Date of Birth: 2011
By Jenny Rogers
If having a magazine devoted to a subject makes it legitimate, then social media has officially moved from being that thing we all do to that thing we all talk about. But then, we already knew that, even before The Social Media Monthly, the self-described first print magazine about the mobile and online phenomenon, launched last year.
Social Media claims to analyze and review the “social media evolution,” and it does just that with a clear-cut, no-frills concept that combines the “latest trends” stories you’d expect with features on the effects of social media on larger societal events or issues. Naturally, topics like Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring have made appearances. More surprisingly—and more interestingly—the Super Bowl has shown up, too, in an article about NFL players using social media.
Launched by the D.C.-based Cool Blue Company, the magazine went international in August and is currently distributed in twenty countries. Though at the time it was not yet widely available, I found it in my local Barnes and Noble near Wired and down the magazine rack from Forbes. For a new magazine in an economically uncertain publishing world, it seems to be doing fairly well. By its fifth issue, in January, Social Media had a circulation of 30,000 and had been named one of the fifteen “hottest” magazine launches of the previous year by Min Online, which reports on the publishing industry.
Packed with square barcode-like QR codes (for accessing websites) and iPhone screenshots—virtually the only illustrations that are not part of advertisements—Social Media is not a magazine for the technologically faint of heart. With articles written mostly by social media strategists or marketers, Social Media is filled with just enough jargon, such as “content curation” and “social e-commerce,” to make a casual tweeter like me feel out of her depth. Still, Social Media manages to merge all that tech-speak with a sometimes-nuanced view of social media’s larger societal ramifications. In a fifth-issue feature titled “The Social Side of Speed,” business marketer and strategist Mike Brown relates the installation of Google Fiber, an experimental network infrastructure in Kansas City, to the larger socioeconomic issue of the digital divide. He takes it further, quoting St. Louis technology consultant David Sandel: “As data speeds get close to replicating the speed with which the human mind functions, we’ll see more human-like functions online.”
Sounds a bit like the Jetsons, right?
In fact, the magazine itself launched with a kind of 1950s-era Space-Age feel, with a cartoonish cover drawing of an astronaut floating in space among a slew of social media logos. The magazine implies that this zone of geolocation, connectivity and IP addresses is the next frontier, and that kind of grandiose celebration of the social media “phenomenon” and “evolution” fills its pages.
Social Media is at its best when it moves beyond simply cataloguing the latest developments in the digital and mobile worlds and begins critiquing them—something it needs to do more often. In a funny article on the top social media stories of 2011, Tonia Ries, founder and CEO of Modern Media, spears social media “fails” of the year. If you missed Anthony Weiner, she quips, “You’ll see more of him than you ever wanted to see with some quick online searches.”
The magazine’s design begins with a cover illustration each month, and inside it’s simple, readable and oddly reminiscent of Google+; but it is not visually interesting. That is one of the challenges of this kind of content. How do you illustrate a topic like crowdsourcing? Social Media’s answer seems to be limited to screenshots and colorful pull quotes and that doesn’t cut it. With a lot of words and few photos, the design is static and sometimes boring. Screenshots and colorful headlines aren’t enough to illustrate the abstract social and technological concepts discussed in the articles. With an article on the importance of communicating with imagery leading the January issue, the magazine needs to take its own advice.
That said, for a newborn publication it manages to be informative and engaging even for someone not looking to improve a business’ social media brand. The world of networks and apps and curation sites has never felt so wide, and the irony of a social media magazine publishing in print is enough to make you wonder whether Social Media is a vote of confidence for the printed word. (Don’t get too excited—it has an app, too.) The Jetsons, I’m sure, would be subscribers.