marketing, PR, or educating companies on how to best leverage the current tools in place.

CAN SOCIAL MEDIA DIE? I think the term "social media" certainly can. The new tools and technologies I referenced above (in addition to what's hot now like Foursquare) can and should become integrated in all marketing, PR and most every aspect of business (where applicable). Once that happens, in essence, "social media" may die or in this case morph into a new way to communicate with customers (B2B and B2C).

To your point, "social media" is the new pipeline for communication (right now). Once the next pipeline comes, "social media" may in fact become extinct. We as business people just need to stay ahead of it and take advantage of the "next big thing" so that we can continue to tell our bedtime stories in the new way.

Jelena
Jelena

Patrick, I'm glad you stopped by! I like your perspective as well, and it's good to have both viewpoints on the same page so readers here can compare and contrast the two.

The one thing I'd like to add in response to your comment is: All media has always been social; the only innovations in what we call "social media" are technological, and they're just the technological enhancement of the same communication patterns (and yes, marketing methods) people have used since before the written word, let alone the Internet.

I think that the "death" of social media will be more like, as you touch on, an integration--people will come to recognize these technologies and future technology as just another facet of communication. Social media will get out of its bubble and no longer be a separate, buzzwordy topic for marketers or consumers.

Trackbacks

  1. […] on June 22.  Just thought I’d share it here as well.  You may also want to check out the rebuttal from Jelena Woehr and decide for yourself what side of the question you’re on.  Let me know […]