The Social Media Bubble Is Going To Burst

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One of the common complaints and fears right now in Social Media is that it is essentially a giant bubble.  As with any bubble, if it gets too big or hovers too long, it is bound to burst.  This can be scary for those of us who have deeply embraced this shift, for many who have created businesses centered around it and for plenty of people who are continually writing about it.  What is concerning to some of us in the social sphere is that more and more it feels as if there are two camps.  Those who drink the kool-aid, who own a Daring Fireball t-shirt and believe in the power of a social web beside others who believe this is either all a passing trend or is simply a nonsensical waste of time.

This lack of a middle ground has its pluses and minuses.  On the upside, the devout talk about the subject with such passion and reverence that they often drag new converts into the bubble.  By connecting, sharing, championing and creating a tremendous amount of content, they help to create new advocates.  You see this more and more every day as people and companies jump on the social bandwagon.  The problem is, just as you see in polarized topics like politics, when you have people who are devoted with a near religious fervor, you often end up turning off those who are simply interested in a new topic.  Rather than being curious about this shiny and new toy, many of the uninitiated avoid it at all costs.

WE Must Burst The Bubble!

If the bubble were to burst, we could get back to finding the middle ground that Social Media needs.  We could start to take the emphasis off of the reverence and get back to focusing on the facts.  We are quickly arriving at the point where there is more than enough data to prove the widespread potential of Social Media while offering insights into the best practices.  Getting away from any blind passion and digging into the numbers is the best chance us advocates have of turning those that we may have turned off around.  Rather than converting the skeptics one at a time through the promise of lofty ideals like transparency and engagement, we need to put the results at the center of the case.  It is the best way we can prepare for the inevitable implosion.

I know there are many of us who fear the bubble bursting (I am right there with you), but it just might be the best thing that happens when it comes to helping Social Media get to where we believe it can go.  The bubble was a great opportunity for all of us to find our bearings, but it is time for us to pop it ourselves and prove that both Social Media as well as those us who preach it can stand on our own two feet.

I’m getting ready to grab a needle, but what about you?  Are you ready to burst the bubble or are you sitting around hoping that this one won’t pop?

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  • I first embraced social media (myspace, facebook, Twitter) as a consumer who enjoys entering (and sometimes winning) sweepstakes and contests. Once I was registered, I made contact with real-world friends and connected with internet friends through those sites. Now, I use facebook and Twitter as PR tools at work. As a sweeper, I’m tired of businesses asking me to friend them for a chance to win something. As a one-person marketing/PR office, I know I can’t use these tools to their full potential, because there just aren’t enough hours in the day. That frustrates me. So, yes, I’m ready for the social media bubble to burst. It can’t happen soon enough.

    • As a guy who works for a jewelry company trying to use SM, I feel your pain! We try to leverage contests, but want to avoid being “that company” you are talking about. It’s honestly why we’ve found more success in using contests and sweeps as a retention tool rather than an acquisition one. It’s hard to promote a contest without seeming dirty and the quality of new you pull in with contests can be less than desirable if you are not careful!

  • Very, very interesting post. My one big question is: What do you see happening if and when the social media button bursts? Will it create a massive falling out of investment and valuation of tech/social companies, such as was the case after the dot-com bubble burst (thus, presumably leaving Twitter, Foursquare and other up-and-coming social media companies in the lurch), or will it cause more of a fracturization within the space, where there will be even more competition than already exists?

    I guess my main concern is that if the bubble on social media were to burst, I’m more inclined to believe it may actually cause more problems, particularly for widespread adoption and acceptance of the communications and marketing value of social media. And I say that for two reasons: 1) It will allow all of the naysayers to say, “See! I told you social media wouldn’t last.” and 2) I believe it would cause a massive fracturization within the space that would only serve to confuse lay people and non-believers even more.

    Though it’s certainly a very interesting question to think about and one that despite my reservations, I think we may be facing sooner than we think.

    • I think it depends on how it happens. If we burst it, we can control it. For me, bursting the bubble is more about bridging the gap between those who are on the outside and those of us who are in. As much as I hate the SM bubble, I happen to love the SM echo chamber. There is an incredible support system inside the bubble that could be come even more powerful if we get beyond a bubble. A lot of people mistake those two things for the same. I just think we have to get to the point where we stop obsessing about the shiny and newness of SM (which I think turns off a lot of traditionalists) and start really integrating it into the everyday.

