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Social Media vs. Social Networking: It’s Time to Kill One of These Terms Forever

The best brands think about their social accounts like a casual lunch. What do your social accounts say about you? “Hey, hey, let me tell you about me!” or “Hey, friend, let’s grab lunch sometime.” Depending on your answer, it might be time to change your mindset.


In communication and marketing, perception is everything.

So while specific tips, tools and techniques remain incredibly valuable for planning your social communications and marketing strategies, don’t discount the intangibles, like your writing style and tone. (You’re right, Mom—”It’s not about what you say; it’s about how you say it.”)

I find that the best way to do this is to change your mindset to focus first on who you’re writing and why, and second on what you want them to take away. After all, if you fail to reach your target audience—by not speaking their language, not using their networks, not meeting them where they meet each other—then it doesn’t matter how great your media is; it will fail to have the desired impact. So defining (at least in your mind) to whom you are writing and why you are writing them (as opposed to anyone else) is priority number one. After that, you can shift your focus to your media and how it will communicate your message.

“Changing my mindset sounds hard? How do I do that?”

Changing your mindset about social networking doesn’t have to be hard. Once I discovered that the root of the issue lied with a single word I used both aloud and mentally, I was able to strike down this pervasive term that constantly got in my way. As a result, it became easier to change my mindset and be more productive. The term I’m talking about is social media—particularly the media part of it—which I suggest you remove from your vocabulary entirely. Removing it from my mental lexicon is one of the most valuable mind-tweaks I’ve made to break through its imposing barriers.

It’s time to kill, burn and bury the term social media.

Make no mistake about it: Social media networking can support your personal brand, your business, your organization, but—let’s be honest—being an effective social marketer has much less to do with the media you share than the networks you cultivate.

At its best, social networking is an audience-building, lead-qualifying, attrition-fighting content marketing tool. It helps you build loyal audiences and identify and encourage brand advocates. (Tweet it!)

But why social networking vs. social media? Didn’t the terms evolve to distinguish between online and offline activity?

Yes, that’s part of it—and it’s also part of the problem.

It’s the 21st Century. People live their lives both online and off. There is no longer a meaningful distinction between the two.

If you are in the creative industry:

  • It’s no longer online marketing—it’s just marketing.
  • It’s no longer online advertising—it’s just advertising.
  • It’s no longer online publishing—it’s just publishing.
  • It’s no longer online shopping—it’s just shopping.

The things we do in our everyday lives are now folded into the fabric of our online experiences—and vice versa. For example, we check in online when we arrive at our dinner locations, then we share pictures of the food and what we think about it with our friends, both online and off.

Think about it: If you have ever had someone come up to you and start a sentence by saying, “I saw on Facebook recently you …”, then you have  experienced the merging of online and offline communications.

So when people try to define social networking as something like a casual lunch with a friend vs. social media as the place where you communicate with your online friends, it drives me bonkers. In the 21st Century, why do we bother to make such a distinction? Sure, some friends are closer than others, be they online or off, but don’t you still approach them in a friendly, casual way when your paths cross? What, should we also segregate phone friends? How about email friends vs. phone friends? Or smart phone friends vs. home phone friends?

For you marketers of the bunch who are saying “Whoaaa…, Nelly!”, this is not a question of list segmenting—that’s entirely different (and worthwhile)—it’s a question of your social marketing mindset, and  as a result, your perceived personality, both online and off. They’re one in the same. You should be who you are both online and off, because life happens both online and off.

It’s important to have a great personality—online and off.

Naturally, you offer better gadgets than the other guys’ widgets—that’s why you have something people want, your business is profitable, your organization is successful—but great gadgets don’t build brand loyalty, expand your reach or impact your career by themselves. A great personality, on the other hand, does.

Think about the last time you had lunch with a friend you only catch up with occasionally …

Think back to what you talked about …

Chances are you spent most of your time chatting about the personal interests you share, right? A book you read, your kids, juicy gossip about mutual friends, a cool gadget you bought yourself, the technology you discovered. No doubt, your old pal reciprocated in kind with the latest rumor he heard about an old colleague, the coming iProduct or your shared alma mater’s stud football recruit—whatever you two chat about.

What do all of these topics have in common? Here’s a hint: It has nothing to do with the topics themselves (the media) and everything to do with the personal connection between yourself and the person you’re communicating with (the networking).

So what does casual lunch with a friend have to do with an organization’s social media networking strategy? Everything. The experience has a unique character, but it’s all networking.

Sadly, for many organizations, social networking has become more focused on its media-sharing opportunities than its network-building opportunities. (Tweet it!)

It’s like most organizations think of their social accounts like a bulletin board (an opportunity to randomly deliver information to a mass audience of passers by) as opposed to a casual lunch (an opportunity to network one-to-one with like-minded partners, clients and friends).

Which event sounds more appealing? Which do you think would have a bigger impact on your organization, your career?

At a casual lunch—not unlike social media networking—you talk to your friends like, well, friends. Not like business partners, employees or customers. You naturally understand that being social is all about connecting with people–online or off. So why don’t more people and organizations treat their social accounts like a casual lunch?

It’s all about networking with friends and colleagues. Sharing. Finding common interests. It’s about taking a break from your job. Providing a timely tip or entertaining anecdote. Grabbing a bite and a beer. You see, being social is networking—no matter the media, no matter the activity, no matter the virtual of physical location.

Put simply, social networking is about creating personal connections with like-minded people. And social networking occurs both online and off. Though the fact that it’s online may change the execution of your interaction like the difference between typing on a keyboard vs. talking on a phone, it should change about your mindset.

Being successful socially—online or off—has less to do with the media and insights you share and more to do with the networks you cultivate and participate in. (Tweet it!)

Of course, sharing great media is important—just as important as bringing a good personality to your casual lunch—but being human and connecting on a personal level should be your ultimate goal with your social media networking.

After all, if you really thought about social networking as an bulletin board to deliver media, would you still use it personally, much less for your organization? Probably not. But if you think about it as a networking platform—an opportunity to connect with friends and clients socially—doesn’t it sound much more attractive and valuable?

Words mean things. To me, social media means “SPAM-pumping, money-driven, media-spurting auto-bot.” Social networking means, well, hanging out with my friends and colleagues. (Tweet it!)

It’s time to bring back the networking and banish the term social media from our lexicon altogether.

What do you think?

Photo by Ed Yourdon

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Gary Grimes

Founder and President at Copywriter Brands, LLC
A former journalist who sold out for the less romantic but more sustainable world of online marketing, Gary created Copywriter Brands, including StuffWritersLike.com, to help writers connect with each other and the people who hire us—but also to reclaim his love for journalism and storytelling.
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July 10, 2014
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