August 07, 2007

Consumer Comes Up Again: We Need A Better Name

Pete Blackshaw, CMO of Nielsen BuzzMetrics, made a group on Facebook called "Consumer Generated Media." I posted to the group's wall the first post below, objecting to the use of the word Consumer. He replied and I replied. In the meantime, Ted Tagami saw my first post the consumer generated media group and made "People Generated Media" into a new group and so far, 70 people have joined.

I think we really need to put our heads together to come up with a term that isn't consumer, prosumer, amateur, maybe even user (even though I like being one), to describe the production of media by anyone. Maybe it's producer but it doesn't feel specific enough to the idea that it's not professional. Don't know. But it's comes up again and again, and I think it needs to be solved.


Mary Hodder (Berkeley) wrote
at 11:35am on August 6th, 2007

Hi Pete,
Why do you use the word "consumer" for this group?
Why not "user generated media" instead?

Consumer sounds like we are baby birds, where you poor undistinguished junk down our throats, and in exchange, we poop cash.

I'm a user, a producer, a thinker, and I when I make media, I'm conversing with it. I'm a customer of some companies, but I'm not a consumer, mindlessly taking anything any legacy media company will scoop down my gullet, sending them money in exchange.

I think you should seriously reconsider the use of this term, here and elsewhere. It's demeaning and intentionally used to condescend to those of us who create media non-professionally.


Pete's Response:

Respected blogger and Web 2.0 innovator Mary Hodder left a thoughtful message on my wall questioning my use of the term "consumer" versus other terms, and I thought I'd post both my response and her original post below (sic, it's above to keep it in chron order). It's a good, and important, conversation, and I welcome any thoughts.


Great, thoughtful note – as always! Every once and a while I get taken to task by someone for using this term. Four years ago I was at a “future of media” conference at MIT and I was practically thrown out of the room for using the term.

Still, I’m quite passionate about the word consumer -- have been since I was kid soaking in lessons from a cost conscious, value-seeking, injustice-fighting mother of seven kids. My favorite show while growing up was “Fight Back,” hosted by consumer advocate David Horowitz. I’ve always read “Consumer Reports.” When I started PlanetFeedback, a consumer feedback portal, my tag line was “Viva consumer.” (We even had a “Consumer Manifesto.") While some may see it as demeaning, I see it as empowering.

That not to suggest the other terms – citizen, user, people, we, participants – don’t work as well, and I certainly use them here and there. We should all be sensitive to context. And I don’t deny for a second there’s a broader conversation going on that transcends so many of the issues and themes I write about in the marketing zone.

But at the same time, I really don’t want to confuse folks about my core focus and intent via my blog, this Facegroup page, my ClickZ article, or even in my present work. My target audience is marketers and the business community, and the word “consumer” is deeply woven into the fabric of their everyday vernacular…at least for now. I’ve sought to use language they can understand and relate to, and I know it’s working on many levels.

I also wonder whether against the backdrop of escalated skepticism and consumer distrust toward marketers, we may need to overcompensate on using more explicit labels and transparency tags to achieve clearer understanding in the marketplace. With all the co-mingling, mashing, remixing, reshuffling, co-creation, and occasional co-optation between seller and buyer (or, in the case of PR, messenger and recipient) such clarity of language may the world seems less fuzzy. Consumer may border on the conservative, but it does drive clarity.

Let me also confess that aside from my mother’s influence I also have a strong P&G bias. The word “consumer” is like religion at P&G, and I’ve carried that religion with me in all my pursuits. I am proud to say I am a “Consumer focused marketer,” and when I say it, folks generally understand what I mean. When I applied to P&G out of business school, I sought their deep expertise in “consumer understanding” and figuring out “unmet consumer needs.”

The same logic applies to why I focus on the term “media” versus content. I settled on the term “media” out of my ups and downs of trying to sell the vision and idea of listening to companies. No one really understood what I was talking about until I started to emphasize the word "media." My goal has been to convince marketers that both positive and negative word of mouth was having a big impact on their brands. But while everyone intuitively got the concept of word of mouth, it always carried a connotation of being touchy-feeling, ephemeral, fleeting, and non-quantifiable. One, it suddenly occurred to me that the term “media” was perfect. CGM, while not like a impression you just buy, nevertheless acts like “media.” It leaves a digital trail, and those comments impact the awareness, trial, and purchase behavior of other consumers.

Anyway, happy to continue the conversation. It’s a good one, and I wouldn’t rule out my evolving on the topic over time.

I wonder what William Safire would have to say?


Post #2
You replied to Pete's post 3 hours ago
Hi Pete,
I appreciate your answer, and the passion and connection you feel to the word, consumer.

I think my objection partly comes from the variable ways I see people using the word at events, conferences, online etc. I was at a conference of mostly PBS people at Channel 13 in NYC a year ago. There were older, very established people in the room who objected to my use of "user" onstage while I talked, who insisted on consumer. I asked why, and one man very gruffly replied that the people didn't know how to make good media, only the professionals did. He was very condescending toward people who unprofessionally made media, and said they were simply consumers. That's it.

I've seen people as recently as the Web 2.0 Expo use the term onstage presenting technologies. I've continuously seen it in print used to separate the people who consume the media from those who produce it.

