After a while, it becomes painfully obvious to me that the first phase of “social media” is ending. File this post under the chorus of dozens of people who’ve said the same thing in the past year, and I know it becomes a very rich choir indeed.
But the truth is, “social media” is not “new”, no longer a “revolution”, or just a “fun thing to do”, or a buzzword for snake oil salesman. It’s a now way of life. And it’s the way the Internet was designed to be used by Tim Berners-Lee when he created WorldWideWeb, the DARPA teams who helped to develop early network standards that became the backbone of the modern web.
But, as “social media” works into “social media” 2.0 (Web 2.0, 2.0? I shudder at the metaness), some critical changes need to be made to buy longer lasting relevance to the topic, without feeding the buzz words.
Definition. To me, social media IS people. And giving people easy to use tools to share the content they like is entertainment. And giving people the voice to shout back when they’ve had an unpleasant brand experience is powerful. And giving people the ability to create their own content is landmark. But what happens when people don’t care anymore? Apathy beyond just early adopters puts serious holes in the growth model of this thing called “social media”. And for those who want to use the medium for these uses, we should no longer put SM on a pedestal. Let’s change the definition to “people using the Internet”.
Standards. Without standards, how can people share their knowledge, and learn skills? Wwhat was online advertising like before the invention of CPM (cost per thousand), CPC (cost per click), CPA (cost per acquisition), the 468×60 (now more commonly the 728×90 or ROLLOVER ad)? How did people operate? Inefficiently. Social media needs to adopt the simplest solutions possible for business needs.
Performance. What happens when advertisers realized no one would click through on their banner ad that they’d paid a $65 CPM for? That industry collapsed, and was reinvented as “display advertising”. Google saw opportunity and reinvented the wheel, bought out competitors (including an About.com product I had worked on called Sprinks), and developed a self-service Cost Per Click engine that became AdWords, and is still responsible for the vast majority of their revenue. But, how can you measure performance if the vast majority of tools don’t have standards, are too costly, or are ill-suited to the task? The scalability on a campaign-by-campaign basis becomes difficult. And the race to develop one will give the “winner” a huge opportunity to own a niche space.
Analytics. When brands and campaigns want different things every time, the science of social media analytics fractures. How can you optimize against a campaign if there isn’t precedent? This is where the world of digital marketing and social media need to collide better, and putting social media out on it’s own makes it even more difficult. Do digital marketing stalwarts like “conversion rate” really have a place when you’re trying to increase fan count? Or do a new set of metrics need to be defined and standardized? Right now, it seems to be me that neither is happening in any realistic way, or is being well publicized. Without standard metrics, you end up with the same sort of digital doomsday described above. And the fallout triggers a bust-time, much like the dot-com bust of the early 00s.
Platforms. In all honestly, does everyone believe that in 10 years, we’ll still be seeing serious traffic on Facebook fan pages? No. This is the Internet — everything changes. The hardware, the platforms, the people who innovate. By then, it’ll just be one device, probably mobile, that allows you to filter as much or as little content/activity/events as we want.
“Filter failure.” Never have I heard so many people say “I need to unplug” as I have in the last 6 months. Simply put, with the flood of content now available, and the failure of filters to help us figure out what we want (see Clay Shirky’s piece on Filter Failure) leaves it up to us to decide too often what we want to care about. And more often than not, it’s easier to unplug completely than to subject ourselves to this “information overload”. People are turning off in bigger numbers to “always on”, and software solutions need to be increasing cognizant of that. “Spam the news feed” isn’t a growth strategy.
Mentorship. Right now, social media knowledge is held and used by a comparatively few people as compared with, say, people who can write HTML? Or people who can design a web page. But specialties only grow if people are able to learn them, and mentorship and dialog are the two quickest ways to share the love. This is a big reason why I teach “PR 2.0” at NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies and helped to organize SocialChangeCamp at last fall- because I don’t feel like it’s fair when knowledge that can be shared isn’t. Some call it competitive advantage. I lean towards the egalitarian approach. When knowledge is shared, everyone wins, and profit comes from delivering products, not buzzwords.
I think these are a small selection of things I think we can to build the fraternity of “experts” in the narrow niche of Social Media. What are some of yours?