The misused and overused: digital media buzzwords
Every industry has buzzwords that become so commonplace that you can't help but chuckle when you hear them. Below are 10 words and phrases you can't avoid in digital media circles (and yes, we're just as guilty of using them as anyone). All of these words represent valuable concepts in the digital media industry, but the contexts they're used in are often ambiguous. Like any buzzword, after so many utterances, they tend to lose their punch.
Community: I once had a journalism instructor who absolutely couldn't tolerate the word “community” because it's often used as a vague term lumping people together into fake groups. “Where is this (insert descriptive group) community and how do I join?” he'd ask. That ambiguity is certainly translated into the online world. “Building an online community” can be a tangible task, but it's often mentioned as a broad, intangible goal: What sort of community are you trying to build and where?
Content farm: This phrase has evolved fairly recently to describe news outlets that churn out high-volume, low-quality content that does well in search. Somehow, we all just know the companies we're talking about when we say “content farm,” (Demand Media, AOL, etc.) and yet, let's face it, in reality the line is blurry. Trying to create a lot of content without paying writers very much isn't exactly an unheard-of strategy in the media industry.
Curation: This is one of my personal favorites, which I admit to using 18 times in a recent article about curation platforms. “Curation” is a way to say “here's a menu we've hand-selected from other people's recipes,” but it's often used incorrectly in the place of aggregation or indexing. It might be one of the most important words in digital journalism right now, but one can't help but get a little weary of hearing about it.
Engagement: The digital world is all about engaging your users, but sometimes I wonder what, specifically, someone means when they say that word. Imagine if we talked more about “engagement” in the offline world: Users wouldn't shop in a store, they'd engage in the store. Or, a runner in the park would have a high level of park engagement. The term definitely warrants elaboration.
Monetize: If “engagement” is the catch-all for getting an audience's attention, “monetize” is the catch-all for “make worthwhile.” Everything we do in digital media has to relate, indirectly or directly, to a revenue stream. Sometimes we drop the word “monetize” just to cover those bases without explaining exactly how a strategy or tactic will generate money.
Optimization: It's difficult to keep track of all the things you should be optimizing for: search engines, social media, the mobile web, etc. “Optimization,” defined as the “act, process, or methodology of making something … as fully perfect, functional, or effective as possible,” seems to be an acceptable word to throw in after anything you need to do better, without explaining how to go about it.
Platform-agnostic: This used to be one of the coolest phrases in digital media — before everyone started using it. It's a perfect buzz phrase because no one agrees on what it means. Journalists sometimes use "platform-agnostic" to mean that they can work in different media (multimedia and writing, for instance); publishers use it to mean their content can be viewed on mobile devices, on the web and in print; and developers use it to mean their software/application can run on different systems. Literally the phrase means "uncommitted to any platforms;" the real phrase we need is "committed to every platform."
Privacy: Online privacy has been a hotly debated topic, but it means a lot of different things to different people, as Microsoft's danah boyd and media pundit Jeff Jarvis recently pointed out at a conference. For instance, privacy concerns could be safety concerns or reputational concerns ― two very different meanings. “Privacy” is a relative term.
Usability: We all know our website needs to be usable, just like our microwave. When I hear that a website has improved its "usability," I wonder what, exactly, did it make more usable?
User-generated content (UGC): A buzz phrase really gets big when people start referring to it as an acronym. This is another critical phrase for publishers to incorporate into their strategies, but it's often a pretty fancy word for "community blogs."
To summarize: Have you thought about optimizing usability and curating your UGC to better engage and monetize your community in a platform-agnostic environment, while ensuring your users' privacy?
What other words/phrases make your eyes roll?