I had a lovely, long conversation with Jen McClure yesterday evening while my daughter slept 3 hours straight (!!). It had been awhile since we had chatted, and she filled me in some of what has been happening with fellow SNCR colleagues and industry buzz. When I mentioned I was wondering what the most significant conversations had been in the "social media" sphere over the past few months, she pointed me to Brian Solis' blog, PR 2.0, and recommended the discussion around the definition of social media (I started with that post, which links to all the other posts flying around the 'sphere).
I am always fascinated by the passion that erupts over definition battles. I watched the battles that brewed a couple of summers ago about the definition of blogs blogging bloggers (I participated too, but I am too lazy to go link to everything right now, sorry). Brian was on the right track with his question, "what is wrong with social media?"
What one has to remember is that definition battles are proxy power/influence battles. Remember when there was strong argument that Live Journal not be considered a blog platform? Of course that cut out a huge number of women from being defined as bloggers, and all the implications of that. The important question when considering definitions, is "what (who) is excluded?" The answer to that question can reveal the power/influence battles underneath the hubbub.
So, to ask the question, what/who is left out of the definition of social media? Here is Brian's start at a definition (which I like, by the way):
It's an emergent term that as Stowe put it, defines the socialization of information (Social Media) as well as the tools to faciliate conversation (social media).
So, "socialization of information". This is very passive language to describe human behavior in relation to connected/networked information. Perhaps we need to start from the human behaviors to understand what "socialization of information" entails. E.g., Exchange of trust, influence, gifts; celebrations, arguments, pontifications; negotiation; cheating, influence peddling, inauthentic sharing; digital identity formation.
(I am particularly interested in the last behavior, and you will find my posts will tend to focus on that in the coming months.)
As many PR people have noted in other recent debates (JetBlue, PR 2.0, Web 2.0 etc.), the hardest factor to figure out in the social media world is human behavior. To truly engage in social media you need to address real individuals with real behaviors instead of abstracted "demographic" or "psychographic" trend-driven mass approaches. And that is messy, risky, time-intensive, and prone to misunderstandings, as well as potentially highly rewarding.
You will notice I haven't really answered the question, "what/who is left out of the current definition(s) of social media?" That requires a lot more reading and thought on my part, which I don't have the time for right now. But maybe you can add your two cents below - and that could help add to the overall meme.