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'Hot' and 'Cool' Social Media

hot and cool social mediaMarshall McLuhan is probably best known for postulating that “the medium is the message,” but his lesser known “hot” and “cool” media concept may prove even more prescient with the impending engagement economy that will be adopted by marketers and salespersons interested in making social media work in entirely new ways.

Early this week my industry colleague Scott Litman, CEO of media company Magnet360, announced a directional change for his firm.  Magnet360 will now focus on social business as a social enterprise agency.  In the press release he said, “Our clients – executive leaders – are recognizing that social is the next big thing that will transform the way we do business and engage with customers and other audiences.” 

Everyone’s trying to figure out how social media will impact business, so it’s great to see firms rising to the challenge of helping clients make sense of social. McLuhan recognized each medium as an extension of a particular human faculty with the “media of communication” simply the amplification of a particular human sense. “The wheel is an extension of the foot. The book is an extension of the eye. Clothing, an extension of the skin,” said McLuhan.  So, what exactly does that make social media?

In my humble opinion, social media is the extension of natural human desire to connect with others at a personal level.

McLuhan made a “hot” and “cool” distinction between the sensory effects of media with a higher or lower definition. Examples of “hot” media include print or radio, which consist of information requiring less sensory involvement on the part of the participant.  Examples of “cool” media include the telephone and television, which require more sensory involvement of the participant.

From Wikipedia:

Hot media are generally, but not absolutely, visual media; for example, print occupies visual space and is "hot". Hot media favor analytical precision, quantitative analysis and sequential ordering, as they are usually sequential, linear and logical. They emphasize one sense (for example, of sight or sound) over the others. For this reason, hot media also include radio, as well as film, lecture and photograph.

Cool media are usually, but not always, associated with the sense of hearing. They require more active participation on the part of the user, including the perception of abstract patterning and simultaneous comprehension of all parts. Cool media, according to McLuhan, therefore include television, as well as the seminar and cartoons.

I was in Washington, D.C. yesterday and had the good fortune of philosophizing with a very smart person about how McLuhan’s hot/cool relates to social media today.  We both agreed on that social media has franchised the message.  Having soaked on our discussion for a few hours, I think Twitter requires less sensory involvement than Facebook, and the future of social media will increasingly trend towards higher sensory experiences.

Just recently we were contacted by the Cleveland Browns NFL football team to help them better engage their fans.  The Cleveland Browns already understand social media and how to have “hot” and “cool” presence today, but they wanted to step up their game.  The goal was enable their fans to engage with real people within the Browns organization.  The result is that you can now find, self-select, and self-initiate real-time engagement with representatives and accounts execs at

Now that’s the future of “cool” social media!

Join The Conversation

  • Apr 12 Posted 5 years ago 360mobile

    social media is powerful marketing media because you’re using a public medium to share your ideas, thoughts, experiences, or beliefs.

  • Apr 12 Posted 5 years ago 360mobile

    social media is powerful marketing media because you’re using a public medium to share your ideas, thoughts, experiences, or beliefs.

  • Digital Age Journalist's picture
    Apr 8 Posted 5 years ago Digital Age Jou...

    Dear Lief,

    Thanks for the inspiration and update on how Marshal McLuan's thinking fits into social media. Too bad he and Buckminster Fuller are not around to have a discussion about this.

    I have given a great deal of thought to where social media fits into the whole scheme of things, the evolution of mankind and things like that. I believe that social media via the Internet has the ability to connect everyone on the globe. 

    In Eastern philosophy and religions, it is said that we come from oneness and we return to oneness. The oneness is consciousness, a unified awareness not experienced lately while we are in human form.

    With social media via the Internet, we can achieve that oneness at the same time we experience the world as humans not as souls before we take human form or after we leave the body.

    Whether that is 'Hot' or 'Cool' by Marshal McLuan's standards is not for me to judge. To me, it is 'VERY COOL'!


