Social Media: Singular or Plural?

As a social media specialist here at Eckel & Vaughan, I am constantly reading and writing about social media. Through this, I’ve discovered an issue that I just can’t get over—when writing about “social media,” should the term be plural or singular?

My AP Stylebook and old-school professors at UNC Chapel Hill would probably scream at me: the word media is plural! But some fellow social media bloggers might disagree, as I see countless posts with the term expressed in the singular.

This got me thinking. Is it really that black and white? One way or the other? Or can it be both?

David Albrecht, Ph.D., CPA and accounting professor at a liberal arts college, would say yes. In a post titled “Singular or Plural,” Albrecht writes, “Technically, media is the plural of medium. . . . Many Internet writers treat social media as a singular noun, probably because it does not end with the letter S. So many have done it, our ears now are trained. But are these writers ever correct? Yes.”

He then advises that, “The guiding principle is whether the noun refers to something countable or uncountable.” This means that you could correctly write “Social media is attracting much attention from anthropologists,” because you would be referring to social media as a concept and not discussing a countable number of tools as if you were saying, “Social media play an important role in our lives. I use Facebook and Twitter.” In this example, I specifically mentioned two social media tools, so in this instance, in Albrecht’s opinion, social media would be plural. Confusing right?!

My opinion:

I, to some extent, agree with Albrecht. I think that sometimes (rarely) it’s OK to use as a singular term, but always doing so undermines the strategic nature of social media tools. They aren’t the same. We at Eckel & Vaughan focus on choosing the right tools for our partners’ needs and goals, and not adopting a once-size-fits-all approach, but when people refer to social media as a singular entity, isn’t that exactly what they are doing? Social media aren’t one unit. They are varied and unique tools that can work together to achieve common goals.

What works for one company may not work for another business. Just because a competitor is using a certain tool does not mean it will be beneficial to your company.

So I suppose today’s lesson is this:

It’s OK to occasionally use social media as a singular term when referring to the concept of social media.

BUT doing so all the time takes away from the strategic nature of social media.

Social media marketing efforts, in order to be effective, must be approached strategically with attainable goals and measurable objectives.

Social media are unique tools that serve their own unique purposes and are not a one-size-fits-all or all-encompassing magical tool.