Shared Media Versus Social Media - Defining Interactions


Last week, my buddy Rick over at wrote an intriguing post about "shared media."

He makes a case for the term "shared media" rather than "social media." It's a worthwhile post and I encourage you to read it. It's always a good exercise to step back and consider exactly how we define our actions.

There are a lot of interesting ideas in his post, but I think we need to cut down on the variables to get to the meat of this discussion. I think we easily get bogged down by the complexity - paid vs. earned, social vs. viral, etc. - but let's strip away some of this and talk about how we act and interact online.

Disregard medium

It's becoming less and less important how people consume content. Website, iPhone, whatever - let's put the medium of content transfer to the side for a moment.

Disregard payment

While it might matter to the content creator and the paying third party, content consumers have never really cared about the difference between paid and earned. Consumers know that Super Bowl commercials come at a very high price, but they watch them because they're entertaining. Likewise, wouldn't you have watched the "Where the hell is Matt" videos just the same, regardless of whether Stride placed their logo in the final frames? Content is content is content.

Disregard pro vs. amateur

To the well-documented chagrin of newspapers everywhere, consumers care less about whether the content creator is a professional or not. In fact, there are more than enough studies to state definitively that consumers trust amateurs more than professionals (for evidence, read Groundswell and others). Hell, get rid of the author entirely

Forget pro vs. amateur - let's get rid of the author altogether. Sure, I visit Chris Brogan or Mitch Joel's blog for great content, but it's because of the consistently excellent content, not the man behind it (sorry guys). Consumers judge the value of content based on the content itself. In a past life, I was an apostle of structuralist literary theorist Roland Barthes and his Death of the Author essay. I concur with Barthes that "[t]o give a text [or content] an Author" and assign a single, corresponding interpretation to it "is to impose a limit on that text."

What's left?

Getting down to the basics, there isn't much left. There is the content, the consumer, and what they do with that content.

It seems to me that there are three possible scenarios.

  1. Media: Consumers read content, find it boring or unworthy of passing on, and the interaction ends. (I'm talking about the interaction between content and consumer. I disagree with Adam Broitman that this is social media in the sense that not responding is a response, i.e. the consumer "saying" he or she is not interested in the message.)
  2. picture-1

  3. Shared media: Consumers read content, share it with others, but content isn't capable of sparking much interest or debate. While one consumer has shared, the act could not be defined as "social" in that other consumers stopped the process. (Imagine a chain letter where no one passes it along except the originator.) picture-2
  4. Social media: Consumers read content, share content with others, and those others continue to share it. The content itself isn't social - but the interactions around that content certainly are. picture-3

Big difference, right?

So, going back to Rick's post, I would contend that, while sharing is certainly important, it isn't the highest level of engagement. I contend that "social media" is still the better term, as it is the highest level of interaction between consumers and content.

The gist is this:

All social media is shared, but not all shared media is social.

What do you think? Does this intuitively make sense? Maybe it's not shared versus social - perhaps there's another term altogether that you prefer. I'd love to hear your comments below.

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(Image courtesy of efleming via Flickr)