7 Signs of the Post Social Media Era

Social media is not a new driver of the Internet, relatively speaking. At best, social data is harnessed to serve larger technology trends like contextual media, marketing automation, and more. In turn, social media and related marketing conversations are no longer groundbreaking. The larger business world has moved on to the next thing.

This “post social media” trend crystallized for me at SxSW V2V last week. Start-ups were working on new technologies and approaches, but they widely ranged from space start-ups to Shinola (CEO Jacques Panis pictured above), a Detroit based maker of high quality wrist watches. What wasn’t central to the V2V conversation was social media. At most, start-ups discussed social as a means to include customers in conversations and innovation, but not the end product of their innovation.

Several larger stories and trend corroborate this post social trend. Here are seven signs that the U.S. social media era of innovation is coming to a close:

1) The Medium Changed


Internet media evolved and became more mobile, visual and data-centric, and the dollars and associated conversations followed. If you look at what Internet start-ups are focusing on today it tends to be mobile-centric, automation, data applications, contextual use, location media and other types of applications.

New social networking apps, while still developing, are not generating huge investment rounds or attention anymore. Heck, even the most mainstream of social networking apps are retooling to meet the new mobile visual Internet. As the old adage goes, follow the money.

2) Wall Street IPOs Are Waning


In that vein, the social media IPO craze — led by LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter — looks like it may be coming to close. This year’s biggest social media IPOs are coming from Chinese start-ups Line and Alibaba. No big U.S. social media start-ups are on the horizon with the exception of Pinterest.

3) The Rise of “Dark” Social

Original image by Blake Herman

Dark social is the movement towards conversations that are not public anymore. Private social network communities and newer networks like WhatsApp and SnapChat thrive on people saying what they think without the repercussions of public data, ad retargeting, attention from customer service nazis, and helicopter actions from bosses and parents.

The movement away from public conversation is a significant loss for social media in the conventional sense. People are no longer willing to be transparent because the repercussions of public discourse are too high. Eventually, even those private conversations will become dangerous (like texts and emails that end up in court) causing more off-line dialogue.

4) Thought Leadership Vacuum Appearing


When my friend Jeremiah Owyang started focusing on collaborative economy models instead of social media, I was really happy for him. At the same time, I could not help but note that another thought leader had moved on from the general social media discussion. With each passing month another member of the old guard stops blogging or moves on to a new venture.

Those that remain — new and old — seem challenged to offer a new conversation beyond Facebook and Twitter dalliances, influencers, and content marketing. While there may be new wrinkles every now and then, I see granular progress compared to the advancements made a few years ago.

5) The Commoditization of Social Media Content

Original Image by the Foodie Buddha

When discussing the above thought leadership trend with Rich Becker last week, he said one of the primary drivers is the commoditization of social media content. I had to agree with him. To be clear we’re not talking all content, rather content about social media and how to use it.

There are so many people producing social media marketing and trend blog posts that even when a thought leader writes something original, their content fails to stand out. The growing crowd of social media experts — from AdAge beat reporters to mom and pop bloggers — is an underlying cause of today’s content shock conversation, too. A gourmet burger is still just a burger in an online world with a chain on every corner.

6) Gaming Google with Social Gets Harder


It used to be that social media was a primary way to drive SEO for topical issues. Brands and SEO experts figured out how to use social updates and content to achieve top rank, and the games began. But Google has responded with a series of initiatives — Panda, Penguin and eliminating keywords — that are effectively dampening and possibly even eliminating the SEO industry.

Online word of mouth is still used as a search algorithm signal, but increasingly it must be organic and earned, something many marketers won’t invest in. It’s much easier to buy access with ads and other tactics. As a result, those people and brands not truly vested in social communities are moving on.

7) The Biggest Trend in Social Is… TV?

Santos v Atletico MG - Brasileirao Series A 2014
Original Image by CBS LA.