    Alison Gilbert, Digital Age Journalist

  • Apr 7 Posted 5 years ago LouSusi

    Nice to see these connections being made here — McLuhan and Social Media, fascinating topic to think about how he would classify this new medium, right? — but i have to comment on Scott Litman's statement as quote here in the article. The idea that social is the next big thing is not a new concept anymore. I mean, this post is on Social Media Today, which in and of itself must be some remote testament regarding the viability of SM. If the new part is that executive leaders are recognizing the medium as a big, new way to do business, then maybe its time to really go and figure out what the NEXT big thing is ... or rather, as Sherry Turkle mentioned in her talk on her new book 'Alone Together,' maybe now its time to step back and figure out what we can really do with these amazing new tools we've invented. 

    In my opinion, after researching this for a while from both an academic and more active exploration of social media, this phrase from the post above — 'social media is the extension of natural human desire to connect with others at a personal level' — nicely captures what social media is all about, but only implies an interesting nuance about SM that I'd like elaborate on here ( let's see if this actually gets published as a comment, though ).

    '... the human desire to connect with others at a personal level ...' — this virtual extension of a natural human desire to connect can, of course, be different for different people using social media. For some, social media is merely a place to make wise cracks and pass the time through 'small talk'. Its mostly a casual medium, and so we ofttimes get interesting glimpses into the life and times of a corporate upper exec as they communicate on an unexpectedly human level on Twitter about the complications surrounding a business trip. Does this executive want to 'connect' through this communication? Or are they simply putting that information 'out there' in the twittersphere now that they have a collected Twitter following of 'connections'? What's the psychosocial meaning behind these little datablips details being broadcast one-to-many for no apparent, meaningful reason? What are the business and marketing reasons to post this kind of communication? Does tweeting this kind of information, or any kind of information at all, actually make people more connected? Does it extend anything more than 'the human DESIRE to connect'? Or does it actually exploit that desire and never follow through and resolve at all?

    Turkle elaborated on aspects of 'Alone Together' by talking about the difference between conversation and connection. I think the 'desire to connect with others' through social media is a mediated attempt to start a conversation, something entirely more meaningful than merely connecting. When Turkle recently appeared on The Steven Colbert Show, a heated albeit semi-farsical interview with the MIT Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology, Colbert asked Turkle the interesting question:

    'Even if I only get information from you in little, little sips ... doesn't that add up to a gulp?'

    The answer comes across in a slightly complicated way, but the basic answer is no. These microCommunications we share through social media are merely a performance. And I would like to propose that they actually become a the artifacts of a remote, invisible social media performance. And these performances are very difficult to completely comprehend out of the context of the moments in which they were mutually peroformed and lived. We are all participating in an interesting typewritten extension of thought performance through social media. Social media, in my opinion, like text, mobile and other electronically-mediated extensions of vocal, word-based communication — social media is the preliminary attempt to actually communicate directly through our minds, but not on any real deep level. It can sometimes result in a rather tourettes-like sudden explosion of the purely Freudian outlet from the subconscious, especially if the streams of communication we're sharing are semi-instant in their supposed 'synchronous' exchange.

    I think meaning and potential deepness of communication through social media is highly dependent upon personal motivations, emotionality, frame of mind, and many complicated human factors that often do not translate well through Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Even Bebo has its downfalls.

    My fear surrounding social media is that so much of the communication gets lost through the medium. People are constantly 'on' and connected in a very disconnected way. Our team is 'highly distributed' if you get what I mean, and that might be okay for a company to work that way, but a society needs at least a little bit more than that. I feel that if used in the right way — as a tool to almost extend an invitation to the real dance of a face-to-face communication in that eventual afterspace beyond our social media usage — if used in the right way and with proper moderation, social media can be an interesting conduit for real social interaction. Maybe if we all thought of it as 'pre-social media' and 'post-social media' — as a means to setup and begin or follow up and continue a conversation or live event that happens in a real place with real people, maybe then I'd fully understand the value of the crazy cool tools we've set ourselves up with.

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