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?

26 Replies to “The Best is Yet to Come in Social”

  1. Esteban, really great post. I agree with you especially cause I live in Italy and the West Coast effect always comes with a delay due to cultural differences (societal and business ones). We’ll see the evolution next year. I take the chance to wish you a happy new year.


  2. This is a first: I sang Ms. Krall while I read this post. Next I am expecting a music video to the tune of “Don’t Believe the Hype”.

    Well done, and thank you for the reality check. Here’s to good times ahead in 2012.



  3. Esteban, great post as usual:-) After reading and re-reading your post, the only thing I disagree is where we are on the hype cycle curve, but then again who knows for sure?

    As I stated in my post, I firmly believe in the disruption social will bring in business, I am just not certain it will come next year. As you posited, adoption in business is still very low, and I would argue out of the 1-2% of businesses that do use it, there is only a small percentage the are approaching social as another lever to solve a specific business problem. I think next year will be a very interesting one to watch how it all plays out.

    Last but not least, your title is the glass is half full version of the title of my post (yes I am somewhat of a pessimist but also believe we need a bit less hype and a bit more substance to succeed)….


    1. Ted,

      There is a saying in Argentina “En la cancha se ven los pingos” which loosely translated means — zen master answer (i.e. “will see”). The saying refers to people who talk up their horses before a race or a polo match (we are big horse people down there), and the fact that you will never know which horse is better than other until they go out and give it their all.

      I would normally agree with you on the slow adoption and lack of understanding — but this time I have to go with what I hear in my conversations around town: virtually everyone is allocating budget and time to figure out how this social thing affects business and moves the needle. If all that talk comes true, I think you are right – we have a very interesting year ahead. Even if 1/2 of them come true it will be interesting.

      The relatively low cost and low bother of social channels (and very high hype) made it very simple to “adopt” (read test out or pilot) the last couple of years and there are already plenty of early leads claimed by leveraging social channels and their outcomes.

      2012 is the year when we will see the “pingos” (horses in Lunfardo, the Argentine slang) go out there and prove to both you and I (and everyone else watching) who can run better.

      Finally, I think you are the first person EVER to call me optimist… gosh-golly… thanks.

      Thanks for the read and comment.


      1. Esteban, excellent post… I am already seeing some “pingos” in a few races and a polo matches in “Latam” — #SCRM horses… Some #SCRM projects are just simple initiatives, others are phases that are part of a roadmap, and a few because that 20% adoption is too much to handle with just Twitter and Facebook alone.

        Let’s see how it goes in 2012!


        1. Jesus,

          As one of the few people in this world that I know has done several projects in SM, SCRM I take your comments to mean that there is a lot to do still, although a few things have happened already (likely the ones you have implemented all over LatAm). I like that concept that something beyond TWitter and Facebook must be done to succeed — totally agree!

          Thanks for the read and comment!


  4. Nice post. You deal more with the social media/SCRM side (external) side, while I am more focused on internal employee collaboration, but it appears both our areas are starting to slide down the back side of the hype curve. I posted similar thoughts going as far as saying in 2012 employees with be hating social tools just as much as they hate email today:


    1. Thanks for the comment and the — ahem, link to your post.

      I don’t know anyone who hates email, but know lots of people who say and pretend they hate it. Same people who hit the refresh button on their browser/outlook receive button and/or check their blackberries/iphones/droids each time the little light starts blinking.

      hate, love to hate, hate to love are all relative. I probably agree with you that we will see social slide down the same slope — but no way it will ever be hated. And, much to certain people I know chagrin, collaboration (that “stuff” you cover in more detail) will be the next iteration for social “stuff”.

      thanks for the read and comment.


