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I would like to talk about an inflection point in social media that requires pause. I am not suggesting that there will be a social media 2.0 or 3.0 for that matter. Nor do I see the term social media departing our vocabulary any time soon. After all, it was recently added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Instead, what I would like to discuss is the end of an era of social media that will force the industry to mature. It won't happen on its own however. Evolution will occur because consumers demand it and also because you're willing to stake your job on it.
From Social Network Fatigue to Deals Fatigue to Follow Fatigue, businesses are facing a crossroads at the intersection of social and media. Following the path of media continues a long tradition of what Tom Foremski refers to as "Social Media as Corporate Media." Following the path of social is a journey towards relevance.
As Foremski states, "Social media is not corporate media...if corporations try to turn social media into a corporate sales or marketing channel then they risk losing the naked conversations, and the insight into customer behaviors."
His point is that there's more to social media than clever campaigns and rudimentary conversations. Talking isn't the only thing that makes social media social. Just like adding Facebook, Twitter and other sharing buttons will not magically transform static content into shareable experiences. Listening, learning and adapting is where the real value of social media will show its true colors. Listening leads to a more informed business. Engagement unlocks empathy and innovation. But it is action and adaptation that leads to relevance. And, it never ends.
Indeed, there really are more examples of media than there are that of social media in many of the celebrated examples out there today. Even though distributing corporate media in social channels sets the stage for dialogue, there really isn't much that's social about it. In fact, study of many social media initiatives have led me to believe that much of what we benchmark against is actually anti-social in its approach.
The future of social media comes down to one word, "value." Without it, businesses will find it much more difficult to earn and retain friends, fans and followers (3F's). As adoption of social networks soared in previous years, growth is now plateauing. eMarketer estimates that Facebook growth will hit only 13.4% this year after experiencing 38.6% acceleration in 2010 and a staggering 90.3% ascension the year before. Facebook isn't alone in its sobriety either. The rate of Twitter user adoption fell from 293.1% growth in 2009 to 26.3% this year.
Don't get me wrong, people are still embracing social networks. However, the severity of competition for consumer attention is now unmistakable. Once liberal with their likes, Retweets, and follows, consumers are becoming much more guarded and realistic. Therefore brands will now have to more effectively listen to markets to make more informed decisions about how social media impacts the enterprise and in turn customer experiences.
The GlobalWebIndex "Wave 5 Trends" report delivers insight into how consumers are using social networks and technology in general. According to the report, growth in social network usage among 16- to 24-year-olds in the US is stalling. And, in a few countries usage within this group is declining. In fact, one of the key insights shared in the report is subduing, "Facebook is no longer the one stop shop for the total internet experience."
However, the report is not a harbinger of social networking's demise. It is merely a lens into how behavior is changing. This is important for any business to realize that business as usual in social networks is in fact anything but.
Between June 2009 and June 2011, the following changes were noted in Facebook activity:
- Uploading videos is experiencing a modest increase around the world up 5% in the U.S. and 7.6% worldwide.
- Installing apps is on the decline, down 10.4% in the U.S. and 3.1% worldwide.
- Sending virtual gifts may not be gifts worth giving after all, with numbers declining 12.9% in the U.S. and 7.5% around the world.
Twitter on the other hand is a rich exchange for information commerce, where links become a form of digital currency. For example, 45% share an opinion about a product or brand more than once per day. Another 34% of Twitter users also share a link about a product or brand more than once per day.
When asked what consumers want from brands, knowledge and entertainment soared to the top of the list. Additionally, The GlobalWebIndex Wave 5 Trends report tells us that online consumers want brands to provide services that fit with their lifestyle. They also want brands to listen to them.
What can we learn of this?
1) Businesses must first realize that there's more to social media than just managing an active presence, driven by an active editorial calendar. Listening is key and within each conversation lies a clue to earn relevance and ultimately establish leadership.
2) Consumers want to be heard. Social media will have to break free form the grips of marketing in order to truly socialize the enterprise to listen, engage, learn, and adapt. You can't create a social business if the business is not designed to be customer-centric from the outside-in and the inside-out.
3) Social media becomes an extension of active listening and engagement. Strategies, programs, and content are derivative of insights, catalysts for innovation, and messengers of value. More importantly, social media becomes a platform for the brand and the functions that consumers deem mandatory. From marketing to HR to service to R&D, brands will expand the role they play in social networking to make the acts of following and sharing an investment in a more meaningful relationship.
The end of Social Media 1.0 is the beginning of a new era of business, consumer engagement, and relevance.