Social Media Strategy, Social Media Marketing

It’s More About the Social Than It Is About the Media

Sure, the gadgets and gizmos and the apps and androids of social media make it more convenient for us to interact with one another, and with brands.

But it’s not really about the bits and bytes and data and Dick Costolo, is it?

It envelopes us, but technology is only the third most important “ly” in social media.

We don’t use social media because we’re enthralled by technology, we use social media because we yearn to connect with one another. We have an innate need to be part of something bigger, to work together, to join collectives. It’s why exile used to be a punishment literally worse than death.

Social media is first about sociology – our need to connect to one another through groups. That’s the most important “logy”. Social media is secondarily about psychology – the mental endorphins we accrue as a byproduct of those connections. That’s the second most important “logy” – the satisfaction of being able to interact with each other and with companies in a semi-human fashion (well documented in ExactTarget’s (client) Subscribers, Fans, & Followers research).

When you consider the amount of time we spend tweeting, updating status, checking in, watching YouTube videos, reading blogs, reviewing on Yelp and all the rest, the natural question (and one that will asked by interplanetary visitors, ultimately) becomes “Don’t we have anything better to do?” And the answer isn’t that we’re so unmotivated and inchoate that we create networks of computer “friends” because we just can’t muster the effort to do so in three dimensions.

Instead, the answer is “we can’t help ourselves.” Look, social media has been good to me (and probably to you). But the truth is that it wouldn’t exist at all if we had the time to connect with one another in deeper, more tangible ways. Social media is the fallback position, not our default choice.

We continue to increase productivity in the United States by a few percentage points per year, yet we have a smaller employed workforce, and the same number of hours in the day.

How is that possible?

It’s because we’re always working. Most every club, organization, gathering, or rally that requires physical participation in this country is on the decline (churches, Rotary Club, etc. etc. etc.). Why? It’s not that we don’t care about our communities. It’s because who has the time?

But yet, all this extra work hasn’t made us less social. Instead, it’s forced us to use technology to fulfill our DNA-driven sociology and psychology jones.

So when you’re thinking about what newfangled social outpost or location service to adopt for your company because you read about it on Mashable, remember that the point of all this isn’t about technology at all, but about our powerful, inescapable, unavoidable need to not be alone.

It’s much more about the social than it is about the media.

(image by Shutterstock, a Convince & Convert sponsor)

Facebook Comments


  1. Anonymous says

    Great insights! I think this has been true (not being alone) ever since the 1980s when we used Usenet/Netnews to network online (but as it was geek-oriented, it really wasn’t mainstream back then).

  2. says

    I agree that it’s the sociology and psychology that are the driving forces behind social media, as opposed to the technology. But the English major in me can’t help but point out that none of those words end in “ly”…

  3. says

    I totally agree. I have always said the reason social media marketing works is that it fulfills the deep psychological need we humans have to connect. Because we are so busy, the Internet has given us the tool to make these connections without actually being in the same room. The Internet has actually made our huge world small again!

  4. says

    I don’t doubt that my love for social media tools is because they help fill the powerful, inescapable, unavoidable need to not be alone – but also from the value I find in those relationships with those who share my passions.

    People often question my semi-addiction with social media by asking “Why don’t actually go out and make REAL relationships in REAL life?! Oi vey.

    I do have real relationships – lots of them. Some relationships that have drastically changed my life and my business actually started online, via Twitter, my blog, and the like. Other virtual-to-real relationships include meeting people I admire in the marketing and design space which started simply by finding them online and loving their content.

    Other virtual relationships still remain virtual because many of these people live quite far away. But there’s no doubt in my mind that without these social tools, we would have never been brought together.

    I don’t opt to stay in on a Saturday night and tweet when I have the opportunity to go out with friends and meet new people. But these tools are empowering, not simply a way to escape reality.

  5. says

    Your point nailed it square on the head at the end, Jay.

