When it comes to social media, I’m so deep in, sometimes it’s hard to stop and think, are they getting what I’m saying? The reality struck me yesterday sitting in an Internet team meeting with a web developer. I was totally cruising along with the whole “single sign on” conversation until he started waxing philosophical about the nature of (insert technical networking term I can’t recall because it was so over my head here), I thought, is this really Greek, or do I just need a degree to understand the sentences coming out of this guy’s mouth?

The Paradox of Jargon
Of course, in the world of writing, we call this stuff jargon. The stuff we say that has very important meaning, but only in a certain context or group or niche, etc. We’re taught to avoid it when writing to the general public. Boil things down in terms that make sense.

But here’s the interesting thing about jargon: it serves a function. It is a visible or audible metric of social capital within certain niches.

Test this sometime, and you’ll see what I mean. Sit down at a table of people and start talking about something, say, a web trend or tool that you’re familiar with. Try it out. Better yet, use the jargon of the trend or tool – jargon about jargon.

“So, I saw that Seth tweeted about Triiibes again the other day.”

What will happen is, you will wait to see what other people do. Does anyone know I’m talking about Seth Godin? That I’m referring to Twitter? Or a new trendy, exclusive social network?

This is a fun game, and hey, it can be useful in identifying interesting people you’d like to talk with. Or follow on Twitter. Or even learn from.

But I see this and hear it happening more and more. And sometimes, I can’t help but wonder, what do we sound like to the other people in the restaurant. Or at the table. Or on the team. Or at the meeting. The ones who don’t know the jargon. Who aren’t in the “club”?

The Real Problem with Jargon
Why do we do this anyway? Is it that we’re so tied up in our jargon that we just can’t separate terms from functionality or meaning or value? When I see conversations like this one, I have to wonder if really, it’s that we’re not always sure exactly what the terms or tools really mean. Or maybe it’s that we don’t always know how to say simply how they’re useful. Or maybe, we’ve gotten so wrapped up in tools and trends and that we just forgot to stop asking.

So here’s what I want to ask you: are your conversations about social media full of jargon or full of meaning? And how important is the balance between the two?

Here’s where the rubber meets the road on this for me, in my job, in my field, in my industry: defining why social media is important in public relations. The tools, the tactics, the blogging, the tweeting, the messaging, really, it all boils down to one simple thing.

It’s putting the “relationships” back in public relations. It’s as simple as that.

Now, here’s why this little exercise is important. Not just so you can describe to your boss or your mom or your client why social media matters, what it really means. Although, maybe you should (then again, sometimes, maybe you shouldn’t). But more importantly, most importantly, so you can remember it yourself. And focus on those efforts and tools and relationships that are really helping you achieve that one, simple, boiled down thing.

Because here’s the interesting thing. Social media means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. That’s part of the beauty of it. It’s flexible and broad-reaching and powerful. But everyone else’s definition is not and should not be yours. So, if you’re going to spend the time investing in the tools, learning the jargon, and becoming a VIP member of the club, make sure you take the time in the process to remember what it all means to you.

Ok. Your turn. Go.

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