Social Media is the Message

By: Nic Sells

We need to talk. It’s about social media.

Fine, it’s not that serious. But, as a social media strategist, I see some things that brands do to distinguish themselves on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. And others that . . . don’t.

My favorite communication theory quote comes from Marshall McLuhan. Yes, I am a bit geeky. Thank you. Anyway, the groundbreaking communication theorist said, “The medium is the message.” Now, I don’t want to get too scholarly, but let’s break this down a bit.

McLuhan’s intended meaning isn’t what is commonly understood. Or, perhaps I should say, misunderstood—that the communication medium itself (TV, radio, internet) is more important, or even defines, the message.


McLuhan actually defined “medium” as an “extension of ourselves.” With the “message,” in his popular maxim, defined as “the change of scale or pace or pattern that the medium introduces into human affairs.”

Let’s put this in simpler terms. McLuhan’s assertion was that those things we create alter not only how information is shared but how our world changes with the introduction of new mediums. And, I hate to be a stickler for authenticity, but that’s a deeper notion than suggesting that the message is inconsequential to the medium.

As an example, let’s take a look at Facebook. It’s not that what someone posts on Facebook can be ignored because the medium trumps the message. It’s that the nature of Facebook itself (the medium) ushers changes to human affairs (the message). Thus, Facebook’s “message” may be, for instance, a change in user’s attitudes or actions as a result from the channel itself. 

And I think nothing has personified McLuhan’s famous quote more than social media. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter and Snapchat are ubiquitous tools in our daily lives. We search YouTube to learn “how-to” anything, waste time and be entertained with both amateur and professional content. We check Facebook to see what our loved ones across the county are doing. We peruse Snapchat for . . . whatever. And it all changes our attitudes, actions and how we interact with this spinning ball we’re on.


Brands like Red Bull, and cycling clothing maker Rapha, have created entire communities around their social media channels. Red Bull’s Facebook account has groups that allow people interested in anything, from surfing to mountain biking to street balling, to interact with each other and the Red Bull brand. Rapha uses its Facebook and Instagram accounts to promote its events and group rides around the world. 

No longer used just to promote products, companies are showing how social media can be used to promote lifestyles and build communities filled with individual contributors and two-way communication.

With this in mind, I pose a simple question: has any other medium in the history of mediated communication presented this level of opportunity for brands to interact with consumers to drive changes in attitudes and action?  

Now, I understand that none of this is new. After all, it’s not 2006. But it’s surprising to see how many brands seem to be missing opportunities to truly interact with their customers in meaningful ways on social media.

Need a clear example of what I’m . . .  admittedly complaining about? Take a look at Denny’s Instagram account. Yes, that Denny’s. The 1 a.m. breakfast joint.

Nobody is surfing Instagram to decide where to get a bite. And Denny’s understands this. That’s why it photoshops pictures and puts pancakes, condiments and avocados in ridiculously funny settings. Denny’s isn’t promoting its products so much as it’s entertaining its followers—the reason they’re likely on Instagram in the first place. Do Denny’s silly Instagram antics pay off? Yes, from my own perspective, in both brand awareness and affiliation.        

Is there a place for promotion on social media? Of course. But to earn engagement, affiliation, awareness and drive consumer change on social media, brands need to match the content they offer to the “why” their customers are on the channel—be that for entertainment, as a midday distraction or to learn something new.  

Nic Sells

I’m a Marketing Specialist at FORTHGEAR. From writing blogs to social media editorial calendars to vlog scripts, I approach everything I do with an eye on strategy. When I’m not in the office, you can find me cycling, hiking, fly fishing or . . . doing projects around the house.