2188127164_6f818761ae_mIf you decide to explore the life of Alexander Graham Bell, you will find that he is described as a scientist, an inventor, and that he had a hand in creating the first telephone. On the other hand, if you look at some of the first people who started to use Twitter (that’s not “invent” but “use”) you are likely to find them described as a social media guru, an online a-lister, or a twelebrity.

In the grand scheme of things, social media is a tool much like the telephone. It enables conversation. It’s true that it enables conversation in different ways and via different platforms, but in the end, social media is just a different kind of phone. So how did we end up with social media “gurus”? I think it was a perfect storm of certain happenings. The Great Recession was making people feel hopeless and inspiring people to look for a silver bullet savior. Social Media was ridiculously exciting and new at the time. Many people had lost their jobs and social media seemed to pave the way to create new and thriving businesses. Finally, unlike the telephone, which requires people to talk off the cuff in real time, social media lets you think about what you want to say and craft the perfect statement (although not everyone takes advantage of this luxury). The people who jumped onto Twitter and Foursquare and Quora and Google Plus and gathered huge followings were able to present themselves as gurus simply because they “played” with the platforms enough to let them be truly knowledgeable. That aura was then carried over into books, and finally into the speaker circuit where face-to-face had to be faced once more.

The Proof is in the Pudding

Geoff Livingston of Tenacity 5 Media (and a prolific author) wrote a post recently called “7 Signs of the Post Social Media Era.” In the post, Geoff writes about social media stars, “Those that remain — new and old — seem challenged to offer a new conversation beyond Facebook and Twitter dalliances, influencers, and content marketing. While there may be new wrinkles every now and then, I see granular progress compared to the advancements made a few years ago.” Geoff notes that Jeremiah Owyang, who used to work for research group Altimeter and who really presented himself as a social media leader, has now changed his focus to working with companies involved in the collaborative economy. Scott Monty made news recently when he left his job as the online face of Ford to instead work for interactive agency SHIFT Communications.

Part of the issue may indeed be that a lot of the social media-centric information has been covered, beaten to death, kicked, and then beaten to death again. A Google search for “content marketing” yields 368,000,000 results. I think there is more to the decrease in twelebrities though. I think there is more of an explanation as to why more and more social media stars are leaving the spotlight and going to work for agencies or for specific companies. Are you ready?

It’s because the “social media thang” was all a house of cards, and now the cards are starting to fall. The last five-six years have seen the rise of the social media guru, but what has happened to companies over that time period in terms of marketing? A few have improved their situations. A few do social media marketing really well. However, if you look at surveys of CMOs, for example, you see the words “daunting” or “overwhelmed.” CMOs don’t know how to track the ROI of what their companies are doing. CMOs don’t know which platforms to focus on so they try to focus on all of them. CMO’s don’t know how to filter that “big data” they are getting entangled in, so they start to drown. The people who told companies to jump into all of these platforms, to not bother with plans or research – well, now they are having to face that they may have led some people and some companies astray. It’s time to face the music.

Today, the idea of there being a telephone a-lister or guru sounds preposterous. You use the phone to communicate something of import to another person. The trick is to figure out what you are going to communicate and why. Social Media and the gurus who figured out the early platforms have had their time in the sun. Now we need to get back to doing the actual work of figuring out what we want to communicate, not how. The surprising thing about altering that perspective is that often when you figure out what you want to communicate the how becomes transparently obvious.

I don’t think we are entering a post social media age. I think we are entering an age when social media simply will be what it always should have been – a communication tool.

Do you agree?

Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/adampenney/2188127164/ via Creative Commons