“The perception that social media usage is today’s cultural and communications phenomena has led many companies to invest in experimental programs, then struggle to invent ways to measure them …. Now consider the possibility that the reason why the numbers don’t add up is because people aren’t using social media as much as we were led to believe?”
When you spend all your time living & breathing social media, and hanging out with friends & colleagues who do the same, you can lose your perspective.
Social media has been oversold as an immediate *replacement* for traditional modes of communication. In my opinion, it has emerged as a complimentary channel and a disruptive force, but it’s clear to me that advertising & more traditional marketing & communications will be around for a long time yet. Save for a few exceptions, mass numbers still require mass media.
Social media has enabled more people to share their thoughts online, but I think it’s a basic fact of human nature that not everyone wants to step up on the soapbox. More does not equal ‘all’.
This doesn’t mean social media is not important. Take the Twitter data on dropoff: it’s not who joins that matters, it’s who remains. I think too much focus has been put on the raw numbers (which naturally include people testing out the various tools) and not enough effort looking at behaviour in these spaces online. If the people who remain are the people you most want to reach, that’s where you need to be. Period.
This is where I start to agree with the ‘death of advertising people’: it sounds impressive that you’ve “reached” millions through your mass-media spend, but how many of them are tuned into your message? It takes more than a media buy to break through the clutter. Social media is one way to differentiate, but it doesn’t work like traditional advertising. Reach is not guaranteed, it rarely delivers immediate results and contrary to popular belief it is neither free nor ‘easy’ (defined as being achieved without effort).
As for the blogosphere, I think it’s natural that the numbers shrank. It doesn’t mean that those people aren’t still communicating online, just that they’re not using blogging platforms to do it. When blogging was booming, it was the best tool around for the purpose. Then social networking sites got better, and for many online diarists, Facebook or other socnets became a better venue for this kind of expression. Once Twitter came along, many one-time bloggers who used it primarily for link-sharing discovered that Twitter was a better medium for them, and a number of them either ceased updating their blogs or reduced post frequency.
At this stage, social media spectatorship is mainstream (i.e. awareness of it, reading blogs, etc.) but the act of creating content and other more active contribution (even commenting on blogs) is still a niche activity. If the strategy is built around content creation, it is zeroing in on a niche audience. That’s not necessarily wrong, but it’s a mistake to assume that usage numbers are equivalent to the number of active creators on any platform. Forrester’s research also backs this up, and demonstrates an encouraging trend of an increasing number of content creators as more folks become comfortable with stepping up on the soapbox, and also as younger folks (who have fewer barriers to doing this) transition from communicating primarily to peers online to addressing a broader public.
The fundamentals of enabling self-expression, creating a sense of community and speeding up the transmission of ideas & information remain the same regardless of which platform is “hot.” Whether it’s blogging, Facebook, Twitter or another tool is a strategic decision based on personal preference, audience analysis and the technological environment of the time.