November 02, 2011

The Future of Social Media

One of the principles here at The Ad Contrarian is that we never make predictions. The primary reason for this is that it's way more fun to ridicule stupidity than generate it.

So today, we are not actually trying to predict what will happen with social media, instead we are just going to engage in a speculation about it. You understand the difference between a prediction and a speculation, right? A speculation is a prediction couched in candy-ass weasel-words that the author can wiggle his way out of when proven wrong. Consequently, this is a speculation.

It seems ridiculous to us now, but not that long ago having a company website was seen as a sure-fire route to wealth and fame. Companies were hysterically racing to get websites up and running.

Because it was new, sexy and everyone was doing it, a website became the top marketing priority for virtually every company on the planet. If you didn't have one you were doomed to imminent collapse. Clients were frantically looking for agencies to get websites created and launched.

Today, every company, former company,  proto-company, and bullshit-artist-trying-to-be-a-company has a website. Unless you’re an online store, it is highly likely that your website is just as lame, just as stultifying dull, and just as dusty and lonely as all your competitors’ websites.

But you try to keep it up and running and attractive because -- even though it gets very little attention from anyone but you -- the people who do visit it are thought to be genuine prospects. Whether this is true or not you mostly don’t know. But you think it’s true, so you play along.

For a good education in the true value of websites as differentiators, I suggest you take a quick pilgrimage through the websites of some big ad agencies and see how mundane they are. (Here are some examples: #1, #2, #3.) And remember, ad agencies are creative enterprises. Their websites are about 100 times more interesting than the average insurance company or muffler marketer. 

In fact, what most
non-transaction-based company websites have become is a necessary but not very bankable cost of doing business – like brochures, or business cards, or signage. You gotta have it, but you really don’t rely on it to generate a whole lot of revenue.

I have a hunch that's the future of social media. Once the hysteria wears off and the bubble starts deflating, a social media program will become another necessary cost of doing business, but not a huge differentiator or revenue generator. Already,
every company, former company,  proto-company, and bullshit-artist-trying-to-be-a-company has a Facebook page and a Twitter feed. Some even have blogs. Shut up.

From time to time, someone will have a terrific social media idea (e.g., Old Spice) that will be a hit and have a big impact on their business. But, just as today, they will remain the very rare exceptions.

For the most part, the millions of business enterprises with social media programs will muddle along using social media for customer relations and sales promotion -- legitimate and valuable uses -- but not a magic carpet ride to fame and wealth and brand building as promised by the hyperventilating jive talkers in the social media industry.

And if I’m wrong, no problem. This was just a speculation.

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