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To describe media, marketers and communicators have used multiple, mixed-up terms. Here are just a few ways we’ve described the media landscape in recent years:

  • Old media
  • Traditional media
  • New media
  • Social media
  • Social networking
  • Citizen journalism

Of these, the differences between old media, new media, and social media are probably the most common — and the most confusion stems from the difference between new media and social media.

Why do we need to explain the difference? For many of our stakeholders – bosses, boards of directors, shareholders – the ability to articulate the different types of media also means we articulate the value of our efforts to reach our audience in different formats. Let’s dig into what these media mean.

The Media Landscape

new media landscape 2018

What’s the difference between old media and new media?

What constitutes old media? Formats such as:

  • Print journalism
  • Radio
  • Television
  • Books

Old media is characterized mostly by cost of distribution; because it tends to be physical rather than digital, old media’s costs of production and distribution are high. Note that this isn’t specific to brands or organization sizes – the New York Times is old media, but so is the Boston University Daily Free Press or NPR.

New media is characterized by its digital-first nature and its low physical costs of production and distribution. New media formats include:

  • Mobile apps
  • Video
  • Blogs
  • eBooks
  • Email
  • Podcasts

New media relies on the Internet for distribution; as such, new media is far more accessible for the average individual or small organization to produce. Certainly, individuals could have and did produce homemade newsletters, but their distribution was severely limited. In the new media landscape, an individual can have as much reach, engagement, and distribution as a Fortune 10 company.

What’s the difference between new media and social media?

When we publish something like a blog, podcast, or video, we create a findable media object of value. The distribution of that content is limited only to our ability to create something findable and worth a consumer’s time. New media offers a democratized way for reaching people at scale.

Social media from 2003-2013 was a subset of new media, a digital-first way to reach people. As times have changed, social media became more a form of broadcast, and then paid broadcast. Today, with algorithms and advertising dominating the ways to reach consumers on social media, it’s a different animal.

Social media today still offers the occasional chance for something small to grow big and fast without investment, but as advertising has become dominant, social media now requires just as much, if not more, investment as traditional old media in order to reach the same scale and impact. We might not invest millions of dollars in building a TV station or a printing press, but we’ll spend millions of dollars with a company like Facebook.

This distinction matters because it defines our strategy. We still need content, something to share when we go to buy our social media advertisements. Thus, we must lock down our new media strategy first, then develop our paid social media strategy second.

Disclosure: This post has been revised and updated several times since its original publication. The most recent revision changed the artwork and redefined social media to reflect its pay-to-play nature.


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