Why The Last Six Months In Social Media Are Like St. Elmo’s Fire

These are both St. Elmo’s Fire. One is a flaming ball of gas that misleads people and the other is a weather phenomenon.

Social media finally graduated, moved into its first apartment, and wants to eat something besides ramen noodles for the rest of it’s life.  Yes, we are in the new age of social media maturity.  But if you look back at the last six months of social media and compare it to previous six month periods I think the one thing you can say is “Man, that was boring!”  We haven’t had a lot of huge stories come out of social media.  Sure, you’ve got your mix of people doing stupid stuff on social media.  And stories of a few brands doing stupid stuff on social media.  But that’s not new.  For what’s new, I think there are two big topics coming out of the last six months of social media.

First, the last six months in social media have been an amazing time because it’s been the start of social media maturity.  Amazing in one sense because that it happened so quickly, but also boring because, let’s face it, maturity is boring.  It’s almost as if when Facebook went public all of social media graduated.  And now social media is living in that crucial time after college when we’re younger than we care to admit but truly being forced into the world with all the real, grown-up problems we’ve only heard about before.

In fact, if you were to ask me, “Ryan, what 80’s movie best encapsulates this moment in social media history?” I would unequivocally tell you it was St. Elmo’s Fire.  I don’t say that because it has arguably the best theme song of any 80s movie, which since people who know me know my affinity for Flashdance‘s “What a Feeling” says a lot.  I also don’t say this because the movie, along with Lost Boys, was the height of Joel Schumacher’s career before he went downhill and eventually destroyed the Batman franchise for a good 8 years.  I say this because, like the characters in St Elmo’s Fire, social media is now truly entering the real world.

That can be hard to grasp with social media practitioners because we’ve been at the leading edge.  We have been living in a social media world for years.  But we are the exceptions.  If you were speaking to a group of attorneys a year ago they would think social media was still a trend, a fad, perhaps something that wouldn’t last.  Half the room or more would say, or think, they weren’t on social media.  That doesn’t happen anymore.  The other week I spoke on social media legal issues at a conference for the International Association of Contract and Commercial Managers.  First, you haven’t partied until you’ve partied with contract and commercial managers.  Second, more importantly, in that group which ranged in age and location and job functions, every single one already thought they were on social media.

That’s just my latest example but I’ve seen it come true over this last year and really the last six months.  That person who isn’t on Facebook is no longer quaint; he’s now a little bit weird.  Truth be told, it’s more than a little bit annoying when you have to tell them something everyone else has commented on in social media.  Or we’ve all had that awkward moment when one of them emails us a funny article or picture that we all saw a week earlier on social media.  I thought it was a great moment when, during the presidential debates you had twitter feeds on TV and even one tweet asking where was the horses and bayonettes tumblr and minutes later it was up.

Social media has graduated from the fresh-faced college graduate to the young adult living in a small apartment, grinding through that first job, struggling to pay bills and student loans and live up to this potential they’ve been told about their entire lives.  So that’s the first big topic I see from these last six months: social media is the new normal.

The second big topic I see coming out of social media in the last six months builds on this first item–the growing expectation of consumers on social media.  Now that social media is normal, is expected, it is no longer enough to simply be on social media.  Brands have to do more to compete.  More contests, more campaigns, more ways to interact.  It used to be that having a page was enough and customers would Like your page and you’d get a benefit.  Now, if that’s all you do, you’re likely to get the Like and then no interaction at all.  Customers are expecting more and brands are trying to deliver more.

But the good news is that customers will reward a brand if they do more.  One of the best examples was a recent survey that showed 89% of consumers would feel more loyal to a brand if they were invited to a group.  That number may be common knowledge to some of you but both the result and the awareness by a customer surprised me.  They were saying if you invite me to be a part of your community I will be loyal.  That is fascinating.  Some other interesting bits from that survey showed that of those 89% of customers, 41% want companies to seek feedback and 37% are looking for new ways to interact with brands via social media.

So this second big topic from the last six months is that customers on social media want to feel special.  Just participating in social media isn’t special enough anymore, there has to be something more.  That’s a huge opportunity and an area filled with risk and hurdles that we will have the pleasure to help our clients work through.

In closing, let me bring it back to St Elmo’s Fire.  Because an hour from now you aren’t going to remember anything I just wrote but you will have “Man In Motion” stuck in your head.  Just so everyone understands, I don’t think St Elmo’s Fire is a good movie, it’s just a metaphor.  And the movie had it’s own metaphor in the title which I think is appropriate here.  If I was one to make horrible puns then I would call that a meta-metaphor.  Lucky for you all, I don’t do puns.

The real St Elmo’s Fire is an electrical phenomenon that takes place around storms that creates luminous plasma.  You can look it up yourself on Wikipedia but apparently these glowing balls of light are created by either coronal interactions in the atmosphere or unicorn farts.  Either way, the story told in the movie is that sailors used to see these glowing balls of light and think they were fires, so they’d sail in that direction thinking they were headed towards land and either safety or vast riches.  As social media matures, as it is the new normal, the Social Media St Elmo’s Fire is something we all have to watch out for.  Social media practitioners have to help each other chase goals that are real, not illusions.  Because after months of travelling we don’t want to end up in the middle of nowhere or, even worse, having Joel Schumacher making a movie about us.

That’s what I think is new in social media.  So now let’s hear what you think is new these past six months in social media or what 80s film you think best describes social media right now.

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Filed under Social Content, Social Marketing, Social Measurement, Social Media Lawyers, Social Media Risks, Social Platforms

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