Those marketers who are ploughing more and more effort and budget into digital media marketing would probably find it hard to contemplate the death of social media. However the debate surrounding the future of social media is very much alive, with marketing experts divided in their opinions over whether these channels are a passing fad or a permanent fixture on the digital landscape.
The question over whether to fully commit to social media or dismiss it as a medium-term trend remains unanswered and there are marketing experts up and down the country sitting in both camps. Last month, the Worshipful Company of Marketors held a debate in London exploring opinions on both sides of the argument and examining whether “social media is a passing phase”.
From the side of the fence that viewed social media as a temporary trend, one expert pointed to the short history of the medium – which has gone from zero to more than 200 different social media sites in less than fifteen years. Marketers are certainly one of the most forward thinking sectors when it comes to embracing new technologies, however there are strong opinions warning it is wrong to assume those channels will never be eclipsed.
Marketors’ Liveryman, Professor John Egan, voiced his personal opinion at last month’s debate. Egan said: “Just because Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are huge now, that doesn’t mean they have staying power. Look at Second Life, the online virtual world that at its peak had more money swilling around in it than several third world countries. Also, (the demise of) MySpace, and Friends Reunited, which finally closed at the beginning of the year.”
This is a side of the debate that the “passing phase” camp felt has a lot of weight to it, the high profile examples have led to some marketing industry executives questioning the longevity of other sites in the longer term. This is backed by the latest statistics of some of the current sites.
“The warning signs are there now for Twitter; its share price plunged 50% last year and again in February this year, by over 40%, because of analysts’ doubts about its figures, especially those for user engagement,” said Egan. “In addition, Facebook’s biggest demographic is 25 to 30 year olds, but it has stopped growing users except in the silver surfer older age group – which by definition is not a good long-term investment”.
There were also questions raised over how long social media could ride “the tsunami of consumer engagement” and that newer models would enter the market targeted more towards the use habits of the digital generation.
Senior lecturer at Greenwich University, Dr Kate Armstrong said “Social media will be surpassed by other novel ways of communication. Newer sites, which have more ephemeral appeal, include Vine, Snapchat, Periscope, and Meerkat; are now joined by even newer services such as Wanelo, Shots, Ello and Hyper, which all cater for the short attention spans and thirst for the new wave of Digital Natives.”
Here today, here tomorrow
In the opposing camp social media was cited as a critical tool to combine personal and businesses processes.
“Social media has positively changed the relationship between businesses and customers”, said the Marketors’ Liveryman Annmarie Hanlon. “These systems have enabled business growth through product development and marketing penetration. Using social media means that companies can identify, anticipate and satisfy customer requirements profitably. Marks and Spencer, Marmite and Walkers Crisps all use Facebook to engage with customers. Social media is being used to develop customer content and customer services and in areas such as advertising, it provides real measurement tools. It is not a passing phase but a game changing business growth system.”
One of the views amongst the marketing elite who attended the debate is that social media stems from the concept of sharing information in past centuries. Freeman Nikos Kokkinos, drew comparisons between social media and English coffee houses in the seventeenth century.
Kokkinos said: “These coffee houses were centres of gossip and information and allowed people from different classes to meet in new ways. The collision of ideas led to scientific and business advances. Both Lloyds of London and the London Stock Exchange started in coffee houses. Social media is a sort of reversion to the way things used to be. It fills a universal human need for connectedness, for self-expression and for information sharing and it is here to stay.”
The debate over whether social media, as we know it, will live or die looks set to continue. The overwhelming view amongst senior leaders at the debate was the recognition that social media has revolutionised engagement and interaction from both a personal and professional perspective. Social media has changed the lives of many and if it does fade in its current form, one thing’s for sure – it’s going to have a fantastic obituary.