Today’s biggest advances in social media marketing seem to be the integration of traditional television programming (live and on demand), native advertising, and visual social elements in a cross-screen smorgasbord of transmedia delight. Even social TV and transmedia not new trends. Rather, this is the maturation of media and technology to serve the advertising industry.

So those are the seven signals that are making me think we’ve quietly entered a new era in Internet marketing. What do you think?

Want more? Read 12 Ways to Boost Your Visual Media Performance.


  • I’d add #8, the failure of social media to live up to the promise of changing markets, marketing, and business in general. There were lots of though leaders running around talking about the “Social Media Revolution” and how it was going to change everything….and then it just ended up being another marketing channel for pushing ads. The “converstation” quickly devolved to commmerce, with it’s attendant need for return on investment…and mostly, it wasn’t worth the expense.

    • I have to agree, Justin. There was a lot hype, and I was guilty of creating some of it, too. It turned into a sausage factory, and that’s a damn shame. I feel really bad about that, but at the same time, feel the channel can be used for great good by those who choose to do so.

      • The problem with exciting, emerging technologies is always that the promise is invariably too optimistic and it is usually impossible to foresee the future reality. This is even the case with the Internet / World Wide Web.

        The original promise that we all bought into back in the halcyon early days of emergence was that we would have a world of information at our fingertips and the inference was that the information would be of a certain quality and integrity. The reality of today is that the WWW is mostly full of complete nonsense, and instead of ushering in a utopian vision of information, actually serves as little more than a mirror to society’s general ignorance.

        When people got excited about Web.2 and social media it was nothing more than hoping that this time it would deliver.

        When the next big thing emerges we can only hope that we will have learned our lesson and will be a bit more measured in our excitement and expectations.

        • Agreed. Less hype, more wisdom and measured expectations. Let’s find what works, what has integrity rather than gamesmanship, and do that do the best of our ability. Embrace the future, but not pin all our hopes on the “next big thing.”

      • I don’t really agree with @justinmwhitaker:disqus or you @geofflivingston:disqus on this as I see social providing massive opportunities to brands all around the world. The point of social is to connect people with other people i.e. H2H not for brands to sell / market things. However, that being said some brands are actually using social to drive real business value for their customers / employees / consumers via social. Look at Maersk, GE, Oreo, JetBlue, Burberry, Hilton, I can go on and on, the point is that these brands understand that social isn’t a magic fix, but a set of business tools that help provide service opportunities to other people. This could be in the form of customer service, recruitment, employer branding, sales, while addressing it through different consumer need states – inform, utility, reward, recognition and entertainment and the native functionality of the different platforms. We have to also remind ourselves that social isn’t that old, several years ago Jeff Bezos once compared the internet to the early days of electricity usage by consumers. Social is still in its infancy, we need to make sure we’re just not spectators watching from the side.

    • I was one of those people back in the day. Sincere, but somewhat misguided. Of course the truth is, we marketing types mess up everything. We seem to turn everything into “ads.”

  • Great post. I have pondered this myself and know that the social media world is changing. Taking that into consideration, I need to let my clients know that there are other ways, more traditional ways even, where they should be spending time and energy.

  • Solid post Geoff. All things that I’ve been pondering – particularly the “Dark Social” trend you’ve named. But as I look around, it feels like the chaotic early days of something new — where we haven’t yet settled on how to label or discuss the “Post-social” (?social?) media. But this at a time when the late-adopters are finally starting to realize that a revolution has happened.

    • Postmodernism was the geneisis of the title, becaise it tkes on the identity of everything before it and mashes them together. A la TV, and social media, and database marketing, and… I am not sure that’s right for this Internet era, but I agree it is something new, and it’s not focused on a public organic conversation, per say.

  • Thanks for this post! I see two sides to this – on the negative side, the matrix has taken over and social has been subsumed by marketers so it’s “just another channel”. But on the positive side, the more invisible social media becomes, the more woven into the fabric of society, the sooner the deep changes that need to happen in areas like management, will happen. They will have no choice but to happen so companies can survive – despite the noise and information overload of the digital age, we’re still seeing really meaningful disruptions with far reaching consequences – and opportunities.

