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3 Waves of Social Marketing -- and Why Social Activation Is What Matters Today

Social ActivationThere are 1.5 billion members of social platforms globally, with most of them interacting with social networks regularly, according to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute. It may come as a surprise to some that what took commercial television 30 years to achieve – getting to 50 million viewers, took Facebook just a year, and Twitter – a short nine months.  Social platforms and technologies have profoundly changed the way we connect, interact, discover information and products, and go about our daily lives.  So it should not be that surprising that social marketing has managed to undergo its own revolution, going through three distinct stages, with the last stage being the Social Activation one – where the social consumer is finally interacting with their brands of choice where they want and how they want to.

The three waves of social marketing are:

  • Wave One: The Listening Wave – started circa 2006 to present
  • Wave Two: The Publishing Wave – emerged circa 2008/2009 to present
  • Wave Three: The Social Activation Wave – circa 2009/2010 to present

Let’s look at each wave individually:

The Listening Wave

In the early 2000’s, something big started to happen. MySpace founders got together in 2003. Mark Zuckerberg started TheFacebook in 2004. Jack Dorsey created Twitter in 2006. By the midpoint of the decade, social media took off, and companies began to take notice.

As millions of users flocked to these sites, shamelessly sharing information publicly (before security concerns set in), companies struggled to sift through the endless stream of information. And while Facebook’s Newsfeed seemed like an integrated part of daily life, it was (and is still) not an easy method for filtering information and unraveling consumer insights. 

Enter social media monitoring companies. These platforms allowed brands to quickly home in on information relevant to their brand, creating a portal into real-time news and consumer opinions. The first wave of social marketing remains important to this day, a fact supported by the recent $326 million purchase of Radian6. However, with the continual increase in social media adoption, companies realized they needed to produce content to keep up with their customers’ wants and needs.

The Publishing Wave

Monitoring consumer conversations on social media allowed companies to glean insight into what customers wanted, but in order to actually influence those customers or engage them in meaningful ways, brands needed to add their own voice to the mix. As happens with all major pain points, new companies rose to the challenge and created social publishing and marketing platforms to empower brands to push their content across multiple social networks.

Such platforms equip brands to claim a foothold in the social media landscape, and as with the social media monitoring companies, some have recently been acquired by tech leaders looking to increase their social offerings.  Two prominent trends became apparent with this round of acquisition:

  • Large enterprises like and Oracle chose to acquire startups rather than compete with them to claim greater control of the social space. purchased Radian6 and Buddy Media, while Oracle purchased Involver and Vitrue.
  • The stakes got higher – spent $689 million on Buddy Media, double what they paid for Radian6.

The Social Activation Wave

Social consumer activation represents the next phase in social marketing. Although most businesses today have social presence on the big social networks such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, and are actively publishing content, they are not effectively reaching or engaging the social consumer. For example, Facebook announced earlier this year that only 16% of brand posts are being seen by fans of brands. Additional research became available that revealed that consumers are looking for specific content from brands in social  – in a post on Forbes, Steve Olenski shared that 65% of fans and followers connect with brands for the games, contests and promotions.

Such insights clearly point to how marketing continues to evolve and adapt to the needs of the social customer. Best practices for activation include campaigning with promotions, contests, games, and deeper engagement and conversation, but in order to succeed, brands need to conduct these campaigns in the customers’ own territory. Social activation means that instead of brands pushing consumers to their own social destinations, brands need to meet the consumer – in the newsfeed, on Twitter, Google +, or as consumers visit and read blogs. Meeting the consumer with the right offer at the right time means that brands will not only engage with their current customers, but brands will have the ability to reach into the social graphs of those customers who eagerly share content they find valuable with their own friends and connections.

As pressure builds for social media marketers to demonstrate solid ROI (or better yet, ROF: Return on Fan), social activation platforms will play a key role in the ultimate success of social media as a legitimate venue for business.


Join The Conversation

  • BlairHeavey's picture
    Aug 21 Posted 4 years ago BlairHeavey


    Thanks for reading my post.  I would consider offline events as offline social activation:) My post was focused on how to engage the social customers in digital social networks but I completely agree that social activation is a broader strategy that companies need to explore as part of their marketing mix. Good luck, Blair

  • Sandra Tedford's picture
    Aug 21 Posted 4 years ago Sandra Tedford

    What about meeting customers at offline events and running contests to drive consumers to engage online? Would this qualify as social activation?


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