Magazine article Marketing

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: Do Believe the Hype

Magazine article Marketing

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: Do Believe the Hype

Article excerpt

Brands need to look beyond their initial disappointment with social media to reap the real rewards.

In The Pilgrim's Progress, the central protagonist finds himself mired down in the Slough of Despond - burdened by the weight of the knowledge of his sins and unable to extract himself without help.

It is an enduring image that has cropped up repeatedly in later literature. Most recently it has been rebranded the 'Trough of Disillusionment' in the Gartner consultancy group's analysis of the technology 'hype cycle'.

More on that in a second.

Right now there is a sense of ennui, disillusionment and disappointment among many marketers about social media. As Google guru Avinash Kaushik tweeted: 'Social media is like teen sex. Everyone wants to do it. Nobody knows how. When finally done there is surprise it's not better.'

Thousands of Facebook brand profiles have been launched, tweets tweeted, social networks created, to be met with indifference from consumers.

There have also been success stories, of course, such as Dell's remarkable turnaround to lead in the application of social media to customer relationships, and Barack Obama's reinvention of political fundraising. The Rock-Off competition run by Absolute Radio spawned thousands of inbound links from music forums, massively boosting the station's Google ranking.

However, for every shining success, there are hundreds of lame, unaccountable, inappropriate ventures that have delivered little success and less learning.

Back to the hype cycle.

Gartner's thesis is that specific technologies, including social media phenomena such as tagging, wikis, virtual worlds, go through five phases before some, but not all, achieve mainstream adoption.

The Technology Trigger describes the rapid initial growth of interest, which is quickly followed by the Peak of Inflated Expectations (we've all been there).

Then, the Trough of Disillusionment. This is where most ad agencies were when they closed down their digital departments between 2001 and 2004 The long haul back is the Slope of Enlightenment, as marketers realise there may be something to this after all, with the lucky survivors making it to the Plateau of Productivity.

A lot of the social media used by marketers are either sliding toward, or firmly in, the Trough of Disillusionment.

Even though the reasons for that disillusionment can be misguided it still exists, and there's a dangerous amount of 'wait and see' being applied to the sector.

I have always resisted the evangelist role that people in digital often adopt, but with so much negativity, it is hard not to sound evangelical when you are just trying to be balanced and realistic. …

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