    • THis is a positive outlook, and I appreciate that. There is a baby in this bath water, and many relationships and good things have and will continue to happen because of social media.

  • This is a timely post. Remember the days when bloggers blogged about blogging? When my oldest kids was 12 she had to get on all the social platforms (or feel left out). Now her sister is 12 and could care less. Her friends are more into the private chat than “look at me” public conversations. My dad (who lived to be 99 years old) said that over his life there was always something “new” that was to change everything…. and in the end, the tools changed… but people remained pretty much the same!

    • Wait, a blog about a blog? People do that?

      When do we quit talking about social media and just be about it. I’ve always been reluncatant to comment on the concept of blogging about blogging or being social on social media but it seems adequate now.

      I want to start a conversation around connecting employees to employees. I call it. Work.

  • Another thought provoking post Geoff.

    Integration has always been the name of the game with social as one point in the equation. I don’t think social is going away but as technology advances new doors will open on how,where and when social is used e.g. Jelly, SnapChat, etc. People want to connect with each other (where did we here that one before?) and share what is meaningful to them. For the most part, it seems the brands and their trusty agencies ad/PR partners still don’t get it.

    That said socialTV both on the data and community sides and New Fronts video intrigue me. All that said, where is ‘the next?’

    • LOL, just did my best Karl Sagan answer to that via @bethkanter:disqus and @denvan:disqus. I’ll say the dark social connects show people want to connect, and agree with you. They just don’t want the repercussions of open social media.

  • Great post, Geoff. The conduits of social is one aspect. The strata of adoption and usage is another. B2C and big brands have embraced and integrated social into their marketing. For the most part. The laggards are a wide range of B2B companies that, astonishingly, don’t want to go near social with a ten foot poll. The long tail adoption means the nuts and bolts education is still necessary. Big brands and earlier adopters are moving on. Yet, many medium and smaller B2B organizations have yet to hear the call.

  • Nice job, Geoff. Chris Brogan shared this with me-via social media. Of course.

    I get what you’re saying here. “The Top 20 Social Media Tips” posts are not interesting anymore-or rather, they hold no interest for me.

    One clue I saw about the changing social media game was when my now 18-year-old daughter starting NOT being on Facebook almost 2 years ago.

    And, she’s not on it much today, either. Instagram is her thing…her entire generation is on it all the time. Twitter-not so much. And, I hate to say it, Twitter is losing me a little now, too.

    Question: So, if mobile is hot-what’s next?

    In my eyes, social media and it’s marketing potential are still huge. Maybe we all have to start using it in a different way?

    The Franchise King®

  • I definitely think social has grown up and you raise some really valid points. However, I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say POST social, as if to imply it’s decline.

    There’s a few good counter arguments for some of your points too – like, did search die just because no one else is entering the market? What about auction sites, did they die or will new auction sites not receive interest as an IPO? The war has been won – the winners declared and now maturation is happening.

    The move forward by thought leaders is simply because they always end up at the start of the bellcurve. Social marketing is now at (or near) the top of the curve… widely adopted so it’s basically old news.

    For me and my clients, we’re still running highly profitable campaigns using social that exceed search engine performance.

    I think ultimately, the day social dies is the same day people stop holding conversations.

