When a new product emerges its creators must think very carefully about the name they give it; does it accurately reflect what the product is or does, and does it grab the imagination or stick in the brain? Months of research is undertaken to assess the effects of colour, font, packaging, size, taste, smell etc. and hopefully, at the end of it, the result is a winning formula.
The internet does not have that luxury. Yes, products and services can be launched in a closed beta to assess functionality and perform bug checking but by this time a name has normally been chosen and the domain purchased. Similarly, a new innovation is given a name to describe its purpose which often sticks and becomes the de facto title by which it is known.
The term social media is one we have all come to know, and sometimes despise. According to Wikipedia it is an umbrella term which defines the various activities that integrate technology and social interaction. On the face of it the term fits but there is a growing dislike of this name and a call that the services falling under this umbrella should be referred to in other ways.
In this context I asked "Is the term 'social media' dead?" to gauge the feeling around the subject. The majority think that "social media" is the right name (58% of responses) and, to be fair, it is an accurate description but the fear persists that we may get bogged down in the semantics rather than the function. It was also interesting to note that there were no votes for the "no name" option which just goes to illustrate the point I made recently that we prefer things to have names and labels so that we can easily categorise them.
There is a possibility that some of those who prefer the term social media may only do so in order to defend its use. A lot of people have invested heavily in the 'social media' name and would be forced to rebrand were we to start using something else. Terms can become ingrained in this manner whether they are the right ones or not.
Michael over at Remarkablogger asked if the word 'blog' was holding us back. He argued that the very terms we use may limit the potential of the tools they are used to describe but, with regards to blogs, I think we have already passed the point of no return. While the word blog may not be sexy, or may seem 'geeky' it has a genuine derivation which accurately describes the thing it refers to: a web log. Could we now change the term even if we wanted to?
The 'blog' has become ingrained in our minds and, with the likes of the BBC making very prominent use of them, I would instead argue that any change would have a worse effect on the reach and effectiveness of blogs than keeping the status quo.
Is it too late?
Social media is a much younger term but is rapidly becoming better known and more widely adopted. It is not the holy grail of online communications (there will always be something else along once the fuss has died down) but it will become more ubiquitous; just another tool in everyone's communications arsenal.
The difference with social media, however, is that it is being created by the little guy with the users setting trends by voting with their feet. The corporations are getting involved but they are reacting to what is happening in the social media space rather than by dictating what we can have as is the case in other areas. Due to its very nature we, the users, have a massive role to play in determining the route it takes but this may not extend to what we call it.
Social media may already be too ingrained to be changed.
Image by Keven Law.