Back to McLuhan again

Last week, our class discussed whether social media serve as a new form of communication or as a new vehicle for communication.  Most of the class seemed to lean toward the latter, but at least one person thought the former.

In a way, both are right.

Years ago, a scholar named Marshall McLuhan wrote a book called The Medium is the Message, in which he argued that the way an idea gets moved among people is part of the idea itself.  Since then, a number of scholars have debated the point, but the question isn’t resolved, and the rise in social media over the past decade brings this question to attention again.  The communication processes and social networks that humans build aren’t necessarily changing fundamentally–we’re still doing what humans have been doing for thousands of years.  But we’re also changing what counts as communication and what access regular people have to the wider world.  That’s a big deal, and that itself may, indeed, constitute fundamental change in communication processes.

What does this have to do with social media marketing, though?

It makes a difference in how marketers think about what they do, for it forces them to refocus their attention on their audience.  They still have to do extensive market research, but then they have to think about their audience as individuals and interact with them as individuals, rather than as economic forces.  A number of people worry that social media is dehumanizing us–and it may be, in some ways.  But from my standpoint, it’s also re-humanizing us.



Cite as:


Harlow, R. M. ".
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