There are certain things repeated in the radio business more because they are repeated than because they are true. Some things just sound good rolling off the tongue, so off the tongue they roll.
One of those things is the expression: “Radio is the original social network.”
I don’t know who patient zero was for this particular ailment but it has spread like a virus and now seems to be the thing we tell each other when we want to see heads nodding in agreement.
Unfortunately, it’s wrong.
What bugs me about it isn’t just that it’s wrong, but that the implication behind its use is so destructive. The implication is “Sure, Facebook is great, but radio was there first!” or “There’s nothing really new about social media that radio didn’t capture years ago!” or “Radio is the same thing as social media – stop worrying!”
These are all wrong.
Here’s how Wikipedia defines a “Social Network”:
A social network is a social structure made up of individuals (or organizations) called “nodes”, which are tied (connected) by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as friendship, kinship, common interest, financial exchange, dislike, sexual relationships, or relationships of beliefs, knowledge or prestige.
By this definition, radio qualifies as a social network, but not as the “original” one.
A church is a much older social network (and a much more connected one) than radio. And a band of Neanderthals painting woolly mammoths on cave walls comprised a social network that pre-dated radio by thousands of years.
When broadcasters talk about radio as the “original social network,” what they’re really suggesting is that radio is the “original Facebook” – the original social medium.
But here’s Wikipedia’s definition of Social Media:
The term social media refers to the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogue.
Radio has historically been a one-to-many communication. There is no many-to-many element in radio’s DNA, thus there is no communication between the “nodes” and no interactive dialogue.
There could be interaction and interconnectivity, of course. But that interaction is enabled by digital media and the very social media tools that radio is supposedly the “original” version of.
So let’s stop arguing that radio is the “original social network.”
The fact that we can gather large audiences who share a common interest doesn’t make us the original anything, and the over-use of this unfortunate cliché will serve only to console us into acquiescence rather than promote the kind of enthusiastic gusto which our brands require in an age when every brand and everyone is both “social” and “media.”
Social media can make radio better and more effective than ever, but only if we recognize that radio is its complement, not its substitute. And not its original incarnation.