In the years since the emergence of social as a separate entity for marketing purposes (roughly from around the birth of Twitter in 2006) we’ve figured out a lot about what social is, how it works, and what it means for marketers.

Now you could talk directly to a brand, and have them listen to you.

For consumers, this was great. For brands, it presented opportunities and challenges. It also entailed a pretty major shift in thinking.

So as memories of Social Media Week fade, has social now grown up?

Firstly, it’s worth defining ‘grown up’. I think the defining factors are:

  • a) has it been adopted across multiple sectors and territories?
  • b) does it have a proven model of effectiveness?
  • c) will it continue to be relevant into the future?

I was involved in the early stages back in 2008, when social was taking its first tentative toddles around marketing departments. It was new, shiny and cute. And some enlightened brands found it irresistible, ruffling its tufty hair by trialling a few content ideas, largely because they could.    

Regardless of results, social provided an excuse to showcase how a brand was forward-thinking, prepared to embrace new technologies and not hamstrung by conventional thinking. Who really cared if it actually achieved anything?

A few fledgling campaigns caught on and the architects were lauded as guiding lights; social media soothsayers. Others also got their fingers burnt. They dived in clumsily, tripped up and got a bloodied nose. But the smart kids learned fast and stole a march on their peers.       

In a recent Adobe Social/Econsultancy paper, two thirds of the 650 marketers surveyed stated that social was ‘integral to the marketing mix’.

They represented a mix of client-side and agencies from North America and Europe, from B2C as well as B2B. So in terms of ‘widespread adoption’, I think social gets a gold star.

Do you agree or disagree with the following statements? (Client-side respondents)

Now for the thorny issue of ROI. Without a plausibly credible framework, widely accepted by client, social budgets will hit a ceiling. Instinctively you’d like to support the attractive, if slightly geeky, new kid on the block. But only up to a point, unless he’s able to actually prove his brilliance.   

Solid case studies have helped to prove the business imperative for intelligent use of social media – the IAB’s recent report was a great example of how social can really impact a brand in a positive way.

The judging panel of the Social Buzz awards also remarked at a SMW event last week that ROI was starting to stack up and there were fewer “leaps of faith” being submitted for gongs.

A universally palatable framework remains elusive, however; one that isn’t just a popularity rating but a solid indictment of cost v benefit in pounds and pence. It’s tricky. But it is possible.

The Value of Social Advocacy framework we kicked off with BA, AEG and other partners is being test-driven by several brands but it’s still in its infancy won’t achieve its full potential unless some of the leading lights pitch in to crack the conundrum.

It’s worth remembering that its peers (press, TV, PR etc) don’t have water-tight ROI models, so let’s not be paralysed by fear that all the other kids in the class are older and better looking.

Finally, will social be relevant in the future? I think it will, but it won’t be called ‘social media’. I throw a strop when people dismiss ‘social’ as a channel. It’s not. Facebook is a social channel. Social media is a culture.

It’s a new way of thinking that acknowledges that a marketing department doesn’t have all the answers and invites customers to help to define a brand’s future. This needs buy-in throughout an organization and it needs to be transparent and long-term or consumers won’t buy-in.

Social’s influence transcends all marketing channels.

So I think social media is almost grown up. It’s in its teenage angst phase: At times confident, brilliantly expressive and attractive, at other times, awkward, ineloquent and embarrassing.

When it does gain full maturity, it will have changed its name, bought a new wardrobe and graduated into a valued member of the marketing family for a long time to come.

Steve Richards

Published 3 October, 2013 by Steve Richards

Steve Richards is MD of social media agency Yomego and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (10)

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Couldn't agree more. People focus too much on the media and not the 'social' aspect. It's like looking for ROI from your telephone equipment it's not going to happen... But you have a building full of the things. They enable to communicate but HOW you communicate is a mindset change.


Setting up SHOP is more important than what tool you use. Tools and measurement are of course god practice. Like with a call centre... But the training and the people are the asset

almost 5 years ago



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almost 5 years ago

Edwyn Raine

Edwyn Raine, Digital Strategist at Evolution 7

Thanks Author.
There are still two main problems with social that I see...

Firstly, because it is often falls in the digital marketing remit, it will always be compared to channels which are known for accurate tracking, easy attribution modelling and measurable ROI. You are right to compare it to TV, Press, etc, but others don't.

Secondly, at a basic level it is the most accessible digital marketing channel on the planet. You don't need a credit card to have a Facebook page, nor experience in ad optimisation to RT someone...

In reality, we all know social media is not free. According to some recent analysis I carried out, organic reach is down almost 70% YoY, in short, you need to pay to drive results.

In many ways I think this is a good thing. It will help businesses to understand there is value in social media, but that the value is not secured by posting 4 times a week with regurgitated content. It will force people to think outside the box as they have to on every other channel, this is when the channel will become mature.

almost 5 years ago



I agree, but what if social media are only a trend. It can be replaced by something better, with more ways to communicate... by something 3d ;)

almost 5 years ago

Edwyn Raine

Edwyn Raine, Digital Strategist at Evolution 7

Social media is only a term to define something, the activity of social communication through technology.
Technology, devices and platforms will inevitably change but fundamental marketing techniques will not change and haven't in the past.

almost 5 years ago

Steve Richards

Steve Richards, MD at Yomego

Thanks, Edwyn and Simon, for your comments and input

almost 5 years ago


Michael Bian

My advice on social media is: Be consistent! Use the same visual style in all the social media you are.
Thanks ~ visit us :

almost 5 years ago


Brighter Directions

Great article.
Fundamentally social media should be seen as an engagement tool for business and not a platform to 'sell'.
Its great to see from the recent statistics that so many businesses are utilising a proactive process in their social media strategy.

almost 5 years ago


onlinemarketing products, Online Marketing Tips at bestonlinemarkeying

yes social media can grow up with the perfect rules.

Social networking may have graduated from its infancy as it continues to grow in 2012, according to a US study by Nielsen and NM Incite.

The study showed consumers are spending more time on social networks than on any other category of sites, Nielsen noted in its study.

"(C)onsumers continue to spend more time on social networks than on any other category of sites: roughly 20 percent of their total time online via personal computer (PC), and 30 percent of total time online via mobile," it said.

It also said the total time spent on social media in the US across PCs and mobile devices increased 37 percent to 121 billion minutes in July 2012, compared to 88 billion in July 2011.

almost 5 years ago

Sam Davies

Sam Davies, Director at samtdavies consultingSmall Business Multi-user

I agree with Edwyn. Social media is not as easily measurable for ROI, as the use of social media for a business could purely be used for Brand Awareness over lead generation - especially for small businesses where word-of-mouth accounts for 54% of purchases.

So this leads to a debate whether it's a viable 'marketing' tool, as the main result of any marketing efforts is to increase your ROI, leads and customers. Which, given proper understanding of the tools available, market trends and planning, I think it is. Social media may still be young, but whether it is truly mature or not depends on the person behind it. And in regards to social media being a culture, that's definitely the forward way of thinking. See what you think of my thoughts about creating the right culture for implementing marketing automation:

It'd be good to hear your views around this!

almost 5 years ago

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