    “The point of all this isn’t about technology at all, but about our powerful, inescapable, unavoidable need to not be alone. ”

    Yup. Another interesting thought would be that are primal creatures who live to imitate each other. The moment we see an alpha-species doing something, getting enjoyment out of it, we have to do it, too. All these apps and things really incest onto each other the same way. Not necessarily bad, but it’s cause for why we tend to drift from app to app like nomads, always trying to out-do each other.

    I love it when social media is often found to relate to social, psychological and emotional needs.

    Great post, again!

  6. says

    You know if people would have recognized this from the very beginning, than marketing would be better, and blogs would be better. I’ve seen many people prepare social media standalone campaigns as a marketing effort with little to make it work like have a social foundation to back it up.

    Consider retail, you talk to customers every day from the counter. Use that as a spring board to offer them a chance to connect further. Respond to people’s need to be social, right?

  7. says


    This is a very well-thought out post but I don’t know that I agree with some of your assertions. Namely, “Most every club, organization, gathering, or rally that requires physical participation in this country is on the decline ” I don’t know if that is necessarily true or not. I think the recession has brought out the need for more face-to-face interactions, which are later supported and enriched online. Look at the proliferation of working spaces (green spaces) and the number of meetups. Perhaps, we are calling these gatherings by a new name; for example, we used to use the word “guild” to describe people meeting to exchange ideas. Maybe the word “club” is being replaced but by what I don’t know, maybe “meetup”.

    I totally agree that the need to connect with each other is part of what makes us human but I also think social media has kicked off a resurgence in our need to meet face-to-face.


    • says

      Interesting thoughts Jennifer. Thanks for the great comment. You’re right that there is a whole new breed of face-to-face that has less structure. I was thinking of the legacy organizations (churches, service clubs, etc.) that are all universally on the decline. I would argue – although with no math to back it up – that the number of people NOT going to church any longer far exceeds the people that are now going to meetups, but your point is making me think – which is why I write the blog!

      • says

        Thanks! You might be interested in this article from eMarketer “Is Social Media Making Consumers Antisocial?” The stats were put together by ExactTarget and one of the indicators showed “Nearly half of Twitter users surveyed in April by ExactTarget who had increased their use of Twitter said they were meeting their friends more in person than before; just 7% were doing so less often.” (these are not club meetings but indicate a possible trend) The article discusses some other metrics, which muddy the waters a bit. But you are tackling an intriguing subject and I look forward to reading more.

        Thanks again!

  8. says

    As you know this article falls squarely into the realm of ‘social’ that I have a love affair with, and simply underlines why I think you’re the best person out there finding the right balance between Vision and Execution. If you’ll allow me the arrogant position of quoting myself, this is from a recent post I did, it was written from the business perspective of leveraging social (vs. why people use social) but it’s definitely in line with the comments on ‘media’.

    “Sociology, anthropology, psychology, histories of digital evolutions and revolutions. These are the true tools of the social media strategist. Hardware and software, tactical processes, social media policies and the like are simply the means by which those strategies are realized.
    To thrive in this new social world a business must truly accept and understand the dramatic changes that social media is instigating at a cultural level, and then embrace that as a part of their future. “

    • says

      My favorite comment ever, I think. Mostly because you quote yourself. Also because you agree with me. And because it’s a super smart comment.

      Thanks as always.

  9. says

    Nice point you’re making, Jay.

    I think Twitter says “Here’s a way to talk to strangers” something we’re all scared to do, but want to, and Facebook says “Here’s a way to talk to everyone you know”.

    That means they meet the two big desires that we have socially, no wonder they are the biggies.

  10. says

    I think most of it comes down to a feeling of wanting to belong. This can work for or against a person however. First, a lot of “friends” can make a person feel wanted, needed, loved or the same for their business or website. But this sort networking provides a false sense of being wanted, needed, liked etc. But if a person feels liked online, their personal and face to face relationships could and do at times suffer if things are not kept in check. People can also take things way too personally or things can get out of context because all of the conversation is done by typing, where voice tone cannot be heard or understood.

