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Some of you might be familiar with the typical trend of new technology adoption, best characterized by Gartner’s hype cycle. The technology is introduced, quickly undergoes increible inflation of expectations, only be dashed by naysayers before emerging as something useful, albeit of less promise than at the peak of its hype. Social media has undoubtedly followed that curve until now, and a new study gives us a clue as to where it is landing on the hype cycle right now.


I’m a member of the Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG), which published its 3rd Annual Marketing Trends Study (link to PPT) back on March 2nd, had several interesting findings in its survey of marketing executives (conducted early this year):

  • Social media is viewed as even more important now than last year
  • Social media is, however, one of the buzz words marketers are most tired of hearing
  • About 70% of marketers are planning new social media initiatives in 2010

At first glance, these findings challenge us to place social media into any particular phase of Gartner’s hype cycle. I mean, if they think it is more important, it might be at its peak expectations, but if they are tired of hearing about it, it might be in the trough, but if they are going to do it, then is it emerging to have real usefulness?
I think the answer lies in the steep adoption curve that we are seeing for new technologies. Where previous technologies took decades (or at least one decade in the case of the Internet) to reach 3/4 of the population, newer technologies move much faster, with social media being no exception. What you see now is that the disparity between the market segments (early adopters, the majority, laggards) is more of a factor than the overall technology adoption itself.
Here’s what I mean. When the Internet took a decade to be adopted broadly, you could see the boom and bust cycles quite easily. When social media is being adopted broadly in half that time, the early adopters are heading to usefulness before the laggards have even bought the initial hype. So the answer to where social media is in the curve: Everywhere. Where you think it is becomes more of a personality test than anything else.
So, what am I really expecting? The early adopters are already pushing to usefulness. One of the other findings of the MENG study is that Marketing ROI is the most important idea the executives see today. If social media can stop being a buzz word and starts being a way to get ROI, I think we’ll push through the hype cycle faster than the technologies that have come before it.
So where do you think we are on the hype cycle? More importantly, what does that opinion say about what you and your company are doing with social media? Understanding that answer might be the most important one of all.

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Mike Moran

About Mike Moran

Mike Moran has a unique blend of marketing and technology skills that he applies to raise return on investment for large marketing programs. Mike is a former IBM Distinguished Engineer and the Senior Strategist at Converseon, a leading social consultancy. Mike is the author of two books on digital marketing, an instructor at several leading universities, as well as a Senior Fellow at the Society of New Communications Research.

8 replies to this post
  1. I think that the reliance upon social media sites has certainly levelled out but it would appear that they still have their uses.

  2. Political candidates who use social networking sites? Remember that they are doing all kinds of things offline to drive traffic online to their page, network, blog whatever. The fact that there was a Democratic presidential debate through YouTube is a very good sign that this way of getting exposure is for real. But it wasn’t YouTube alone – it was YouTube in concert with CNN that brought it tons of attention. Online strategies work better when they are dovetailed with offline strategies.

  3. Well right now, we see that social media is being extensively used in different markets. Like for marketing, it’s just one aspect. I agree that these online strategies will work best if offline campaigns are involved for reinforcement.

  4. depends on the sector you’re working in. For marketing, probably in the trough. For government/non-profs, hasn’t peaked yet, not even close. They are still in the “how can social media be useful to me and not waste my time” phase.
    We had conferences 6 years ago with IT types talking about how web 2.0 was passe. It’s hit adoption, what, last year maybe? (or at least popular mention and notice).
    Until adoption of social media for personal utility becomes ubiquitous, (if it does), only “early adopters” will be using it for the largest of NPO’s.
    Though there are success stories for corporate sector, and even in NPO’s, not until Gen Z enters work force (or when Gen Y/Millenials are in positions of authority) will we see sea change. All we seem to know now is that tweeting about tweeting gets you followers, and social media is successful as a form of infinite loop marketing, where those using it are learning how to refer to those referring to them.

  5. Great comment, Dan. I think it also varies greatly by geography, too. I notice that many European countries are becoming as interested in social media as the US, but Asia and especially Latin America are behind.

  6. I like the graph. Social media is simply here. It is the technology behind it, what you can do with it, how it is controlled and especially what should not be done with it, which will ultimately change the landscape. My best friends are still my best friends and my daily time is still limited. It is the way how I decide to use my time. Nowadays for a growing number of people there is so much more of everything, that choosing becomes an art form. I found that if you don’t choose social media is more a burden than a pleasure. And the more frequent you receive / see / read information, the less relevant all that information becomes, even if it is relevant. I don’t need others to send me information: if I need information, I can easily find it myself, but finding the best quality of information in the shortest amount of time – that is still a big issue which is not addressed by social media (yet).

  7. Interesting. But the thing I would question is implicit in what you say. You assume there is some “usefulness” that the early adopters can “push”. In a hard commercial sense I am yet to see “usefulness” of social media. It does not exist except for the ability of the novelty of the tech to sell itself to users. this is a curiosity factor, not a utility factor. Social media from the view of a someone who is not the “insider” you are is that I see it following exactly along the Gartner Curve. Placing social media on that curve properly depends on an evaluator who is not themselves biased. $$ generating utility of this technology is yet to be shown or even explained and $$$ are all that count in the end.

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