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,
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.