Welcome to the season of Social media discontent. Social media is no longer the darling marketing executives have become accustomed to. The bloom is off the rose. Social media is actually following the normal course of technology adoption. Technologies are discovered, become overhyped, fall from favor when they cannot live up to the hype only to eventually find a niche where they can provide real value. Gartner describes this process as a “Hype Cycle.” (More on hype cycles here.)

hype cycle
Modified from Gartner source

Social media has matured to the point where marketers are realizing that it is not all it was hyped to be. And, to be fair, social media has changed too. For example, it’s less social. Twitter is closed to third-party development and you now have to buy your audiences on Facebook. Do you remember discussions on whether a company could forgo a website in favor of a Facebook page? Those discussions look silly now.

Twitter – On a Highway To Hell

I touched on this is in my last post, Twitter continues to sputter. Growth of monthly active users is flat and the stock is in decline [TechCrunch]. A recent story in the Atlantic points out that Twitter is less social than in years past. There is less conversation and more broadcasting by brands. Now that Twitter is searchable and tweets can be taken out of context, people are less likely to have an open and honest conversation. In my circle of social media professionals, I find much less use of Twitter as a communication tool. Twitter users who once posted regularly now only post infrequently.

From the Atlantic article:

At some point early last year, the standard knock against Twitter—which had long ceased to be “I don’t want to know what someone’s eating for lunch”—became “I don’t want everyone to see what I have to say. – Source: The Atlantic

Less Sharing on Facebook Too

According to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal, users are continuing to visit Facebook but they are sharing much less. Since Facebook generates revenue based on visits not sharing, this isn’t a short-term problem, but if sharing continues to decline it does become a revenue problem. To combat the decline in sharing Facebook is prompting users to share more. As a NHL Boston Bruins fan, if I’m on Facebook while a game is on, it asks me to share that I’m watching the game. Another share prompt is for photos. As seen in the example below, Facebook urges users to share photos from your camera or Instagram.

34% of Facebook users updated their status, and 37% shared their own photos, down from 50% and 59%, respectively, in the same period a year earlier. – Source: WSJ

So, just as with Twitter, Facebook activity has slowed, albeit less dramatically. I don’t suggest that Facebook is in decline, only that users are using it differently and perhaps less “socially.” That platform has matured as has user interest.

Walking up the “Slope of Enlightenment”

Although Twitter has stumbled significantly and user expectations of Facebook are changing, there are bright spots that indicate that Social media is maturing and generating value for companies and consumers.

Customer obsession

Credit where credit is due. Social media ushered in a new era of marketing. One in which the customer really is king. Customer needs began taking precedence over brand messaging. In fact, If you told me “Customer Experience” eclipsed “Social Media” in terms of hype I’d believe you (or maybe a better example is “Content Marketing?”.) Social media will remain at the center of the customer experience through social tactics like listening and customer management. Social media began marketing’s obsession with the customer experience.

New Service Models

Yes, You can now order a pizza via emoji – . It’s an innovative approach that connects customer ordering profiles to their social media and reduces the friction of ordering – facilitated by social media. Now if only I could get a local craft brewery to do the same with this .

Are You Marching Up The Slope of Enlightenment?

So all is not lost. Social media is just growing up. I notice this maturation affecting my own use of social media. I share less and I’m more careful than ever in what I share. I expect most executives are beyond asking about the ROI of social media and will now only fund social media initiatives that are fully connected to and aligned with broader marketing initiatives that facilitate business outcomes.