The Evolution of Social Media

For all the hoopla about social media, for all the excitement about the concept of reaching “influencers,” for all the anticipation of revenues to come now that Facebook and Twitter are pushing advertising, no one seems to be noticing several basic facts of digital life:

♦        Virtually all of the early promises of marketing success premised on social media have been overblown, and most of the results have been under-whelming.

♦        Social media are fueled by people, not companies, not marketers.  When it comes to social media, business is a follower.

♦       The revenue enhancing models of advertising on Facebook and Twitter are their revenue enhancing models.  It is fair to be dubious about how much revenue other businesses will gain from them.

Social media are evolving.  And they are bifurcating.

More and more we are seeing parallel, but only occasionally intersecting, trends on social media:

People are on social media for social reasons.

Businesses are on social media to make money.

Social media were initially successful, and remain successful in terms of popularity, because they created new, easy, fun ways to connect with people.  (Remember, Facebook started as a way for nerdy college guys to meet girls.)  People use Facebook as a simple way to stay in touch with dispersed friends and family.  Pinterest and Instagram focus on the visual and make it easy to share pictures.  Twitter, with its 126 character limit, was a way to let everyone know where you are and what you are doing, in real time; it was a place to share thoughts.

Business saw the trend and tried to capitalize on it.  Suddenly, it was a business imperative to have a Facebook page and Twitter account.  Careers became based on the number of likes, connects, and follows that marketers could point to as measures of success.

For business, social media are sales tools, branding mechanisms, sources of customer feedback, and (among the more savvy) a competitive analysis tool.  For all the talk about “customer engagement,” businesses are on social media for one purpose, and one purpose alone:  to increase revenues.  And now marketers are rushing to find their ever-elusion pot of gold in social media advertising.

So let me be among the first to say it:  Social media advertising is going to be another major disappointment for business – particularly for consumer businesses.

People simply do not go on Twitter or Facebook or Pinterest, etc. looking for ads.  They don’t expect them, and they don’t want them.  They are there for their own socially-related reasons.  We are already finding that most Facebook ads are ignored; they are expensive white noise to people who are conducting social intercourse.  And do you really imagine that a barrage of ads on Twitter feeds isn’t going to stimulate the recipients to simply “unfollow” or block the sender?

Marketers need to be aware of two very basic rules:

♦       Just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done.

♦        All marketing exists in a context.  An approach that works well in one medium will not necessarily work in another.

And for social media, the context has changed.  They are no longer experimental entities with the rules for behavior yet to be written.  The business social media stream now exists in parallel with the more personal social media stream.  Each of these streams has different priorities, different interests, and different norms of acceptable behavior.

For a business to ignore these distinctions, and transgress the norms, is a recipe for failure.







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