I was recently chatting with some cohorts about the landscape of social media – how the market is being inundated with all new ways to connect up with people who we know (and haven’t known for years), businesses we love (and those we haven’t known to love yet) and celebrities we admire (and those we don’t admire but treat as guilty pleasures).
As the conversation developed, I became acutely aware that the conversations about exhaustion were very familiar to me – it sounded very much like the sports card market.
For those who don’t remember sports cards, let me set the Wabac machine to the year 1991 – the peak year for the hobby/industry.
Sports cards back then weren’t just the “it” commodity on the playground – they were the hottest thing going in just about any product market. You couldn’t slap a hockey puck in Winnipeg without hitting a card shop (the popular estimate was that there was 100 stores at peak), and you sure as heck couldn’t avoid seeing them at retailers or as part of a crossover promotion at restaurants, gas stations or grocers.
Of course, like so many other “fads”, the card market fell from grace. The proverbial Boom was gone and the Bust was fully in play as collectors left in droves, in large part due to over-saturation of the market. Gone were the days when you could own every card produced in a year or even for little Johnny to get every card of his hockey hero.
Companies that joined the party amidst those good days like Pro Set and Arena died, as did longstanding entities like O-Pee-Chee. Those who survived either bought their competition, refocused their products or soldiered on, catering to their loyal customer base with new products that delivered new features (and yes, this group, or “Echo” if you prefer, is alive and kicking pretty hard).
If any of this is sounding familiar, it should.
When the true social media war between Facebook and Google Plus began just a short time ago, the general public was hitting peak times. Around the same time that The Social Network premiered, Facebook touted that it had reached 500 million members. This was also a time that MySpace wasn’t totally in ruins (but soon would be), Apple had launched its own social networking platform through iTunes and communities like Diaspora were still in development.
In other words, you had a social media boom.
Now, as we near the end of 2011, we are faced with social media exhaustion, much the same way the trading card industry was spent (pardon the pun) by the time its bust hit in and around 1993. It seems like a day doesn’t go by where we hear about a new Google+ or Facebook feature, or that a company like Grooveshark is going social, much the same way the card industry burst out innovation after innovation and companies transitioned into new markets.
All this happens, of course, while the consumer gets tired. As we saw in the Ipsos Reid report I blogged about earlier, Facebook is starting to lose its members, and while some of my fellow Gen Y’ers have registered their Google+ accounts, they’re not taking time to develop them and, just as importantly, they’ve largely stopped using Facebook, posting on occasion to add family or vacation photos.
I give this note not as a prediction of doom and gloom, but the overwhelming feeling is that we are headed towards a social media bust, much like the card industry faced years ago.
But if there is anything to take comfort in, it is that there will be an echo, and on the other side you will find people who have truly embraced social media and not seen it as a fad. It’s impossible to tell what activity will be like, but it will be streamlined to those who actively want to be in the social network, and with this smaller group will come a sharper focus on how to market to them.