The Best is Yet to Come in Social

Trust me, it sounds better if you sing it with Tony Bennett’s voice and to the melody of “The Best Is Yet To Come” (here is a video of him and Diana Krall singing it — Merry Christmas and Happy New Year present from me to you).

The truth is that I have been thinking about this for a while. I started to put my ideas together about 2-3 months  ago, trying to find a way to help organizations decide what to do in the next few years with Social X and today it call came together.  As they say, “things” always come in threes and this episode of serendipity was led by three events:

  1. Read David Armano’s excellent post and presentation on “Social Business in 2012” (Slide 13 covers the hype cycle)
  2. Read Ted Sapountzis very interesting post on “Social Media: Have We Finally Hit the Peak of the Hype Cycle
  3. Participated in “The Gillmor Gang” this morning with John Taschek and Steve Gillmor and we talked about the Hype Cycle for Social (John thinks it is over-hyped, go on and watch it)

I had to put this together… I just had to.

Here is the picture, read the explanation after the fold.

Hype and Adoption Cycles for Social - December 2011

There are too many items in this picture, so let me explain a few of them.

The labels on top (early-adopters, mainstream, and long-tail with the corresponding percentage of organizations in each) refer to how many organizations are in each group and at that point in the life of the technology they adopt and embrace it.  The early-adopters are the organizations that see a tactical or strategic advantage in using the technology before the rest of the market.  The most telling tale that this group has embraced a technology? they won’t tell anybody.  You won’t see case studies or slide-decks or presentations at conferences about it: they are too buys leveraging the technology for some sort of advantage to let you know what they are doing (or, quite frankly, they don’t care to tell you what they are doing so you won’t copy them).  The shift from early adopters to mainstream is when you start seeing more case studies, more companies talking about their experiences (good or bad), and more failed attempts to deploy the technology (coincidentally, it is also the time when the HC enters the descent into the trough of disillusionment, but more on that soon).  This shift also signals the start of the “market sweet spot” — that time when we see more vendors offer more complete solutions, more organizations making decisions to purchase, and more implementations that yield lessons to be learned and to grow adoption.  Towards the end of this market sweet spot is when we also see the emergence of the long-tail, the laggards and niche implementations of the technology.

The second element in the chart is the famous Hype Cycle from Gartner (detailed methodology explanation) – a tools that works wonders to explain the path that all tools take when being adopted by organizations.  First, a caveat – each technology travels the cycle at their own speed, and while some may do end-to-end discovery-to-full-adoption in a few months or days, some others may take years or even decades to travel the same distance.  I say this because I want you to be aware that each dot in the HC is independent of each other, not related to each other (in other words, you don’t need to implement Social Media before you embrace Social CRM — although it would certainly help).  The hype cycle itself is quite simple: a technology has a trigger that launches it into the limelight from where it continue to collect “hype” about the usefulness it provides.  This hype grows to the point that is rumored to end world-hunger (OK, maybe too dramatic – but you get the point), at which point implementation  in earnest commences — followed by failures and the discovery that world hunger will continue for now.  That movement ends in the trough of disillusionment, where we learn that most of what we thought the technology did was hype – not reality.  Eventually, with time and patience we begin to learn what it does and how and begin to climb towards enlightenment.  Once we figure it out, we enter the plateau of productivity where it resides forever and ever becoming more and more useful with time — as we learn what it can do and how well.  In other words – no technology is what we think it is, and it takes time to figure it out and even more to do it right after learning the lessons of those who failed before us (thank you those, really).

The third element is the adoption curve.  This shows the speed at which organizations embrace and adopt new technologies – but it only makes sense to use it when you overlay it with the hype cycle.  Using it by itself does not tell the entire story, but you get the idea — as we learn more about how to do things, we get more organizations embracing the technology until we reach a point where mostly everyone is already using the technology and adoption begins to slow down simply because there are not those many organizations left (I mean, once you pass 50% adoption, it has to start coming down at some time — right?).  The overlap is the interesting element here and what generates the fourth element in this chart: the “market sweet spot”.  This is the convergence point when adoption is increasing alongside the lessons learned about how to properly and better use the technology — this is the perfect time to begin adoption and mainstream use of the technologies highlighted as it is also when the chance of success increase dramatically.

Now, what that chart talks to is simple: we are just beginning to see the point where Social Media is reaching mainstream adoption — in other words, adoption of Social Media is in the 20-30% range.

YOU: What? Are you kidding me?

YOU: I mean, everyone in the world knows about Twitter and Facebook, right? Right? There are 800+ million people on Facebook and a couple of hundred on Twitter – that helps, right?

Well, knowing about it and knowing how to use it for business are different things (heck, even knowing you CAN use it for business are different things).  While there is a tad more than 10% of the world on Facebook, the volume of traffic in there that is used for business is below 1% (cannot find the actual stat, but it was well below 1% last time I saw the report about two months ago — even if it tripled in usage, still below 2% and still quite insignificant).  Twitter is different, but also — the volume of tweet used for business is minimal.  In addition, the number of businesses using it for business is very small, but heavily biased in favor of mega-large-humongous organizations which tend to bias our perception when we see it in the news.

In either case, if you go to middle-America (definitely not Silicon Valley or any other coastal area) and ask how many businesses are using it you’d be appalled (if you are from SV or a coastal city) how little usage it has in business.  Go to other countries, you will be so happy to be living here (well, not really — but as it relates to use of Social Media in business at the very least).  And therein lies the rub (and the crux of my argument): until we get sufficient adoption of Social Media for business use (with correlated generation of good and bad cases and lessons learned from doing things right or wrong) there is no point in discussing what Social Business is, what Social CRM can be or how to exercise the collaboration muscle inherent to social adoption.

I mean, come on — get the walking right before you try the Western States ultra — know what I mean?

OK, 1200+ words and you have not been able to get a word in edgewise — your turn.

Tell me why I am so wrong and I don’t get it.  Go on, Ted and David already did in their posts (although technically, since they published before me I guess I disagree with them — but I’d contend that my thought process started before theirs… or something weird like that since I like to be right).  Paul Greenberg (great friend and a personal hero of mine) somewhat trumped my thought process by declaring the Social Customer done (fine, he said the era of the social customer ends — kinda the same unless you want to go to semantics).

Tell me, what do you think?  Am I really that wrong? Behind the times?