Having been in PR and social media for many years now, I have witnessed up close the love/hate relationship my profession has with buzzwords. I define “love” in this instance as “laziness,” of course. In my tech PR days, among the most reviled buzzwords were “solution,” “scalable” and “robust.”
Here’s the thing about buzzwords: They originally had meaning. If used properly and sparingly, they can retain their meaning.
Most recently, the phrase that has struggled with “buzzword” status is “social business.” The first problem with the use of this phrase, which a number of people (most notably IBM and The Community Roundtable) use to mean businesses adopting social media as part of their organizational DNA (my version of the definition), is that “social business” has long been used to mean something entirely different. Originally the phrase was associated with businesses aligning themselves for social good. It was fairly popular enough to warrant its own brief Wikipedia entry. The second is that as the new definition gained traction, largely due to IBM’s credibility, it got repeated to the point that it has been threatened with meaninglessness. I have said elsewhere that I don’t think that battle has been completely lost, but I am wary whenever my fellow social media professionals fall too much in love with a term (rather than, say, accomplishments or case studies). Further, I find it harder to tell who is using the term with true intellect and thought, and who is full of it. To their credit, my friends at The Community Roundtable have acknowledged the uncertainty of using the term.
The next term undergoing this trial by buzz-fire is “The Internet of Things.” For over a decade associated with the RFID technology leaders at MIT’s Auto-ID Center, the Internet of Things recently popped up as a potential buzzword victim at the Le Web conference. Will the original meaning be distorted, or simply ignored as it falls through to less sure hands? As with social business, I don’t know. But I am afraid. Already, the focus of the Internet of Things seems to be on wearable devices; I’m not sure that was the original intent at all. Perhaps it is an evolution of the concept. Perhaps it is a platform from which some marketers launch snake oil and bad books.
We shall see. All I can hope for is that at least the debate will be interesting.