The Expansion of the Social Media Bubble

The steadily growing build-up of buzz surrounding the role of social media for social networking and professional marketing is hard to escape. What was once home to the exclusive domain of the tech geek elite and the Ivy League undergraduate gossip network is now housing even the stodgiest and dullest of companies. The social media bandwagon compels even your arthritic grandma to “friend” you on Facebook.   And even though many use it clumsily, it’s cool that social media is catching on.  But watching the social media landscape change so rapidly is a little too reminiscent of the late 90’s tech bubble.

How to Gauge an Intangible Value?

In the late 90’s it seemed like any company could tack on a dot com to the end of their name and then sell for incredibly over-inflated prices.  Everyone knew an online presence added value.  The problem was nobody seemed to know exactly how much value.  How do you measure an intangible?  The recent housing bubble had the same problem in terms of assessing value and the resulting crash is still reverberating.   In some ways, what’s happening with social media today seems to mirror the bubble phenomenon. If you think the bubble analogy is a bit of a stretch, it may be worth your while to take a look at MySpace.

The Rise of the 98 Pound Weakling

When companies decide to jump into the social media scene they obviously don’t have a great rubric for assessing values.  Facebook, the 98 pound weakling, emerged when MySpace had the buzz and the bulk of social media users.  But by offering a more friendly and intuitive platform, Facebook slowly but surely began to let the air out of the MySpace bubble.  When Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. bought MySpace for $580,000,000 in 2005 the prevailing wisdom was that here was the act of a visionary.  Here was a man who truly understood the value of a corporate stake in the social media gold rush.  In retrospect, that sort of thinking seems naïve.  After all, just six years after purchasing MySpace, News Corp. sold it for a paltry $35,000,000.  And don’t expect history not to repeat itself.

Initial Innovation Doesn’t Guarantee Staying Power

There are other ways the social media bubble mirrors the tech bubble.  In the tech bubble, small tech companies were able to do a few innovative things to gain an initial edge which initially gave them cache and unmerited stock values. But when things shook out and the dust settled, companies like Google, eBay and Amazon emerged holding all the goodies.  More than a decade later these companies are still essentially the best in their field.  Sure, there’s competition, but it’s minimal.  There may be other, more complex reasons for this, but these companies do what they do better than anybody else.  They’ve got the best platform for their product and the most users, an unbeatable combination if you can maintain high levels of customer loyalty.

The Fragmentation of Social Media

MySpace, Friendster and a few other social media sites initially got some of the social media buzz off the ground.  Facebook, which was considered an anemic, if not clearly unworthy competitor for a long time, emerged as the clear winner.  It may not have been the first social network, but considering what Google, eBay and Amazon revealed in the tech wars, staying power is what matters.  The early bird doesn’t always get the worm.  Facebook had a better platform, and they eventually got the buzz too.

The social media landscape is still populating, but it’s also fragmented.   It’s not uncommon for an individual to have three different social networking sites open on a browser.  LinkedIn is the go-to for professional networking.  Facebook, though being increasingly tapped by businesses that are realizing the value of advertising and encouraging brand interaction remains as a destination to engage in more purely casual social interactions.  In between times you might be checking Twitter.

What Defines Social Media Perfection?

Enter Google+.  Is the social media bubble about to burst?  Google+ likely has a better platform than Facebook.  It’s got more growth potential for both professional marketing and personal networking.  And its circles—aside from offering an ingenious way to group people into infinite categories—offer something that used to be the bailiwick of Facebook. Remember how Facebook used to be so exclusive?  It represented the social space that only you and your chosen few bosom buddies inhabited.  Your grandma was certainly not part of the equation.  But Google+ offers a new possibility.  What happens when you can do everything you want to from one social media platform? You can be both exclusive and all-encompassing at the same time.  You can make your grandma happy by “circling” her but she doesn’t have to be privy to the exclusive space you can still maintain with your bosom buddies.  Will Google+ do to Facebook what Facebook did to MySpace?  It’s too early to tell, but you probably shouldn’t bet against it.

Aaron Carlson lives near Chicago.  He divides his time among work, writing and family life.  He writes on behalf of Colorado Technical University and has a keen interest in blogging and social media.  He also writes for www.professionalintern.com.