The interesting thing for me about social media is that it's not just about media, as in, a single discrete piece of media produced, and then another, and then another. In the other world, these might have been newspaper articles, that people would read. In the new world, these could be newspaper articles, blog post reactions, videos made by anyone, etc. But between these discrete chunks of media is an implicit, socially derived media that we can trace or understand, follow and engage with as dribbles of more media.

Almost everyone at some point in their online lives probably makes some sort of social media, even in the rating, recommending, tagging, posting, linking, emailing, editing, discussing, IMing, of discrete pieces of media (most often delineated by a single URL to each piece, but also sending the media removed from any URL.. either way, the chunking and adding happen.)

Whether they make the chunks is another story. Only a small portion of the total edits Wikipedia, creates a video, writes a blog post, records sound, or whatever. Any many are very bad at it. But that's okay. Some will learn and get good and may go on to work professionally. Some will get good and add to their professional lives with their media creations.

But using the word consumer, with so many from legacy media having so much trouble with the notion that anyone can publish now, and with so many more who don't subscribe to "consumer" doing publishing, makes the word really difficult to parse for a common meaning for all of us.

The guy at PBS was very clear in his use of this word. He uses it intentionally, because it is condescending.

I would like to see us work here, if this is the right place, to come up with better terms. Some object to user because of drug use connotations (though from what I can see, we are all pretty addicted to information and the internet, so i don't think we are that far off there). Some object to prosumer because it's clumsy and does really get at what we want.

I think we are looking for a word that we all haven't thought of yet. I've talked a lot about with with super-word-smith Doc Searls over the past 4 years. And we are stumped.

But still, I think we need to find the words to describe more accurately what is going on, and distinguish it with the old sort of consumer. Yes, consumer rights, consumer reports, consumer advocacy are good, but they wouldn't need to so much if so much of what being a consumer meant to companies and marketers was about dumping products down consumer's throats so they could poop cash.

The internet gives us a way around this mode of interaction, and I think we need to name for it.

Posted by Mary Hodder at August 7, 2007 08:43 AM | TrackBack

Mary, I just jumped into my New World Dictionary and looked up "author", here's the def.:

author: 1. one who makes or originates something; creator; originator 2. the writer (of a book, article, etc.

The folks who have built the Dublin Core metadata had many, many conversations before settling on "creator".

Just as the word "actor" has lost its gender connotation the word "author" could take on its larger more general meaning. And it's a short word, 2 syllables in English.

Why do we need a new word? We can use the word we already have.

-Bill A

Posted by: Bill Anderson at August 7, 2007 01:15 PM

Hey Bill,
I didn't mean we should make up a new word that no one has ever heard before. I meant work up a new word, or two or three together for a phrase, that would cover this concept as specifically as we could.

Consumer Generated Media is three words.

Author Generated Media seems redundant. Obviously someone made it but who? Same with Creator Generated Media.

I hate Prosumer (as in Prosumer Generated Media).

Some people hate User Generated Media because they either think it sounds like people are stealing the media to make it, or stealing it from a legitimate maker, or, they are too closely associating it with drugs.

So.. any ideas for something that would help here?

I do like the definition of author, and amateur, as long as you define it as "media made for the love of it".. is good, but you can't define something each time it's used and it can sound condescending. However, if people took it back, owned it, it could have meaning.


Posted by: mary hodder at August 7, 2007 02:07 PM

Mary: In hectic transit right now. I'll reflect more deeply on your thoughtful reply, but one very important quick reaction upon which I know we're on common ground. Re: the PBS person's reaction, NO ONE should be righteous or condescending in their preference for any particular term, even consumer. I I'll be the last one to line up with anyone who plays that game. Back to this topic shortly.

- Pete

Oh, and I just joined the PGM group. I'm sure I'll learn a few things.

Posted by: Pete Blackshaw at August 7, 2007 03:24 PM


How does just "Media" sound to you, without any attribution to who's generating it and who's consuming it. Any term or phrase that's longer stands the risk of being too narrow, or of becoming obsolete.

(the "dude" you snubbed - rightly I might add)

PS - I hope to meet you at one of the Thursday breakfasts!

Posted by: Vivek Hutheesing at August 7, 2007 06:39 PM

Hi Mary!

Thanks for posting that. We are on the same wavelength. I actually saw your post after I created the group. We have over 105 members in just under 24 hours. If you are reading this and are on Facebook, come join the group!

Posted by: tagami at August 8, 2007 12:47 AM

Mary, the problem with jumping in is that I don't always get the whole story.

I was thinking of "folk media", as in folk music. I know it sounds corny, but it's accurate.

Vivek's idea of just using the word "media" also has value.

Unless there are distinctions about who and how the content is generated and performed. In that case why not use the word "independent"? Or "indie'?


Posted by: Bill Anderson at August 8, 2007 05:41 AM

Hi Ted,
Sorry about that. You email to me in face book where you said, "I think we are on the same wavelength today! I just read your post on the CGM group. I heard "consumer" one too many times, and thought I'd make the People Generated Media group to voice my displeasure..." made me think you'd made the group in reaction to my post.

When I looked at the group at that moment, there were only two people in it, so I figured it was new, joined it and assumed.

I'll change the post now to reflect.


Posted by: mary hodder at August 8, 2007 08:55 AM