  11. Gardner Lepp says

    Hi. I’m new to your blog, so please forgive me if I step on anyone’s toes.

    I would argue that this article actually helps make the case against social media, not in favor of it, even though you are ostensibly very pro-social media.

    To argue that we use social media because we’re forced into it, as opposed to consciously choosing to use that particular medium, is a weak argument, and it situates the user into a position of weakness. So instead of the user controlling social media, social media is controlling the user. That is backward, in my opinion. Furthermore, your argument seems to admit that the better option would be to meet people face-to-face. If that is really the case, why not just do that, as some of my friends have so fervently pointed out? Why settle for a less effective way to get in touch with humanity? If it’s that important (and your article argues that it is), we should make it a priority.

    Personally, I agree there is a time and a place for social media. I would also argue strongly that it cannot and should not replace our intimate, personal, face-to-face interactions with other people.

    Thanks for the blog post — it really got me thinking.

    • says

      Great comment. The point I was trying to make is that we desperately want to connect with one another, but don’t have the time to do it face to face the way we used to do so. Thus, social media helps fill that gap, partially explaining its popularity.

      I don’t find that to be a weak argument, or even an argument at all. Just an observation and a connecting of disparate dots.

      Of course, I am “pro social media”. But one thing you’ll find if you spend additional time here (and I hope you do), is that I’m about as far away from a cheerleader as you can find in this business.

  12. says

    Nice post.
    If in the market for an affordable but nifty Social Media Monitoring tool, give Actionly a try. We track across various social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Flickr, Youtube, News and Google Buzz.
    Actionly has a graphical social media dashboard with all data is exportable in excel, daily email alerts to name a few features.

  13. says

    Regardless of what the emarketer said I do believe that social media can make people less social. Listening is an art that requires face to face contact; no, I am not necessarily talking about what is being said I am talking about “why” it’s being said via body language. Over time I have seen a lot of people become passive aggressive via electronic communication (email etc..). There are a lot of people, I believe, who will say things on social media and not say them in person. It is especially difficult, for example, for brand to defend themselves from people who have hidden agenda’s against them. However this is a fact about social media that we really cannot change. Consumers are angry and learning to do with less stuff ( and marketers who don’t quantify social media threats, listen and respond are going to pay the price for passive aggressive people who like to vent

  14. Mark W Schaefer says

    Well said, Jay. The irony is that social networking has completely replaced live networking to a large extent for me. I always look for way to turn online relationships into real-world friendships but the days of the big meet and greet meetings are pretty much over for me. I’ve made more amazing contacts online than I ever could attending monthly meetings.

  15. Mark W Schaefer says

    Well said, Jay. The irony is that social networking has completely replaced live networking to a large extent for me. I always look for way to turn online relationships into real-world friendships but the days of the big meet and greet meetings are pretty much over for me. I’ve made more amazing contacts online than I ever could attending monthly meetings.

  16. says

    Jay, I must admit that as a newbie in social media – I always need to be reminded that SM is not always about just putting “something” out there. It’s core importance is about connecting with people on a lasting level. Thanks for reminding me of this. If we all put a little more brain power in our posts, tweets, etc., we will all be a little more successful. Thank You!

  17. letstalkandchat says

    If you’re looking for webinar software, then check out Evergreen Business System. Its perfect for marketers and let’s you automate the scheduling of your webinars, build your list, and even follow up with your webinar registrants. If you’re going to buy Evergreen Business System, then you might as well get a free bonus! So check out and you’ll get a great bonus that tells you how to create a webinar, what is a webinar, and a blueprint for making a successful one. None of the other people offering bonuses are offering this. Hurry in case the guy (some dude that worked on Lord of the RIngs) offering the bonus decides to pull it down.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *