Normally, “boom and bust” or “bubble” is used to describe an economic phenomenon. Think of the dot-com boom and bust or the more recent housing bubble. As a review, a boom and bust or a bubble happens because people appraise companies or houses or other things at a higher value than what those companies or houses or other things really are worth. There is a mad grab in purchasing, prices skyrocket, but then, suddenly, outside forces bring everyone crashing back to earth. The bust happens. The bubble gets popped.
We may see an economic boom and bust where social media is concerned. Consider the price that Facebook recently paid for photo-sharing platform Instagram (one billion dollars) or how much Yahoo paid for blogging platform Tumblr (just over a billion dollars). However, our focus is not as much on this facet of what is happening in regards to social media use for marketing. Our concern is whether the “boom” in recommending social media as a means for, well, everything for companies may bust some time in the near future and how that would impact companies.
For us, it seemed like the “boom” phase for social media really began in 2009. Perhaps we are unduly influenced by the “social media revolution” video that launched that year. Social Media is not a fad, the video assures viewers. It will change and is already changing everything in the world. It also is worth noting that PC World called 2009 “The year of the social network.” As a marketing agency, we were excited about the potential of social media as a tool our clients could use, but we started seeing advice that did not make sense. For example:
This article on well-trafficked social media site Social Media Today, which proclaimed that if your business was not using social media, you were behind the 8-ball.
By 2010, businesses, especially B2C companies, were being admonished that they desperately needed Foursquare, a geo-tagging platform.
In 2011, well-known social media strategists like Jeremiah Owyang and David Armano were preaching the benefits of Q&A platform Quora.
As advice like this has continued to crescendo over the years, we end up with more recent articles that suggest that if you studied classical marketing, your expertise is no longer valued (that from Forbes). Then of course there is the 2013 craze, content marketing. You can learn why content marketing is more beneficial than traditional marketing , why content marketing is an “absolute must,” and why traditional marketing techniques don’t work on millennials (via HubSpot).
In addition to all of this advice that pits social media against more traditional marketing tools and approaches, some social media marketers have branded themselves so successfully online that they themselves have become self-proclaimed celebrities (a definite sign of a bubble). Take this recent comment pulled from a blog post regarding a new initiative from blogging platform Triberr: “Having a celebrity endorsement is a tremendously effective way of promotion. And bloggers are the celebrities in the online world.”
Social Media “gurus,” people who have been making their living offering social media consultation since, in some cases, 2007 or earlier, have done a superb job promoting two things; social media platforms and themselves. As a full-service marketing agency, this does not help us do our job better. If you work in the marketing department at your company, it probably does not help you out a lot either. While information about new social media tools and platforms is important, our guess is that right about now, as we emerge from the “Great Recession,” you are looking for meaningful advice about how to use all of these great tools to build your brand and cushion your bottom line.
After the dot-com boom and bust, the concept of online marketing did not disappear. Rather, expectations and perspectives regarding these new tools became more realistic. Companies began to look at online opportunities as potential tools rather than super sexy silver bullets. When we talk about a social media bust, we are not talking about Facebook or Twitter dying. What we are talking about, however, is that eventually, and we think soon, the gloss of social media will begin to tarnish. Companies, marketers like you, are going to increase the call for more actionable advice. Rather than “write awesome content,” companies are going to be asking, “And then what?” New social media platforms will still be interesting and exciting, but instead of jumping on board right away, companies may start asking, “Well, ok, will this help us increase sales MORE than what we are doing now?” Companies will start looking at what social media marketing consultants are basing advice on, and conferences and webinars designed (it seems) solely to sell books will no longer be deemed worthy of investment.
There are signs that this process has already begun. Consider this post by Tom Webster of Edison Research, which acknowledges that content marketing could fast be approaching a saturation point. The development of the new Content ROI Center we mentioned last week is also a step towards more actionable, real-world advice.
We have always offered customized advice to companies that approach us for marketing assistance and have never been on board with the concept of saying that any one marketing tool, social media or otherwise, is ideal for every single company. During the tough economic times the world has been through over the last few years, a sense of desperation, high unemployment, and the rise of new technology combined to create the “social media is all you need” bubble we are seeing now. It will be a tough transition for companies and individuals that banked everything on the social media “revolution.” The end result for those who can withstand the storm will be positive, however. And companies will get stronger for having endured the social media boom and bust.
Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinkpurse/5291302347 via Creative Commons