Why social media is losing its sparkle

Wave goodbye to all those social media gurus. They're about to head off into the sunset. And that's a good thing.

By all indications, this is the year that social media will fade into the background. All those social media gurus, ninjas, and experts will no longer have their volume levels perma-set at 11. It's not that social media is going away. It's just that it's fading into the background, which is a really good thing.

Social media is the new wallpaper, a highly predicable moment many of us have been waiting for. It's an important and very distinct historical pattern.

Whenever a significant new digital channel develops, it inevitably begins its lifespan as a bright shiny object. The turn of this century was all email, all the time. Email marketing was the new thing that dominated the digital marketing conversation for close to 10 years.

Then, oooh! Search! Paid search! SEO! Search engine conferences were the industry's largest events. The one I was formerly involved with, the biggest one there was, recently rebranded twice: first as a "search and social media" conference, then as a "digital marketing" event.

See where this is going? Email and search now both enjoy wallpaper status. They've faded into the background. This is absolutely not meant to diminish the importance or significance of either as a marketing channel. Search and email still are significant, impactful, and effective. "Wallpapering" is a sign of maturity and essential integration into the larger marketing organization. Really, it's what all those experts, gurus, and pundits are fighting for.

Social media is now following search and email into the background. It's finally mainstream, not a novelty. (Remember when having a website was a novelty?) Social media has been departmentalized, strategized, and budgetized -- all of which are very good things.

We're seeing the industry shifts that corroborate this. It's not just conferences that are rebranding and shifting their go-to-market strategies. Social media software vendors, SEOs, and email providers are all scrambling to reposition as content marketing purveyors. Their offerings are essentially the same as they were before, but this new positioning is more topical and more broadly relevant.

Content marketing is the new term on everyone's lips. As an analyst, I'm seeing (and hearing) that it's top-of-mind with clients and technology vendors, at conferences, seminars, and trade publications -- everywhere, in fact, digital marketing is discussed. There's a sudden plethora of "content marketing experts" blathering on about the topic who you never heard of two weeks ago (a source of great amusement to those of us who have been undertaking serious work in the sector for years). "Content is king" is new all over again, even if that trope was tired as far back as when I still worked in television.

Sound familiar? It should. Content is where email was. It's where search was, and one day, it will be where social media is headed: fully integrated into marketing -- not a nice-to-have but a must-have.

Wallpaper. Really, it's kind of the goal, isn't it?

Rebecca Lieb is an analyst of digital advertising and media for Altimeter Group.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet. Follow Rebecca Lieb at @lieblink and Altimeter Group at @altimetergroup.

"Christmas background" image via Shutterstock.



Andrew Boer
Andrew Boer April 11, 2014 at 9:43 AM

You are exactly right. Approached individually, these channels that are converging into Content Marketing (SEO, Email, Blogging, Influencers, (Native) Advertising, PR, & Social Media) all have deep flaws. Press releases are inauthentic & dull, Email gets spammy, blogs are dull and self-promoting, Influencers are asked to shill, Ads are invasive and interruptive, and SEO wastes the readers time. Social Media, as you also point out, is often just noise.

Content marketing encompasses the interaction of all of these disciplines, but I think in some ways it also represents a shift in approach: by creating useful content that is in service of the reader.

OLIVIER RIVIERE April 9, 2014 at 7:03 AM

Being a bit cynical, one could say that the self-proclaimed experts and gurus of (pick up your prefered item in the list:) social media, SEO, content marketing, and digital, are slowly learning Marketing as a whole, and discovering that their initial area of "expertise" is - often, not always - just a brick in the wall .