Looking Back on a Decade in Social Media
We’re counting down to the 100th Social Media Breakfast here in the Twin Cities, a exciting chance to reflect on how social media has evolved since the Minnesota chapter, (currently the largest in the US!) was founded in 2008.
As a panelist at this anniversary event, I’m both excited and a little wary about taking the trip down memory lane.
Although the early days of social media were damn exciting and inspirational for me, much of that excitement was related to the fact that we were dealing with an exciting new communication medium that could potentially revolutionize how people communicated.
It was a promise that was, in my opinion, never fulfilled—a reality that bums me out to this day.
Sometimes a blank slate is terrifying
You see, back in 2008, 2009, and 2010 people’s minds were on fire with ideas on how to use this new medium for things like product development, sales, public relations, and marketing. During those years, I sat around many conference tables and stood in front of many audiences speaking about ways people could shape and harness all of that potential.
However I wasn’t alone in those rooms.
Accompanying these discussions was always the undercurrent of fear—fear that this new terrain was too scary, un-policed, untested, and unstable.
- If you knew exactly what kind of products your customers wanted, then you’d have to go ahead and develop those products.
- If you could access a feed of the inside thoughts of your best sales leads, then you’d have to monitor that feed and change your sales process accordingly.
- If you could listen to the thousands of voices demanding answers after your company made a public mistake, then you’d have to give them some.
- If you realized your marketing personas were not accurate—that the real world people who liked your company thought and acted much differently—then you’d have to change those personas.
Basically people were facing a harsh realization that, although social media was creating new opportunities, it was also creating new work. A lot of new work.
This work often entailed some trial and error, some rapid prototyping and course corrections, and some seriously uncomfortable in-house conversations. (For example, what exactly is our protocol if an employee trashes our company on their personal Facebook account? Also OMG, what if ALL of our employees are doing that? HOW WOULD WE EVEN KNOW IT’S HAPPENING????)
A fork in the social media road
By the early “2000 and teens” we were in the midst of a period of both expansion (the number of social media platforms available, the amount social media was being integrated into companies, the ways the medium could be monetized) and streamlining (overwhelmed companies started to syndicate content, outsource community management, and automate postings).
After awhile it felt like the medium reached a philosophical fork in the road. There were two options before us…
- We could lean into all of this fear, take some chances, and start making some fundamental changes in how we did business, OR
- We could continue with business as usual and just stick ads on social media like it was TV or radio.
If you work in marketing and communications today you already know we ultimately did not take the “road less traveled by.” We took the one that was comfortable, tested, and safe.
As a result, the past few years I’ve seen less experimentation, innovation and excitement in social media, but more rehashing of the same tired words of wisdom first spouted nearly a decade ago, like…
Social media is about being SOCIAL.
Don’t just talk about yourself all the time, share other people’s content, too.
When someone talks to you, talk back.
Yes, I’ll admit many amazing things still happen on social media, (If they didn’t, none of us would keep using it) but it no longer feels revolutionary. Perhaps that is simply the natural lifecycle of any new life-changing invention. (Or perhaps it’s due to my spending years brainstorming with great thinkers about what social media could be, instead of sitting in corporate America accepting it for what it was.)
All I know is I’m finding myself a little torn and nostalgic a decade into my work with social media. So don’t be surprised if you see me at #SMBMSP100 with a smile in my face, but also some sadness in my eyes.