  • Enjoyed the quick read and bullet points, although rather dark and gloomy ~ was that a bit of resentment toward the masses for being able to beat Big Media at it’s own game? It’s hard to imagine the argument where you predict a move away from “public content” meanwhile saying mom and pop bloggers are all the rage. With a 98 percent failure rate, surely you are not looking solely at moon based start ups and digital wristbands as the “next wave”? The “Internet of Things” may in fact be hot, but will it survive? I remember the tablet of the 90’s flopped only to resurface again with Apple a decade later. People were not ready for tablets. There has to be critical mass for the “Internet of Things” to start drawing in VC. Your last point! OMG! Spot on. I have been working on a nationwide local streaming video market. Creating the Market, and filling the need. We’ve been out in front of this convergence trend for at least two and half years. So far? No competitors. And we are uniquely situated to gather viewers and watch the old studio system like Netflix and Hulu go by the way of the dinosaur. Someone has to be there to see the forest for the trees. Nice piece> I appreciate you for writing it!! I tweet at PronetworkBuild

  • I’d love to argue with this post but sadly, I can’t. I find more truth in it than I’d like to. I suppose this is inevitable but I regret that social has been transformed into little more than another channel for pushing messaging…

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  • I disagree. Social media by my data and research is scaling to Social Business. This is taking the same vector the web did in the 90s except it’s happening faster. The webmaster was a underfunded misunderstood role that many dismissed. The web community was passionate and relevant. Then it exploded mainstream – ebusiness, ecommerce the web was the way to do business online. The social media manager is in the same situation today now it’s changing to business commerce in social – the next digital frontier. I’m bullish on social. That is why Crowdchat is focused on social media and big data. Data will prove to the world that social works. Then it scales mainstream.

    • It’s worth noting that you have an app focused on social media, but it leverages big data. Which is unfortunately one of my points, social is often used to harness data, much like a farm. I think that for every company that does use data for general good, we’ll see 10 that show us how big data will be used to exploit us — meaning customers and individual people — subtly and in the worst cases, in disgusting fashion. Hopefully, I am wrong about that.

      • I see your point but think that it will work itself out with tools, sw, automation, users involved..etc. If valuable it will work out. We saw this movie before in the evolution of the web. Web pages web sites etc.. we are in early days of social and yes bad stuff will be there in the wild days of norms forming.

        • I like the idea of using social media for good. The medium hasn’t dissappeared-, but rather- it must be managed, and those who use the social web to connect and sell in an authentic way; much like you do Geoff, will be better marketers for it.

  • It’s not over. It didn’t fail. It’s just fatigue. It’s up to each of us, individually, to EVOLVE the gift of empowerment social media and the internet has bequeathed. With great freedom comes…(you know the rest.)

    In ’09, folks were saying the same thing. The “too much noise” flag and “echo chamber” mantras where bandied about in nearly every Tweetchat in this space.

    But, of course it became laden with ecommerce. People need to make a living. That’s not a bad thing, after all, what we’re doing here (conversing via Disqus) is “social media” ..and this blog promotes this individual’s personal brand and his views.

    Did many… ok MANY, MANY people become a bit over zealous with the power they’ve been given? Yess’ir they did/do/will do. But that’s a behavioral issue. I don’t believe it speaks to what is truly possible if we take personal responsibility for ourselves, and our behaviors online.

    I must agree though; ROI is at the root of the problem. As long as this whole genre is expected to submit exclusively to that master, there will be excessive noise. Unfortunately, ROI is baked into the snake oil formula; Excessive noise translates to inflated numbers…which look great on reports and sales literature to those who don’t see the bigger picture. And they are often C-level decision makers with Bio written in third-person. ROI has a place…but it’s place should not be at the head of the table (IMO.)

    For me, the power of “mutual access” … my ability to access you and your thoughts…and your ability to access me and mine… the very thing we all got so excited about in the first place… makes the growing pains worth it. This life is what we make it…and the internet is part of our reality…our life.

    Balance, in social media as in life, is key. https://www.crowdchat.net/post/287856

    That’s my two cents. Thank you for listening.

  • Very thought provoking post! Thank you. What would call this era of post social media? Jeremiah describes the sharing economy the next evolution. If social was about sharing conversation, than the sharing economy is the sharing of things.

    I wonder though if post social is just natural evolution of a disruptive technology as per Gartner– from innovation trigger to inflated expectations to a plateau of productivity (just another channel).

