Assessing the Social Media Hype Cycle

Gartner defined the hype cycle for technological verticals back in the mid 90’s. The hype cycles “provide a graphic representation of the maturity and adoption of technologies and applications, and how they are potentially relevant to solving real business problems and exploiting new opportunities.”

I have taken this model and applied some analysis as it relates to social media. Where do you think we are in the maturity phase of social media hype? My deduction is we are sloping down to a “trough of disillusionment.”

The climb from initial “technology triggers” to the “peak of inflated expectations” certainly was not fast. If you consider that Geocities (one of the first social networks) launched in 1994, that is an eighteen year climb to the pinnacle hype of social media. I submit that the frenzy a month prior to the Facebook IPO marked the point of the hype apex. As shown in the figure above, there were numerous platform introductions between 1994 and 2012. Many are not covered as there are almost infinite social launches, not to mention a vast amount of supporting social management and marketing technology tools.

And then almost immediately after the Facebook IPO, hype visibility plummeted primarily driven by Facebook’s stock price slide. While the hype rise was slow (eighteen years), the decline was almost instantaneous (two months). This is an astonishing occurrence.

I am thrilled to see the fall to the bottom. It is time to put the hype aside (both positive and negative) and get down to business. It is time to ride the “slope of enlightenment” to the “plateau of productivity.” And why am I so bullish that we will witness the up-rise? It stems from one simple fact – consumer behavior and usage.

Have users stopped using social channels? No, they may have changed some preferred platforms and channels, but usage will continue to grow to a point where we are seeing almost ubiquitous participation by all ages, categories, and other demographic splicing. Enlightenment will not come from new technology advancements (although they will continue), but rather from marketers learning and executing social activity that is driven by user practices as opposed to brand desires. Yes, marketing executives should work towards brand objectives, but they must be sensitive to user interests and motivations. Social success is found in the intersection of the two.

While there are some technology advancements required to move social media to a productive plateau, there is more of an onus on marketing evolution. Here are some key attributes required to reap social media reward for brands:

• Stronger commitment to “socializing” on social channels as opposed to pushing advertorial content
• Total comment to listening and monitoring across the vast social channels for brand mentions and relevant conversations
• Stronger movement from product/service broadcasting to more authentic conversations and engagement from brands on social channels
• Delivery of more targeted, contextual relevant information and stories to individual users
• Increased social marketing integration to the entire business and marketing strategy … (also related, Social by Design)
• Development of best practices for different psycho-demographic engagement
• Better data tools that take unstructured social data and allow correlation to other structured digital data to produce better analysis and reports
• Greater standardization of measurement that align to business KPIs (key performance indicators

Technology is an enabler. But marketers need to better understand how their target markets use technology enablers. In marketing, we often talk about consumer behavior. Yes, we always need to have a keen eye on customer behavior. But it is the marketing behavior and mentality that will move social media maturity beyond let down to illumination and efficiency. Are marketers ready to take in the fundamental changes required?

Your turn. Your thoughts?

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

NOTE: I will be moderating a panel at Social Media Week – Chicago on September 28, 2012 discussing the social media hype cycle. I will be joined by my colleagues at Ryan Partnership and MediaWhiz and well as clients. If you can make it, please join. For more information and registration please see Social Media Week – Chicago.



Filed under marketing, social marketing, social media, social media marketing, socialmedia

12 responses to “Assessing the Social Media Hype Cycle

  1. Hi Steve, I think we’re still on the upward slope. There’s still too few people and businesses that really understand the power of social media. Having a Facebook account doesn’t count. Moreover and for me, social media is a tactical solution for a set of bi-directional social communication channels. The real, opportunity lies in becoming a social business. Meaning, a comprehensive strategic plan for businesses to become social both inside the org and out. I outline how in my book Socialized! (sorry about the plug but it fits into my comment)

    Think of social media as the telephone and Social Business as the communication network. Bell has only just called Watson, we’ve got a long way to go.

    • Hi Mark, Time will tell how social media traverse on the hype peak cycle, but certainly, the past few months have taken a downward dip. How the peak reached? How the bottom hit? I do agree with you with regards to the needs for a bi-directional social communication channels and to plan for businesses to become social both inside the org and out. I will check out your book.


  2. Tony Dowling

    Excellent analysis! And ax thoroughly enjoyable post. I don’t know what I enjoy more: your guts in putting your predictions out there or the intricate knowledge you have about your subject!
    It certainly feels like we’ve seen a slide down the disillusionment curve since FB IPO – and I’d have to say I’d also look forward to a more ‘professional’ socmed industry! 🙂
    But as you say, its the changes to marketers, their expectations and their designs I am most looking forward to seeing.
    The movement from broadcasting on social channels to being truly social will be fascinating. Glad your along to guide us Steve!

  3. Thanks Tony – glad you enjoyed the analysis and point of view. Sincere best, Steve

  4. Jim Matorin

    Wow, I do not know where to weigh in. As always Steve, I enjoyed your post. I do agree that the ball is in the marketers court, but man I am not sure where this is all going unless marketers start putting on their sociology hat. Yes technology is an enabler and yes we have to learn how our target markets use these enablers, but let’s get back to basics: 1.) Why do people/companies post content consisting of 2,300 words (who has time); 2.) Why post and not engage which now gets me to Mark’s comment which I really enjoyed. We have a long way to go true, but I am beginning to realize we might not get there because a majority of businesses really are not social. Too many internal barriers called silos which leads to poor communication. If we cannot communicate among our internal peers how are we ever going to communicate with our customers.

  5. The analysis in your posts is always “astoundingly satisfying”, Steve. Speaking of that “trough of disillusionment”, I think both Google+ and the Facebook IPO fell victim to that scenario. I still find Google+ to be a much more polished and integrated app on the browser/iPhone/iPad, yet adoption continues to be slow (albeit still steady mainly because people recognize the SEO impact more than the user experience). In the case of Facebook, they waited too long…tough to go up (and monetize) when you already own the lion’s share of the market while setting the expectation that the service will be “free”.

    I’ve enjoyed my own “slope of enlightenment” and significantly enjoy the relationships I’ve developed online as well as the depth of understanding across several topics thanks to those online friends. Of course, I hope our own listening/measurement platform can be part of that Plateau of Productivity.

    Thanks for the insightful post and optimistic forecast, Steve – I’ll definitely be sharing across several channels.

  6. Brilliantly presented as usual, Steve. I\’m not certain that all of social media has been tarnished by Facebook\’s fall from grace, but it\’s possible. To your list of \”key attributes required\” I would add something about a greater understanding of how social supports other online marketing (enhances SEO, amplifies PR, makes ads more effective, etc.).

  7. @Tom I would argue that although Facebook’s stock price has fallen, it’s not dead yet. Still, so many people are using Facebook and it retains its position of authority in social media marketing

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