Archive for June 23rd, 2008

Social media: where the hell are we going?

Hands up who remembers the dotcom bubble burst of the late 90s? Recently, I’ve sometimes mused to myself on the possibility of it happening about but with social media. Every day, there’s a new social media app, often with a ridiculous name, to be discovered. And at least half of them I haven’t got a clue what to do with.

So it’s with a small degree of relief on my part to read Livingston Communications muse on a similar topic and conclude social media isn’t about to burst, but scale back a tad, probably shaking out some of the worse/more unsustainable sites.

It’s an excellent post, especially the first point:

“1) Too many communicators have the shiny object syndrome, yet don’t have domain expertise. That means we’re seeing a lot of bad social media this year. In turn, you can expect corresponding failures and a reaction against social media.”

One of the saving graces for social media, though, is many of the sites and applications seem to be born out of an idea of how to make something better or improve communication – something that will work for the group rather than immediately designed to make money. Take crowdstatus, a neat little site still in alpha – it was born out of the creator’s desire to make communication easier and it’s easy to see the potential uses. The note on the about page, to me, sums up this attitude nicely:

“This is a personal project for the moment so don’t ask me about business models :p”

Social media at the moment feels like its reached a tipping point of sorts. The secondary and tiertary adopters are now using these sites a lot more while some obvious cases, like Facebook, have gone beyond any expectations.

To some extent these new users will follow the early adopters, but they’re also likely to be more discerning. They’ve not drunk the initial kool-aid and will be asking questions such as “How can this help me in a personal/professional manner?”

I’ve started training, in the loosest sense, colleagues on how to get the best out of social media and, along the way, they’ve fired some difficult, direct questions at me. Sometimes it’s easy to show the value of a site like Twitter to PR, or netvibes to your personal way of working.

But with many of the other sites it’s somehow difficult to justify exactly why it’s worth spending time getting to grips with it and often it’s just a case of play and see if it suits you.

And this is where the shakedown comes. If you’ve got an overcrowded marketplace, there will undoubtedly be some casualties and financiers tighten their belts and new users ask why they should be using two or three similar applications.

Take Plurk, which I like but don’t use often, against Twitter, which is unreliable but has embedded itself in my life. It’s hard to tell if it’ll become Facebook to Twitter’s MySpace or Betamax to Twitter’s VHS. The most common question I’ve had in the past few weeks is ‘why should I use site x over site y?’ And there’s no good answer. At that point, I drop my geeky semi-early-adopter mentality and start thinking about if site x or site y is more useful to me in a work setting. And I’ll confess sometimes I get overloaded with the amount of new sites that pass by my eyes and wonder how or why the hell I should keep them all going.

Blogging is now embedded in online culture. Sites like Facebook have become part of our everyday lives, regardless of how much you use it. Twitter’s becoming a great source of not just conversation but also breaking news and news gathering.

I’m not quite sure what the final point is, other than that social media is here to stay but will eventually fall back into line with the basic laws of economics and the markets. And, at that point, as Livingston Comms say, “a more measured, intelligent debate will take place.” It’s a debate I’m looking forward to, even if the enthusiasm for social communication tools is fun at the moment.


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June 2008

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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com