September 30, 2011

En route to Social Media 2.0?

On 2007 I wrote an article co-authored by my Master student Stefan Fountain* (published in 2008 in the Journal of Direct, Data and Digital Marketing Practice) arguing that businesses could use efficiently the Social Media (the term Web 2.0 was more popular at that time) as Marketing tools. As you might remember at that time businesses were looking puzzled and helpless to the alarming signs of growing customer empowerment through the Social Media Revolution. For me and those following the developments closely at that time, was clear that the Social Media will be the next big thing in the Internet evolution and the next frontier for business strategists.
Today, just four years later, the Web 2.0 / Social Media movement (described as Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernhoff) has been firmly embedded in the minds and hearts of online users and business strategists alike. The Social Media have also become substantial channels of political expression and tools of citizen empowerment beyond the control of states or regimes.   The online users using social media as part of their daily routines has reached the hundreds of millions. With more than 50% of consumers using “smartphones, social networks and other emerging tools” McKinsey talks in a recent report about the customer becoming a media junkie. On the other hand the staggering adoption rates of social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and LinkedIn by businesses has created a gold rush atmosphere reminding the age. In a recent report published here in Holland presenting the results of a survey about the adoption of the social media by businesses (Social Media Monitor, 2011) we read that by now 90% of the top 100 brands in Holland have now adopted the Social Media as part of their strategy, up from 67% last year;  48% of them has already a Social Media Manager in place. This has happened for more businesses very swiftly: only 5 from the brands that participated in the survey were active in social media longer than three years while the majority (56%) was active between six months and two years in social media.
While the picture looks encouraging we could ask ourselves whether the social media as marketing strategy is reaching its maturity stage and more importantly what will be the next step. I am afraid that soon we will detect the first signals of saturation: Any marketing tool when adopted by everyone is losing its effectiveness and uniqueness. The same I would expect to happen with the Social Media soon, mainly as a result of the unbalanced focus of businesses in 4-5 social media platforms and the very limited use of the social media as tools for promoting innovation, co-creation and mass customization. In the above mentioned Social Media Monitor we can clearly see that social networks are hardly used for R&D purposes. Furthermore there is little attention on the identification of Brand Promoters or Super Promoters as customer influencers while the social media domain is underutilized by most SMEs as (free) source of market intelligence.

Al in all a mixed picture on the status of social media as strategic marketing tools. On one hand the threat of saturation due to one-sided focus, on the other hand opportunities hardly utilized. Time for the Social Media 2.0 era?
* Constantinides E., Fountain S., 2008, Web 2.0: Conceptual foundations and Marketing Issues, Journal of Direct, Data and Digital Marketing Practice, vol 9, nr 3, pp. 231 – 244