BrainTrust Query: Defining Social Media Terms

Apr 01, 2010

Commentary by David
, Director of Technology Strategy, Oracle Retail

a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt from a current
article from Insight-Driven Retailing Blog.

As I talk about social
in the context of retail, I sometimes get tripped up on different terms. I
know what I mean, but the audience may have something else in mind. So I decided
to see if I could find some well-accepted definitions for common terms. While
there are definitions on the internet, I’m not sure they are well accepted.
After reviewing several, here’s what I came up with:

Social Network: A structure of individuals and groups connected together
by commonality.
That seems pretty straightforward. A group of friends, co-workers, music fans,
etc. The key here is that they have something in common that connects them.

Social Media: Internet channels that support the collaborative publishing
of information by and for social networks.
The key here is to differentiate between traditional one-way media, and conversational
social media. When it’s social, it’s two-way, allowing both the publishing and
consuming of information. Examples are blogs, wikis, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Social Marketing: The use of social media for marketing, public relations,
and customer service.
Wikipedia actually includes “selling” here but I think that’s separate
from marketing, as you’ll see further down below. Most people look at social
media as entertainment, but the marketing angle adds business value. This is
where retailers discover and engage customers to build a relationship.

Social Merchandising: The integration of social media and product discovery.

Whereas marketing is focused more on brand image, customer engagement,
and promotions, merchandising is more directly trying to convert browsers into
purchases. This includes deciding what customers want, often by asking the
social network, and deciding how to position products in the social network.

Social Selling: The incorporation of e-commerce into social media.

While on a social media site, social selling enables the purchasing of goods/services
in the user’s context, without leaving the social media channel. If a user
clicks on an advertisement and is taken to an e-commerce site, then that’s
really just web advertising and not social selling.

Discussion Questions: Which “social” terms remain too vague
or carry varied meanings? Do you agree with the definitions offered here? Have
the lack of common definitions played a part in impeding progress in the “socialization” of
companies and brands?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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8 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Defining Social Media Terms"

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Carol Spieckerman
Carol Spieckerman
13 years 1 month ago

I’ve been uncomfortable with the vagueness of “social media” and, as a catch-all term, it’s been doomed to overuse. For that reason, I like David’s definitions as place holders. However, we are quickly entering an era in which social media will be the assumption and “one-way” media will be an obsolete term, particularly in retail as retailers move closer to becoming globally channel agnostic (Walmart’s, as stores morph into a highly interactive “pull” environments (where Best Buy is promising to go), and as display windows communicate details to smart phones and ring up sales even after the shades are pulled.

I would like to see the term “social media” (and the accompanying “expert” market) fade. Separating social media out of “media” creates an aura of specialness that in the end, only creates more confusion (oh, and more summits, confabs, panels . . .).

Max Goldberg
13 years 1 month ago

Is there really a need for social terminology? The word “social” before another word, when talking about the Internet, usually denotes a location where consumers can provide comment and feedback. I have never heard the terms “Social Selling” or “Social Merchandising.” Nor have I heard the term “Social Marketing” applied to using social media for selling.

Most efforts to intentionally use social media for selling don’t work. The idea of being social is to enter into a dialogue. For a brand or retailer, this can also mean providing useful information during that dialogue. If a consumer likes what she hears or learns, she may buy.

If a brand or retailer is simply pushing messages to consumers using social media, this is advertising or promotion, not a dialogue. And to be truly social, a dialogue needs to occur.

Derek Rodner
Derek Rodner
13 years 1 month ago
One of the key concepts of “social” anything is that these groups are self-selecting and self-organizing. It does not matter what the medium is: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., social sites enable like minded people to find each other and organize into smaller groups for a single purpose. It may be because they are for or against a particular retailer or product. It may be because they have a specific political agenda or ideal that brings them together. Or it may just be that they are trying to improve the collective good. Wikipedia is a great example of a “social” site that is self-organized. Wikipedia is an open community where anyone can contribute to add information to the database for the common good of all. Of course, there are those who work against it, but generally, those who contribute are trying to improve the overall experience. It’s easy to market to those who rally around your product or service. It’s harder, yet more rewarding in the long run, to identify those tertiary groups who have a… Read more »
Cathy Hotka
13 years 1 month ago

Carol’s point is important. One-way media is declining precipitously in popularity, and online brand interaction is the future. Retailers that can engage their communities will be the big winners.

Mel Kleiman
Mel Kleiman
13 years 1 month ago

The word social is really misused when it come to the internet. Yes, there are some sites that start out as a place where people can come to engage, communicate and just socially interact with others. Once someone figures out how to tap into these group and create something of value, they no longer are a social group. They become a Tupperware Party — maybe fun to attend, but you know that someone is going to try and sell you something and after a while you don’t want to go to them any more.

Let’s call most of these groups what they are — advertising and promotional vehicles.

Doug Stephens
Doug Stephens
13 years 1 month ago

A great question and a great job on David’s part of putting some much needed clarity around some of the terms being thrown around.

My overarching belief is that if anything has impeded the integration of social media into the marketing plans of retailers, it’s the very use of the term “social”. I’m not suggesting that there’s a better term but I do think that it connotes a sense of frivolity that has kept it from being taken seriously in certain older-school marketing circles.

I do agree with Max in that we need to make an effort not to over-use the word (social selling, social marketing etc.). If social media is ever to become fully integrated, we need to simply refer to it as selling and marketing with social media being only one of several potential channels of communication.

Jonathan Marek
13 years 1 month ago

These definitions are fine. What’s fundamentally unclear are not the terms, but the business models. As brands and retailers find ways to profitably engage customers through “social [insert term here]”, then it will become clear which terms become truly important with regard to Social Networking, the way SEM and SEO have become truly important with regard to Search. To the best of my knowledge, no one is there yet.

Gary Edwards, PhD
Gary Edwards, PhD
13 years 1 month ago
Although a “social network” is fairly straightforward in terms of its definition, “social media” can be much more broad. Since social media is a two-way conversation, brands can incorporate marketing, merchandising and selling into this channel as a part of an overarching initiative. Though separate definitions are helpful, for further clarity, simply think of social media in a hierarchical manner. “Social media” subsumes “social marketing,” “social merchandising” and “social selling.” Further, since we essentially have online dialogue as our forum, these aspects of the “conversation” between brands or their representatives and consumers are not entirely exclusive from one another. There is much overlap associated with social marketing and social selling, for example. A retailer may make it a strategic initiative to answer, via Twitter, some of the complaints or service questions from a competitor’s customers. So while it’s “social marketing” it’s also “social selling” because the user has the ability to convert to another brand if they so choose. As with any dialogue, some brands are far better attuned to their customers and as such,… Read more »

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