Thoughts on PodCamp Montreal: The Social Media Question

When I told my close family and friends that that I was going to a Camp on a sunny saturday morning in September, they chuckled and smiled. When I explained to them that it was actually a PodCamp and it was all related to our DadCast and the social medias, their eyes widened and they started asking quite a few questions. Many were questions that I had already been asking myself for some time as this was my first “Geek” Camp. The whole idea of getting together with like minded Podcasters and many of the Twitterers that I had been following for the last 3 years at my old Alma Mater was too good to pass up.

Surprisingly, The biggest question of all was NOT about the fact that we five grown men cram ourselves into our Wendyhouse Studios every couple of weeks to record an internet radio show. In fact, the big question we tend to answer more often then not is whether Social Medias are in fact important. And we’re not talking about whether or not your Check-ins, Tweets, Likes, PodCasts, AudioBoos, UStreams and YouTube or Flickr uploads are important. But if in fact the time you spend doing all these things can really be defined as Social OR Media.

Tackling the Social debate first, I’m going to side on the YES vote regardless of the fact that the term has been abused so badly over the last ten years. In fact a quick Wiki on Social will turn up:

The term Social refers to a characteristic of living organisms (humans in particular, though biologists also apply the term to populations of other animals). It always refers to the interaction of organisms with other organisms and to their collective co-existence, irrespective of whether they are aware of it or not, and irrespective of whether the interaction is voluntary or involuntary


As you go through the list of what we consider to be Social Medias today, they all put emphasis on interaction whether or not it is voluntary. Twitter has @replies, DM’s, RT, and lists. Facebooks has it’s likes comments, pages, groups and so on. FourSquare has real life meet-ups via check-ins, trending locations, swarms and collecting bragging rights like badges and mayorships. Flickr and YouTube both have their version of Faves and of course comments. What would these networks be without the insane amount of social commentary that goes on at an alarming rate and consumption of bandwidth? So YES, I do believe the Net is by essence Social. As a father of four kids, Hab’s games would not be as much fun to watch in my basement without other fans like @PLuc, @JFDube, @Yves_on_Habs and everyone else on my Habs Follow List. For me that is an entirely social event, even though the only people physically sharing my real world space are my twin toddler sons: Les Boys. And I’m not even sure that Karl Marx would disagree, what TV did to bring society closer by inevitably spreading it out to a larger an existing society is undeniable. And What Videotron failed to bring to the masses with it’s terrible implementation of interactive cable TV in the 90’s, Twitter managed to do by the end on the 2007/2008 Habs season shortly after it’s own launch. It is in fact through my early Habs Live Tweets that I met quite a few of the PodCampers and other like minded Geeks who just happened to like hockey. To me that is incredibly social and harks back to the country club & gentlemen networks my father might be more familiar with. BTW Does anyone still play squash?

Towards the end of Sunday morning the Social Point was conceded by Martin Ouellette of Publicité Actuelle. In fact the point had already been made glaringly obvious since the opening division of the room into two debating halves made the discussion pretty much Martin Vs the WORLD and @Julien Smith in particular. But the whole question got a little “Mental” (trying hard not to say retarded) with the definition of Media.

So what is the Media? And is the term actually applicable to the slew of Web2.0 share friend like love networks I listed earlier? You know what? Those two questions are in fact retarded, in the sense that:

It’s a question about a 19th century concept trying to be answered and monetised by 21rst century marketers and advertising companies with a 20th century business model.

Now that you are properly pissed off by my over simplification. Let me attempt to defend it with my Ba Letters & Communications Degree in Cultural Animation and Research (UQAM) and the 10 year gap between my career as a radio presenter/producer and my current life as a podcasting hobbyist.

There was this guy called Marshall McLuhan, a proud Canuck, who once said that: “The Medium is the Message” and then something else about “Global Villages“. Don’t shout touché yet, McLuhan said this all the way back in the 1960’s and many new and ole skool webbies are quick to point out the relevance of this. To which I say: Newton and Einstein are still pretty relevant despite the fact they’ve been pushing up daisies for quite some time now. [Insert gravity and energy to mass relationship here.] My all time favourite simplification is that:

The content of a medium is always another medium.

Let me just say that this one simplification is what gets all the Ad guys and Mad Men fuming. You see the Mad Men love McLuhan’s “Hot Media” because it makes us all passive receivers of a perfectly formulated message, he used radio in his example because you could be doing something else while you engaged it: driving, gardening, housework and even some menial office work. Anyone who ever watched Saturday Morning TV in the 1980’s will already know this can also be applicable to TV and today’s reality TV definitely proves that we watch while we talk on the phone, text and surf the web.

