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Deathwatch: Social Media Innovation is Not Dying

With apologies to Monty Python...

In the late 90s, some organization declared the World Wide Web was over. The prediction of the web’s demise was based on the decline in the number of corporate press releases announcing the launch of a new corporate website. (I have tried to find that report. I’ve come up empty, but my memory of the report is so clear that I’m willing to bet real money that the prediction happened.)

Of course, the web was not in decline. It had just become so common for companies to have websites that announcing it not only didn’t get you any coverage, it made you look behind the times. (“Oh, you’re finally getting around to launching a website, are you?”)

It wasn’t long after that when you stopped hearing so much about the development of new web technologies. The really cool stuff in any new technology tends to come early in it life when the big advances—like being able to watch video on the web—catch everyone’s eye. But neither the decline in site launch announcements nor the slowed pace of innovation signaled that we had somehow moved into a post-web era.

The assertion that the web was over back in the late 90s came to mind as I read Geoff Livingston’s intriguing post claiming that we have entered a post social media era. Geoff’s a smart guy whose posts spark some deep thinking. But I don’t agree that we’re in a post social media era, or even close to one. Geoff listed seven reasons, but I want to address only the first two in this post.

Firs, Geoff argues:

New social networking apps, while still developing, are not generating huge investment rounds or attention anymore. Heck, even the most mainstream of social networking apps are retooling to meet the new mobile visual Internet. As the old adage goes, follow the money.

His second reason notes that the social media IPO craze might be drawing to a close. “No big U.S. social media start-ups are on the horizon with the exception of Pinterest,” he says.

Reddit For {fill in the blank}

In a comment, I challenged the idea that innovation was over, and Geoff replied that incremental advances will continue, but that the big money will flow toward other types of tools. I don’t disagree that the Internet of Things and the age of context will drive a lot of innovation and investment, but doesn’t signal an automatic and conurrent decline in social media innovation.

I just learned, for example, of the launch of a relatively new site called Product Hunt, which founder Ryan Hoover calls “Reddit for products.” It’s a pure social media play, a community built around new products in which community members vote new products up or down and comment on them. According to TechCrunch, Product Hunt is in the current Y Combinator batch.

Product Hunt isn’t the only “Reddit for Blank” tool that has found its footing in recent months. I have reported on Betterific, which you could call Reddit for customer feedback. There are few tools more social media-centric than Reddit, which is serving as a model for a lot of new sites.

The rise of the professional social network

Professional-centric social networks are another category attracting investors. Forty percent of all doctors in the U.S. use Doximity, which recently was financed to the tune of $50 million. College students are flocking to Piazza, which raised $8 million. RallyPoint raised $5.3 million; it’s billed as “LinkedIn for the military.” It was only in 2012 when GitHub, a social network for software engineers, raised $100 million.

There are other social media companies getting healthy investment rounds, including Inbilin, a social networking voice call app, which raised $15 million. A Chinese social shopping platform, Mogujie, raised $200 million. Why haven’t we heard of these? Why aren’t they all over the news? They’re just not as sexy as Facebook and Pinterest were when they were new. They represent more infrastructure than the networking itself. And, let’s face it, we’re kind of bored by new innovations for maturing technologies.

Investment isn’t the only sign that social media innovation continues unabated, even if the most of the sexiest innovations were introduced back in the early, heady days of social media. The Wall Street Journal points out that Facebook continues to soar among consumers, the adoption of social media in the enterprise still hasn’t ramped up. The integration of social media into work processes is taking longer than expected, and a lot of innovation is still to come on that front.

Much of the innovation currently taking is wrapped up in the shift to mobile, with Facebook and other social networks launching apps. These may be single-purpose apps—consider Instagram, which Facebook acquired—but they’re still pure social plays.

Baking social media into the web

Nothing, however, speaks more to the continuing rise of social media than the announcement a few days ago that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has launched an initiative to standardize social networking technology into the web. The W3C effort will “create a standard way of building social-network operations into the Web,” according to C|Net. This includes “adding friends, commenting, and sharing updates with text, photos, and video,” and will also feature the ability for multiple sites to federate.

As B2B marketers continue to struggle figuring out social media, C-suites and boards of directors just begin paying attention to it as a high-level responsibility, and enterprises grapple with how employees use it, it seems counterintuitive to suggest we have already moved beyond social media.

A point on a continuum

Part of my perspective is based on the fact that I have been watching the way people engage with each other online since 1985 when I first logged on to a BBS. After that came Compuserve and AOL, and then the web. Some people argue that Compuserve forums (like the PR and Marketing Forum, which rocked) and usenet news groups all fit into the social media category. For me, though, social media is defined largely by the tools that made it possible for the average person to engage without gaining more technical prowess than they wanted to.

There is ample data to make it clear that what others say about brands and products drives purchase decisions. In his book, “Absolute Value, Emanuel Rosen and co-author Itamar Simonson argue that getting third-party consumer reviews should be a marketer’s most important task. As one review of the book noted, “Consumers are acutely aware of both consumer and expert reviews. If a particular product does not meet the expectations of the consumer, loyalty will not hold consumers in a franchise.”

As I noted in an earlier post, a Dutch study found that positive consumer reviews of your organization will lead the reviewer’s friends and followers to form equally favorable views, and that the more people use social media, the more likely they are to engage with your brand. The study pointed out that, because social media use is surging among all demographic groups, this represents a huge opportunity to boost your company’s reputation.

And let’s not overlook the fact that brands, institutions and individuals continue to find innovative ways to apply social media to various opportunities and challenges.

None of which sounds like a post social media era to me. The desire to connect and share online predates social media; it’s a continuum with no end in site. Social media in five years will most likely look completely different than it did five years ago. That’s what happens on continuums.

The greatest risk with adopting a post social media mentality is that business leaders will have another excuse to dismiss it.

That would be a fatal mistake.

Join The Conversation

  • Robin Carey's picture
    Jul 27 Posted 2 years ago Robin Carey

    Great post, Shel.  And terrific counter-argument.  I would also add that when you consider investment into the so-called "collaborative economy" companies like Uber and others, which are highly dependent on social sharing, ratings, and data, then you have an even stronger argument for the resiliance of "social."

    Jeremiah Owyang, of course, is brilliant on this subject.

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