Which Social Media Are “Hot” and Which Are “Cool”?
McLuhan explained his distinction between “hot” and “cool” media for Playboy Magazine in 1969: “… a hot medium excludes and a cool medium includes; hot media are low in participation, or completion, by the audience and cool media are participation.” (
Marshall 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.
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!
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