Social Media: Hype Versus Utility

Hype chart Considering the sophistication of humans as mammals, it is still interesting how we are doomed to repeat the same behavioral patterns as our primate ancestors, even when is comes to social media.

IT research consultancy Gartner has made a considerable business around describing this, specific to technology. Its model is known as the Hype Cycle, and it shows the key change points, to no particular scale, of people's attitudes to new technologies. Where a technology lies on the hype cycle has implications as to the level of investment a company might appropriately make in it.

The points as shown in the chart are fairly self explanatory, but essentially illustrate that a mad dash towards a technology causes an inflated notion of what it can deliver; an opposite reaction caused by the realization that the technology isn't a panacea and a lot of time / money / effort has been invested for little return; and, finally, a growing sensibility towards a technology's value based application.



There is a fairly easy translation of this model to social media. The recent Skittles /Twitter debacle shows a rush towards a technological medium with little thought as to the utility or value delivered to the end consumer. In fact, one might consider that, given the campaign was so open to abuse, the value delivered was firmly in the negative territory and thus in the "Trough of Disillusionment."

But how flawed is this approach? If a technology is at "the peak of inflated expectations," then is it fair to assume that the end-consumer has comparably inflated expectations? If so, then is the net sum zero?

This would seem a tremendously dangerous position to take. It is a fair assumption to make that the consumer's attitude towards social media has a quotient of hype, perhaps even equivalent to that of the brand or agency. But the disenchantment that will be felt afterwards by the consumer has a direct impact upon the brand's equity. This may well track with the overall disenchantment trend of the new medium, but will be more or less guaranteed not to outperform.

The irony is that mediocrity may involve having greater visibility than a sensible, utility /value driven social media campaign.

So, compare and contrast the release of new Ford car models in the U.S., a relatively simple but well-structured exercise in user-generated content, versus Skittles. In the short run, Skittles had far greater visibility but, over the medium to long run, will be recognized as a less than mediocre campaign.

In this instance it would seem the brains behind Skittles went purely for visibility, rode the peak and then fell squarely into the trough.

And, the moral of the Hype Cycle? If you even suspect a technological medium is at the peak of inflated expectations, go for a pure visibility campaign at your peril.

3 comments about "Social Media: Hype Versus Utility ".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Mike Mcdermott from Bash Foo Social Media, April 29, 2009 at 7:34 a.m.

    Insightful article. The Hype Cycle is one of the problems that Community Managers like myself deal with every day. We see companies jumping on the Social Media circuit without any planning or understanding of the medium. They pay their interns to create a facebook page and twitter account, but do not teach them how to post.
    This does NOT put you out there for success. You will not gain followers that are genuinely interested in your success. Social Media can function as a real marketing tool that drives interest in your brand, or it can act as your online "fan club".

  2. Lynda Partner from Partners Marketing Inc, April 29, 2009 at 8:31 a.m.

    While I agree that form should follow function, or in this case technology choice should follow goals, it may be that the Skittles campaign was a huge success. If their goal was to make Skittles a recognizable name, especially among those who don't buy it regularly, they may have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Even my 70 year old father now knows what Skittles are because of this campaign. It's all about the objective.

  3. Mickey Lonchar from Quisenberry, April 30, 2009 at 4:20 p.m.

    "A mad dash towards a technology causes an inflated notion of what it can deliver." Truer words were never spoken. Too often we get seduced by the palate of platforms we now have at our disposal with precious little thought to the value we're adding to our consumers. Thanks, Paul, for the timely reminder.

Next story loading loading..