Ten years ago I was a technology journalist reporting on the rapidly booming, and then rapidly collapsing, internet industry. It was an interesting time – almost overnight the internet went from being an amazing, game changing technology that could seemingly generate massive profits out of thin air, to becoming the stupidest idea in history that only a fool would invest in.
Then, about five years later, everybody realised that the truth was probably somewhere in between these two extremes, and the internet might just be a good idea after all. A few years before the internet boom, bust and bounceback, analyst group Gartner described this behaviour pattern as a “hype cycle” which looks something like this:
I’m starting to wonder if we aren’t following the same path with the social media boom. I’m not arguing that social media doesn’t have a huge amount of potential for brands, but it does sometimes seem like the people who are talking it up the most are often the people who understand it the least.
Perhaps the best indicator that things are starting to get a bit out of hand is that self proclaimed social media experts (who remind me a little of glassy eyed self help gurus) are now a running joke in the industry. The acerbic Sean376 is currently pricking inflated egos all over the social media obsessed PR industry, and I’m seeing ever more articles like “The 5 signs you’re talking to a social media douchebag”. And let’s not forget this gem.
It’s all funny stuff and it cuts a bit close to the bone, which is the sad thing. Just like the web-cowboys in the nineties convinced ignorant company execs that a few pages of HTML would turn their ailing brands into dotcom cash-fountains, social media charlatans are overpromising and under-delivering all over again. Once companies realise that their shiny new Twitter profile isn’t going to make them hundreds of millions overnight, like it did for Dell, then the whole industry tips just a little further towards the Trough of Disillusionment.
Maybe it’s unavoidable, maybe being at the mercy of the hype cycle is the price you pay for working in an interesting industry. My gut feeling is that we’re not close to the peak yet, and my reasoning for this is that we’re only now starting to see significant numbers of brands investing in social media activity.
Based purely on my own speculation, I suspect that over the next 12-18 months we’ll see a rapid increase in businesses focusing on social media marketing, although I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess at what happens after that. Hopefully businesses will get enough value from their early experiments to consider the investment worthwhile, so that a backlash is avoided. But if a lot of companies are left wondering why social media didn’t deliver as promised, we’re all in for a rough time.