Whereas McLuhan’s “Cold Media” is more like what “Social Media” is all about today, it requires a considerable amount of work to participate compared to listening to the radio, watching the boob tube and of course this is also where the line get’s blurred. Watching YouTube is Hot / passive media consumption. Commenting, sharing and laying down YouTube smack-talk is most definitely interactive cold media.

So why do the Mad Men like Hot Media and despise even referring to Cold Media and what we now call Social Media as “Media”? Because in 1984 it was real easy to sell 3 minutes in an hour on a Saturday morning to Kellogs’s Fruit Loops for bucket loads of money. Whereas trying to sell ads to a select market that has to first sign-up and then make the habit of returning on a regular basis to view and participate is much harder to measure and quantify in order to sell. Even though the information that registration forms collect is usually much more accurate and a better measure than a couple hundred set-top Nielson boxes. The other thing that really pisses off the Ad folks about Social Media is the notion of FREE (As In BEER)

Chris Anderson explains this perfectly in his book: FREE, The Future of a Radical Price, which is also free as in beer if you download the ebook or the audible version. You see, back in the day, TV and Radio was over the air and Free as long as you had a receiver. The technology used to broadcast was expensive to use and to roll out. In order to get the message out, the producers of those TV shows had to count on advertisers to pay for the shows and for the roll out of the network towers. Mad Men suddenly became very powerful people and somehow took ownership of the medium. Along the way, TV Show content or “the message” simply become a way to sell the medium. So great TV Shows stopped being important and the TV Tubes themselves became more important. Your TV Show was a success if was viewed on the most tubes possible at that time slot. Better shows command more dollars in Ads. The more money a show gets, the better it gets and the cycle continues. You the viewer have paid for nothing more than your Tubes and you have gotten to see a great “free” show. Until you went grocery shopping of course. Mad Men redefined media to be a medium that could be sold or monetised. Sadly, this is what Martin Ouellette was clinging to with his definition on social media. It is sad because somewhere along the line the notion of mass communication and spreading the message got lost in how it was sent out. If you couldn’t buy or sell the information feed it didn’t count as a media. The billboard you drive by is media simply because it can be sold and viewed by many. By that very definition, Twitter cannot be defined as media even it resembles old time news wires by its method of message distribution. However Twitter also resembles ham radio more than your car radio in its definition as a medium. Confused?

For me the notion of saleability is irrelevant, of course it’s irrelevant because I am a content creator and not a marketer. I am producing content on this blog, through our DadCast, via my Flickr stream and quite often in my Tweets. My Habs scores provides a service for some on game nights, my observations provide amusement to others and my Flickr pics might even provide inspiration to a few other photogs. And yes I quite often use my own Twitter feed to do a little self promotion too.
Could I monetise this? Maybe.
Should I? Probably not.
But if one day I tweet that I really like a product like my MacBookPro and iPhone or blog about some BeyerDynamic headphones and Sennheiser mics, then you will probably believe me more if I say it honestly like I would if we were in a bar or at the water cooler.

Should this stop any of these companies from doing their part of participating? Hell No!
What these companies and their social media directors must start seeing is how customer service is as much a part of Marketing as it is a part of Operations and Sales. Steve Jobs’ emails and tweets from @RogersElise do as much for their respective company’s image and brand as all of the ads they might buy on Engadget and a handful of Uber-Podcasts! Unfortunately, too many companies define the job title by what department and which VP that person must report to instead of the actual job that needs to get done. Does anyone else remember a time when web design only reported to Marketing and when most corporate websites looked like business cards or something that looked a lot like a company brochure because that’s what the Quark guys could vomit onto the web? These days, the web teams are intrinsically woven into both Marketing and IT fabric. No one questions the value of a website anymore. And in a shorter than you can imagine span of time, (Is there a Moores law for Marketing?) we will all be touting the values of the social networks and their place in the modern media. Or has that already happened while we were sitting around discussing it interactively online?

I don’t think the question was ever if Social Media really was Social or even if it was a media? I think the real question was how do we sell this giant hulking mess that we’ve all been building for so long? Trust me on this one, there are a few entrepreneurs out there that will find a way of creating a market out of the cloud and earning their honest dollar. And if you took the time to look around at the faces of this weekend’s PodCampers you would have already met them.