August 02, 2011, 5:12 PM — Andy Grove called it when he announced that the McLuhanistic challenge is: two eyes, 24 hours. That's all you have; that's all I have. Yes, there are personal multicast apps that can pound your message in a half dozen media at a time. For those of listening on those six channels, you're overplayed.
There's a blushing group of social media industry washers all aglow and a-blush that social media is blossoming. Having watched a number of software components mature, I find this view a bit like the intergenerational view of music -- my parent's generation of stuff is totally for dorks. Social media is hitting a long plateau. The seed money isn't over, but the big hurdles are. Yes, it was successful, and in a huge way. But now, the rapid growth phase is over. Now it's time to milk the cow, as the MBA students might say.
A number of factors have lead to the current plateau. There are those that believe that some recent product introductions prove that the big growth of social media has just begun. Nay, I say: we're in the refinement stage, and much of the beachhead has been won already. Getting people to change will be difficult. I believe that Microsoft has Skype and Facebook up their marketing sleeve, but this is a post-battle position, not a market growth harbinger.
The plateau isn't about introverts versus extroverts. Nor is it about you. It's about social media saturation, and some of the more interesting facts about how we behave, in my opinion, and what that means to five years from now. Let's do a little extrapolation regarding what we're seeing, and how it relates to market growth:
1) You likely started considering social media with MySpace. It was the ultimate cool post-GeoCities home page, with wallpaper, music, friends, pithy remarks, your coolness, and links to all of your friends. Friends are important. Friends will be a theme. MySpace is now FailedSpace, where most people that had a place, left it. It's one of the really big initial digital ghost towns. Some pages haven't been updated in years. Yet they're still there, frozen in time, looking pretty embarrassing like the bellbottoms with embroidered flowers that your grandfather wore.
Plateau: The personalizing of a glorified home page with a dash of IM lead to boredom and bad business models.
2) Then there was Facebook, which was supposed to be far more "preppy". It was initially rumored that you had to go to a university or something to join. I watched early Facebook investor Jeff Pulver wax eloquent about it at his VON Conferences. VON stands for Voice On the Net. We do VON now, too. There were drinking games when Jeff spoke at VON about Facebook. Several people nearly drowned.
Plateau: Everyone that's going to arrive, has arrived; the monetizing has become difficult to sustain. We should have been taught early on to love to buy things on Facebook. It'll be tougher now to sell on Facebook.
3) We liked Facebook because it was chummy, and not full of tattoos and people with black vinyl tape over their boobs paying death metal, like MySpace. Interactivity among Facebook users seemed to be more genteel. This is a place where your grandmother could find you and smile, rather than call her attorney to write you out of her will.
Plateau: Facebook is no longer a club, and isn't exclusive.
4) But the 140 character magic and persistence of Twitter also prevailed. Although the Fail Whale greeted people many times a day, messaging and especially searching messages became the new succinct combination of Google and its own social hierarchy. Tweet, and you were cool, and if you actually learned what you were doing, you slipstreamed into a separate consciousness apart from all other social media: because it was as persistent as your new found communicator-> your phone, smart or dumb.
Plateau: those who get it, got it; those who don't get it, never will.
5) We pause now, and bow our heads for the traditional print services, who collectively and completely blew social online media, along with their sad friends, the Radio and Television Broadcasters. Twitter blew them down like a hurricane. The personal social messaging became strong, and for the lighter stuff, people started looking to Facebook. MySpace was still for hormones and anger, but it was slowly stewing in its own juices, unaided by its management, who just turned up the burners.
Plateau: Only a few publishers have made successful innovations into digital media; failed experiments abound. Twitter is raw, but can be obsessed and cool.
6) Enter the carpetbaggers, those that figured out how to embed links into their sites, so that they would appear to be cool and yank all of your friends to put into a window, usually on the right side of things, to show how all of your friends (no, your friends) were saying the same wonderful things. Coupons and deals and maybe even dates might be offered. There had to be a business model to leach some buckos from the quadrillion friends that everyone had on their respective media. There were the Sponsored Tweets. Then ecosystems of customer service people trolling to find and assuage then evaporate complaints as Twitter became a PR Analytics Engine. Screw phone calls, screw forums, watch Twitter feeds to figure out what your current (up to the last actual 30sec) reputation is. Some organizations now reach you more quickly on Twitter than any other medium, and often operate autonomously from other units in their same organization (are you listening, Yahoo? DO I HAVE TO TWEET THIS?).
Plateau: sales people are rarely good developers, and vice versa, so business models infuriate and languish.
7) But there are those that believe that they're wiser and more beautiful, and have especially more brain density and they'll + invent + Something + really + Beautiful + Featured Packed + with none of that harrowing anonymity ++++! People + will + start + making + + the metric + for comparison -- this all proving that Google never had an original thought in their heads. But they've become very good, even excellent, at marching on the shoulders of brilliance. Google will unlikely plateau: but they will rob you of your very privacy soul and that will scare you. But it is an elite club for the time being; see #3.