The three stages of social media

I read this recently from Nathan McDonald called The three stages of social media maturity.  I sort of agree with it, but it is not the way I put things.  I do it this way.

Stage 1: false engagement

This is the stage where everyone rushes around trying to make social media work like traditional media so that they can drag their current marketing strategies into the new social digital space.  As with traditional media it is seen as a numbers game and while people sort of realise that just being ‘in Facebook’ doesn’t get you in front of all (or any) Facebook users, the solution to this is seen as adding scale (numbers) to your social media presence.  This creates the obsession with generating Likes and Followers.  Critically, social media is still seen as a channel and message problem – finding the best channels to put a message in front of all of your consumers.  Measurement, metrics and objectives get locked into a spiral or irrationality where the social media objective becomes simply increased usage of social media, thus making increased Facebook interaction a valid, measurable objective (irrespective of what this actually delivers to the business).

Stage 2: the arrival of intelligence

This is usually triggered by the arrival of the finance department asking awkward questions about what all this activity is actually creating that is of measurable value.  The inability to answer this question, or the realisation that very little  value is actually being  created will trigger a crisis. Organisations will emerge from out of this crisis in two ways.  Some will conclude that social media is a failure and abandon attempts to use it.  Others will conclude that social media is different and any attempts to use it must be rooted in, or adapted to, what it is that makes it different. In a nutshell, rather than try and turn their Facebook page into a website and attempt to drive consumers to it, they ask themselves ‘how might our consumers want to talk to us using Facebook, and how should we respond’.

Stage 3: productive engagement

This occurs when an organisation realises that social media is not channel and message identification challenge, it is a behaviour identification and response challenge.  The output of any strategy is therefore not bits of communication or content, but behaviours and processes.  Rather than try to speak to everyone, the organisation understands how to create value by engaging with only small groups or individuals.  Doing this effectively involves seeing social media as a business process.  This is so far removed from the competencies associated with traditional marketing, that the organisation takes responsibility for social media away from marketing and creates a new function devoted to embedding social media as a business process across all departments.

Everyone lives happily ever after (except the marketing director, the digital agency and Facebook)



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