      If the bubble pops by itself, you are right. There will be people who point and laugh. If we burst it, we get to explain to those naysayers why this isn’t a trend, but a foregone conclusion.

      Maybe I needed to be more clear, but for me, bursting the bubble was more about SM becoming as accepted as the telephone rather than this new trend that the naysayers don’t even want to bother wrapping their head around.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve always thought of social media as another tool to reach an audience, but it’s not the only tool. I work with an audience that is a little older, a little less attached to mobile phones, so it would be foolish for me to spend a lot of time on Foursquare. As time goes on, the audience and their interests may change, and so will social media. The trick is to avoid being so invested in one idea that I don’t notice when it stops working.

    • And to be sure that you are integrating it more and more into the tried and true practices. Ingraining SM into all of those more traditional tools and bringing this all together is what will give SM the best chance of retaining its relevance.

  • This is a very interesting perspective on social media, butI have to disagree with the argument. There is no reason to try and prove skeptics wrong or to try and evangelize and create converts. This is one of those situations where the market will take care of itself. As long as we, the social networking practitioners, do our jobs for our respective clients and companies, than the impact will speak for itself. There is a clear advantage to using social media and as such, competitors will identify that advantage and see where they are lacking, and join the conversation. There is no need for pioneers to wait for the rest of the settlers, we already have the competitive advantage and it is unfortunate for the masses, if they fail to use it.

    • Think we are going to have to put this one in the category of agree to disagree 🙂 The more we focus on being pioneers rather than those who really work to weave SM into the fabric of marketing the higher the risk that people continue to perceive this as nothing more than a fad and a trend.

      More often than not, the “skeptics” are just confused by it all rather than truly against it.

      I am not suggesting that we shouldn’t continue to trailblaze, I’m just suggesting that if we all took some of that energy towards converting the uninitiated, it may be better for the entire ecosystem in the long run.

      The longer we cling to the bubble (and I am a big believe that it is a bubble at the moment) the less of a chance we all have of controlling what happens when it pops.

      • You have a very valid point! Although one area where we still differ is the notion that social media will “pop.” The reason being, it that a pop of some sort infers a dramatic deflation of whatever it is referring to. In the case of social media, I do not believe that this is analogous because social media is the channel, not the substance. So in a visualization sense, social media is just a tube through which we fill with our messages and relationships. You are right to believe flow may decrease, but that kind of shift will be more gradual, like closing a water valve than a sudden explosion that is created by a rhetorical bubble.

        I wrote about this in a blog post a while back, and it is just a different way of visualizing the situation.

        Thanks for the feedback! (I never like to “agree to disagree” because that it is more fun and enlightening to prod at differing views) and I love this conversation!

        • In this case we might actually just have a different notion of the word
          bubble. I just see the SM world as something that some have entered into
          and embraced and others are just rejecting outright. While I think there
          are some truths to the fact that some of us are a little over extended and
          there will be some logical decrease, when I talk about the bubble, I am
          really referring to the gap between those on the inside and those on the
          outside when it comes to SM.

          The opportunity in bursting the bubble is bringing those who are resisting
          making these tools mainstream into the fold rather than enhancing the gap,
          ignoring the outsiders and keeping these tools from reaching their

  • Jon Parker

    Yeah, right….the bubble’s going to burst…….and the people in radio said television was just going to be a fad.
    As with other new forms of media in their infancy; there will be a shaking out of the many outlets (Plaxo, LinkedIn, Ryze, etc…) down to the ones that are the most user-friendly and relevant…and in that order.
    As to whether Adv $$$ should be invested in it? Oh, yes! As to how much to allocate? That is dependent upon what the product is, who your customer is and your price point. Obviously, an artist selling a new song or a speaker promoting a webinar will have much greater success making actual sales in new media channels than say, the Chevrolet Volt….

    • I’m starting to think I may have used the wrong metaphor… I don’t mean bubble in the stock market sense of the word. More that there are those who are inside the SM Bubble and believe and those who are on the outside and think it is nonsense. I mean it more in a boy in the plastic bubble kind of way rather than the Wall Street 2 kind of bubble.

      While I do agree with you that there will be some consolidation, I also agree that these tools are going to continue to be woven into the fabric of our lives and our marketing. That said, the polarization of those who believe and those who do not is not a good thing. If we want to get to the point where these are common place, we have to pop the bubble, break the barrier, whatever you want to call it and start helping those on the outside to see the same opportunity that those on the inside already see.