The Stages of Social Media

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Stages of social mediaIs this the next big thing? Will I be left out? Should I be involved? Is it too late?

These are all things that we ask ourselves when it comes to participating in social media, and even more specifically, new sites or platforms as they are introduced.

Social media is just like all things. Whether it is a product, service, fad or even a TV show, there is a cycle to its life. There is a beginning, middle and eventual end. Yes, even in social media, there are HOT items that have come to an end. Remember Yahoo Chat Rooms? They no longer exist, a victim of spammers, inappropriate use and the next best thing. Remember MySpace? It died, for various reasons, but primarily due to competition from a better product, a little site that you may have heard of called Facebook.

The stages that we see in social media and decisions that must be made on implementation are no different than those we see every day in the new home industry involving product development and features. It requires monitoring of what is new in the market, making decisions on if it is something our customer base will respond to, making the decision of when to become involved and whether it is  necessary to implement in order to keep us relevant to our customers.

The generally acknowledged phases of a Social Media site are:

INTRODUCTION – This could also be called the “what is it” or “is it relevant to me” stage. During this stage, the primary users are usually what are known as Early Adopters. These are the people that pride themselves on their knowledge of all things related to social media. In the case of Google+, the social networking site developed by Google, receiving an invite to participate was considered a badge of honor since it was initially rolled out by invitation only. The popular photo bookmarking site Pinterest was initially available to users who received an invitation from a fellow user. All of this can lead to the perception of exclusivity and coolness on a strong application and result in initially fast growth.

This phase is a good time to investigate a site on a personal account level, as many times corporate accounts are not even available this early. This gives you the opportunity to view its features, relevance and how it relates to your business and demographic. In other words, “how can I use this?”  In the case of Pinterest, from the beginning it has been a heavily female skewed demographic user (83 percent) with a typical age of 35 to 44. In other words, Pinterest is a prime target for the home building industry.

Remember, new sites are launched constantly and most die in this stage, usually due to lack of relevance to target or bad user experience including design of the site. This is why it is important to keep your ear to the ground for feedback. but not to necessarily jump on the bandwagon and invest a lot of time with every new site that comes around. Facebook was launched in 2004, but how many people in the general public had heard of it prior to 2008? That is when it reached the next stage and started to grow.

GROWTH – The growth stage can best be defined as the “I’m hearing a lot about this” stage. You are hearing about it from people in different spheres of influence. It may be your coworkers, friends, kids or even the neighborhood babysitter that is doing the talking. It is not loud initially, but it is consistent and eventually becomes louder. It is cool, it is the place to be, the site to use.

At this point, a commercial presence is usually strongly underway. If not already involved, you should be. The basic landscape, style and voice of the site are well established, and you can develop strong tactics to be a presence on the site during the early parts of this stage. It is usually easier in this stage, versus later, to establish a following both personally and for business, as the people on the site still tend to view it as community versus commodity.

Growth to the site can be exponential during this time and changes to the site can be frequent. These are usually in response to investors of the site demanding a clear path to monetization and future profits. It was during this time period that we saw the growth of advertisements for company pages on Facebook and the introduction of promoted tweets on Twitter.

MATURITY – This is when your parents, grandparents, mailman and the bagboy at the grocery store are all on the site. Media outlets have incorporated it in to everything they do. At this point, being on the site becomes expected by certain buyer targets. Early adopters may be dropping off the site or at least decreasing usage, but this is more than made up by everyone else’s use.

Creating a new base for engagement becomes more difficult as most people have settled in to habits and are not looking for additional interactions unless it is very relevant to them and their life. The sheer volume of user interaction can also act as a filter to seeing your message and reaching your target. This is why a strong plan, usually involving more costs in the form of promotion, advertisement or increased staff to work harder for engagement and keep up with ongoing changes is often necessary.

If the site is to remain viable, new introductions of features are usually necessary to keep the site relevant to users and prevent increased user drop off.

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+ are in this stage. The photo filter/sharing app Instagram is headed there.

IRRELEVANCE/DECLINE/DEATH - MySpace, Yahoo Chat, Classmates.com.  Shut down your site.  The only thing worse than being late to the party in social media, is evidence that even you forgot you were on it.

So go ahead, ask yourself again: Is this the next big thing? Will I be left out? Should I be involved? Is it too late? The answers might just lead you toward the best social media strategy for you.

Need help deciding which social media platforms are right for you? Or, don’t even know where to start when it comes to creating a social media strategy? Contact Marketing RELEVANCE.

 Appeared first in March/April 2013 issue of Sales + Marketing Ideas.