  5. Great post, Esteban, and well constructed graphic. But I have to respectfully challenge the finding that social media adoption is in the 20-30% range. When you look at its adoption through the lens of recruiting, you’ll find that 90% or more of businesses use social media networks (LinkedIn, Facebook, and to a much smaller extent, Twitter) for sourcing and candidate review and engagement. Granted, the number of recruiters to total employees in organization is miniscule, and so this certainly will drive a small percentage of ‘enterprise users’ compared to the whole. But were you to survey the recruiting team within every employer, you’d find these tools are quite mainstream in their adoption. (And in fact, employers are seeking greater leverage of these tools through even tighter integration with their recruiting software and processes).


    1. Yvette,

      I won’t challenge that 90% adoption of Social Media in recruiting as a TOOL, but will definitely challenge that 90% as an integrated element of a multi-channel strategy with business benefits measured as correlation between operational metrics and KPIs.

      There are other areas (twitter as entry point for customer service anyone?) where we see adoption of the social channels to complete the functions but the scalability, automation, and integration story of these is nowhere near where it should be (I’d even argue it is not even recognized as a need, but not an easy argument to defend).

      Anyways, would love to compare notes in more detail soon, I read and heard of some people using social channels as a complementary tool by recruiters, but have not yet seen programmatic scalability and integration there.

      Thanks for the read and comment!


  6. Esteban – I was very impressed with your post as it provides a useful framework to look at technologies across many different industries. For example, it takes 10-20 years to commercialize a new technology in “heavy industries” but the curves still apply.


    1. thanks, i think that was the idea Jackie Fenn had when they created the Hype Cycle. The rest is just learning from using it for over 8 years.

      thanks for the read and comment!


  7. Esteban, Great collaboration!! I may suggest to include a third curve that represents the alignment with corporate strategy. I been envolved in some Social media proyects that look SM as a separate corporate initiative (some BIG companies in Latam). They are starting as a separate initiative, and as long as they see that social media is not an strategy it self, and realized that is just another channel (and that customers are cross channel) they will start to harvest the real potential for their business. My guess is that it will not happen during 2012 but let see. Happy New year!!


    1. Miguel,

      Thanks for the comment — I would love to figure out a curve like that! I totally see the same you see, there is a lack of understanding of what it can do longer term. Then again, the HC supposedly talks to that, as the climb up the slope of enlightenment is when companies and people begin to realize what it can do (no, really do — not just initial reactions) and they begin to figure out how to live in forever-happy mode with the technology. I guess that a line that starts at the bottom of the trough and climbs slowly towards upper right would be easest way to represent that — maybe even hockey-stick style to make people happy 🙂

      Thanks for the read!


  8. Great article Esteban! The ability to integrate Virtual Agent technology into avenues such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. makes social media even more useful for Social CRM, since more information can be tracked about a user through Facebook than through a company website, making the customer interactions more useful.


    1. Jessica,

      Thanks for the read and comment, lots of work still to be done on both sides of the world: automation and social, but I am hopeful.


  9. Esteban,

    Great insights here, thank you.

    At first, I disagreed with your assertion that only 20 – 30% of businesses are using social media. TSIA research (which focuses on the services/support side of social) indicates far greater adoption (78% use online support communities, ~63% use social networks to provide services, etc).

    However, reading through the comments it became clear to me that you are referring to actual integration into business systems and processes–not simply claiming a Twitter account. On that note, our data is spot on! We’re seeing adoption rates <30% of key factors like integration with CRM, single sign on, advocate programs, metrics, and so on.

    Love the post and agree that the best is yet to come!



    1. Shawn,

      Thanks for that comment, the 20-30% is just for using SM, not including integration, and across the world/industries. If you look at your industry, they are always ahead of trends and trying just about — well, everything they can. I don’t doubt that 60%+ are using social channels – I’d have said more than that even!

      Alas, the second wave, the integration into CRM and other systems of record, is what we are behind on. It will certainly hit your industry early, since they are ahead of most, but it will still hit them. The fact that you think 10-20% of them are starting to integrate is the first indication I think.

      Thanks for the read!


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