Social Media Hype Is Dead (Rob Anderson Commentary)

Remember the big dot-com bust? I do. I was caught right in the middle of it back in 2001, working for a dot-com that went belly-up. I recall the mountains of hype that accompanied the launch of almost every new Web-based business and how all of that came to a screeching halt when the novelty wore off and the businesses couldn’t find a way to turn a profit.

I also recollect that there was no shortage of gloating on the part of the vocal few who thought the whole “Internet thing” was some sort of fad. Recently I’ve noticed a similar crowd out there that seems to be eagerly awaiting the big social media crash of 2013.

I’m no stock analyst and I can’t tell you whether you should buy or sell Facebook shares, but I can tell you that I don’t think there will be a similar crash with social media. Sure, social media companies may come, go or merge, but social media itself is here to stay. You just may not hear about it as much. That’s because, while social itself will live on, I believe I recently witnessed the final nail in the coffin of social media hype and the “birth” of a new era of utility for both social and interactive media.

I was fortunate to attend the recently wrapped South-by-Southwest Interactive Conference in Austin, Texas, which attracts throngs of business leaders, tech geeks, hipsters, marketers, entrepreneurs and hucksters. Not surprisingly, those in attendance spent a lot of time tapping away on phones, tablets and laptops (often while walking) and sharing breaking news through social media.

None of this was unusual for a popular and well-attended technology conference that has served as the launching pad for social media giants such as Twitter and Foursquare. However, there was something distinctly different in the air this time, something a little bit “retro.”

This year’s event featured no major new social network announcements. And while Pinterest and Vine (the new Twitter-owned mobile video app) received some attention, the real buzz surrounded “old school” topics like creativity, storytelling, customer service, manufacturing and, oddly enough, space travel.

Popular keynote speakers included Elon Musk, the billionaire founder and CEO of Tesla Motors and the space exploration firm SpaceX, and Bre Pettis, founder of the 3D printing firm Makerbot. The focus of these presentations was not on sharing things with your friends but on creating and building things, “real world” achievements and improving life through technology. During one session, Google Senior Vice President Amit Singhal proclaimed that Google’s ultimate goal — aside from making money, of course — is to create products and systems that “improve life for all humanity.”

When social media was examined by speakers or panels, it was often with a critical eye. Several presenters noted that many businesses and brands are not providing anything of value to social media audiences. While businesses may be creating and selling products or services that do, in fact, “improve life” in the offline world, their online and social media presences provide no hint of it. In fact, many businesses are serving up silly or meaningless content (“Like this page and our CEO will shave his head!”) that helps no one and, in fact, can detract from the overall experience and value of social networks.

What does this all mean? Is the end nigh for social media and the marketers and businesses who adore it? Not at all. What it really means is that it’s time to follow the theme of the South-by-Southwest speakers and pay attention to basics. While social media companies work to improve their platforms and provide better experiences to users, it’s time for marketers and brands to realize that social media is a valuable tool for customer service and for creating and telling stories. It’s not just a place try goofy stunts and post marketing messages. It’s a venue for providing real-world value and high-quality, useful information and entertainment.

Social media will continue to evolve and businesses must change how they view and use it. If you believe your business succeeds because it meets the needs of consumers and provides them with high-quality products and services, then you should meet a consumer need in social media by providing high-quality content and service. If the focus shifts from novelty to necessity and from selling to service, expect big dividends and no “social media crash.”

Rob Anderson is director of content strategy for Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods advertising agency in Little Rock. Email him at