If you are looking for a summary of why social media is currently considered de rigeur look no further than this video by Socialnomics. The video aims to answer the question: “Is social media a fad?”. It neatly summarises recent statistical data (with a bias to the US) and the extent to which social media is being used across the web and web connected devices. It’s definitely worth watching and I shall be using it in my next training class to kick things off.

As Kara Swisher points out, it’s slick, but social media is “more like a financial dud so far”.

This is a viral video to promote a site (and book of the same title) regarding how social media “transforms the way we live and do business”, yet there are few references to the trickier questions of finance and business. Whilst social media services themselves are gathering huge audiences very few people have managed to make the sums add up. Watching the video new to the subject you might also presume that social media is a new phenomenon that’s sprung up in the last few years, not something older than the web itself*.

To answer the question “is social media a fad?”, it’s worth taking time to understand Gartner’s hype cycle. This is used by the company to estimate how long technologies and trends will take to reach maturity, and help organisations decide when to adopt. Their cycle has five phases:

  1. Technology trigger
  2. Peak of Inflated Expectations
  3. Trough of Disillusionment
  4. Slope of Enlightenment
  5. Plateau of Productivity

Below is the graph by Gartner for emerging technologies, taken from their latest report, courtesy of We Are Social. It shows how different elements of the social media phenomenons mentioned in the Socialnomics video are in different stages of the hype cycle.

Particularly worth noting is that e-book readers (like the Kindle) are currently at the peak of inflated expectations, whilst wikis are on the slope of enlightenment.

Source: We Are Social
Source: We Are Social

So whilst social media may be statistically more than a fad, and that certain elements are possibly coming towards the end of the hype cycle, the video glosses over that what makes media social. Media is made social not by technologies or websites but by people. As Mark Earls points out:

People not things shape fashions.

* For example, the discussion forum, Usenet, used internet technologies that pre-date the web.

UPDATE 24/08/2009: This review about the video over at ZDNet is worth a read too.


  1. I’ve seen that video a number of times and to be honest, it strikes me as lots of numbers. It’s interesting and well done and the “years to” is a wake up call, then again everything is accelerated in the digital age. Just watch a piece of news spread on Twitter. Why has social media taken off? Is it because technology suddenly enabled a new form of behavior? Or is it because there was already a basic human desire that didn’t have an outlet and now finally does? I think it’s the latter.

    We are all social animals. Centuries ago we gathered around the town hearth to greet one another and share stories. Years later we lived in ghettos — in the positive sense of the word — where we were united by ethnicity or culture or background. Even more recently we would gather in cafes or pubs, to connect with friends and neighbors. It was a basic human need, this desire to socialize, and connect, and express ourselves and share our ideas. But much of modern life has worked against this undeniable human desire to communicate.

    After World War II, we moved out of the cities and into the suburbs. We commuted to jobs all by ourselves in metal boxes on wheels. We worked in cubicles or offices rather than in open spaces. And until recently, virtually all media was one-way communication. We could listen. We could receive. But we couldn’t participate. Why you had to be brilliant, persuasive and lucky just to get a letter to the editor published.

    Even technology — from the first personal computers to the early web to the ubiquitous iPod — isolated us further. Not only were we more likely to be physically separated from others while engaging with messages and entertainment, the proliferation of options and personal choices diminished community even further by eliminating the shared experiences that we once got from watching Mash or Cheers or Seinfeld at the exact same time as everyone else and knowing it.

    What social media has done is allow us once again, despite our geographic separation, or our cubicle, or our house in the suburbs, to connect with each other in a more natural, more human way.

    Better yet, we can join forces around what we have in common. Music, literature, business, technology, family, being a Mom or a sports fan or road cyclist.

    We have, and have always had, a desire to express our opinion, to matter to others, to do business with a human being not a corporation, to be treated with respect, to be part of the conversation. Social media not only enables us, it encourages us.

    That is why there are 200 million people on Facebook. That is why Twitter is adding millions of users every month. That is why YouTube videos aren’t simply watched, but commented on over and over, emailed to friends and posted on blogs.

    Social media have re-lit the hearth. And brought back the neighborhood pub. And created ghettos once again. Communication will never again be the same. And that’s a good thing.

  2. excellent reply Edward. I find twitter et al apart from being useful tools for work and making new contacts etc. fill the need for ‘over the garden wall’ gossip. IMHO good gossiping helps everyone. Passing the word about success and failure, sending out calls for help. Sharing and caring. Global villages now instead of tiny physical boundaries. Tis good stuff.

    1. Ah yes, the difference between a specific tool and a concept or way of communicating. Twitter will be surpassed, but media that is social will be with us for the foreseeable future.

  3. Take Guido’s comment as a back-hand compliment :]

    Re: the video. Do we have to hear that music yet again! How many similar vids use the exact same?

    One smack-them-trendoids-over-the-head fact is to point out that twitter wasn’t developed as social media. Another is that the telcos who developed mobiles didn’t see txt coming.

    Spot on with the people bit!

  4. despite that social media has given us advantages in our ways of communication,
    I don’t think it has allow us to connect to each other in a “more natural and human way”.Yes we can virtually join forces around what we have in common, but typing is not natural, what is it voice for? being seated the whole day in front of a screen is not natural either, Where is the physically presence of another person?why are we supposed to have manners? and since most of us do not have the control to be relative, they become dependent of cellphones and computers, but do they remember they have minds?
    at the end of the they the production of too many useful things results in too many useless people.

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