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Social Networks vs. Social Media

This post was originally shared in our email newsletter on February 6, 2023.

While Keap has moved away from social media, we’re still strong believers in the potential of digital social networks. 

At the crux of this distinction is an interesting semantic evolution: how did social networks become social media?

The Oxford dictionary describes media as “the main means of mass communication.” This is a concept rooted in the 20th century. The inventions of radio and then television created unprecedented access to large audiences for storytellers, governments, and, most significantly: advertisers. 

After half a century of stability, the rise of online social networking in the early 2000s presented a challenge to the business model of advertising. 

TV audiences could be inundated at scale with one-size-fits-all messaging. It was simple and easy. But each individual’s social network is fluid, messy, and ostensibly private. 

If audiences shifted their attention away from TV to this new paradigm, was this the end of advertising? Or perhaps the end of the mega-corporations that had been built on TV advertising? As you know, that’s not how it played out.

The transition from social networks to social media is where:

  • The focus of development went from building better networking systems for users to building better behavior manipulation systems for advertisers. 

  • Users went from being the customers to being the product

This isn’t about assessing the morality of advertising, but about understanding the genesis of the systems we currently live with. 

Social networks existed long, long before the internet. Social media is only the current dominant form of online social networking. This dominance isn’t inevitable, and there is evidence that the model is starting to crumble

Online social networks that build meaningful connection—to the natural world, to our loved ones, and to our own spirit—are possible. In fact, some are emerging right now. There is one in particular that we’ll cover in our next newsletter.

Have you noticed any social networks that consciously do a good job creating community, either online or offline? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Just reply to this email.

Have a great week!

– Harry from Keap, Steward-Owner  

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