    Given the shift, what do you think is next innovation trigger?

    • I was just commenting to @denvan:disqus on this. Post social was aplay off postmodernism, meaning this era mashes everything together a la TV, and social media, and database marketing, and… Looking forward wearables will force us into a more algorithmic life with the Internet. We need smarter, inteligent (artificial intelligence?) apps that help us do what we want, and communicate with our select peers as needed.

      OK! That’s my best Karl Sagan. Maybe the movie Her is a lot closer to the truth than we’d like to admit! Hope you are doing well, Beth. Love reading your stuff still after all these years.

      • Thanks Geoff. So more of Scoble/Israel age of context scenario and internet of things and cows that tweet!

        I find myself writing more about and being drawn to the human side of the trends of big data, IOE, etc and what that means for the enterprise.

        • Beth. Agreed, social ‘media’ has paved the way for the physical world to now be social. Social doesn’t “die”, it just integrates and helps us move to the next phase.

  • Business Leaders must understand that Social Media is a space for building new online marketers for your brand or organization, not a space for building new markets for their brand or organization. ~ Leroy Dodd

  • I tend to fall into the camp of folks who feel it’s not dead, just evolving. When social was a newborn, the goal of marketers and the like was simply to get people/companies to USE it. Now that it’s a tween, we’ve all grown tired of the echo chamber mentality of the different channels, we lament the fact that “Twitter isn’t like it was in the good ol’ days” and so on and so forth. We ALSO forget that for the average person, who isn’t exposed to social on a day in, day out, moment to moment, dawn to dusk (and then some) basis, social is where things are. Facebook and Instagram, for the lion’s share of the human race, is where news is obtained and where stories and opinions are shared. The fatigue many of us experience has been wrought by our own immersion in the medium. We’ve said it before and it’ll be said again: anyone who put ALL the eggs in the social media basket was a fool. Social is a tool, just like any other marketing vehicle. It’s time it was treated as such.

  • good post I like it very much. What will be your suggestions @ http://goo.gl/2lw2Oz where i found some recent social media trends

  • You make great points, Geoff. I just question the conclusion based on what you’re calling the phenomenon. Are we approaching the end of innovation in social media? No more so than we’re approaching the end of innovation in, say, automobiles. The fundamentals have been worked out for decades and decades, so now we see more iterative innovation. How about the end of Web innovation? Again, there was a huge, massive surge when it was new; now because it’s mature, innovation is more incremental, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any.

    But even if I grant you the “end” of social media innovation, that would make it a post-social-media-innovation era. Social media itself is alive and well, its uses are expanding with the number of tools available to use it, networks to join (I’m especially intrigued by the proliferation of professional niche networks), and the number of uses to which it is being put. Social media has by no means reached maturity, given the immature ways many organizations employ it and the fact that many others haven’t even begun using it yet. There’s also the pace of innovation within existing networks. And the role mobile is playing is also nascent, despite the huge uptake in use of relatively new single-purpose tools like WeChat and WhatsApp.

    Acknowledging the slowing of the pacd of innovation in the social media category is one thing. Declaring a post social media era is another!

    • Postmodernism took the art scene in the late 20th century, yet many artist persisted creating modern pieces. I see no difference between this change in internet technologies and that period of change in art. Some will stay in their preferred media and approach making incremental improvements. There’s nothing wrong with that.
      Nice Facebook a/b test post, by the way.

  • moneytrain manifesto. paging Doc Searls!

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  • I agree with your points, Geoff, and nicely done. I think the commoditization point and the dark social point are the cause and effect. Marketers will always find a way to screw things up, always have always will… One thing that social media accomplished is that it flattened the media structure. People were initially attracted to social media because they had unprecedented ownership of the activity, e.g, who they friended, who saw their information, what information they wanted to see, etc., or so they believed. Now, the new concept of the “right” of online privacy and transparency has been unleashed and behaviors are beginning to change. Uptake with the dark social sites and image-only sites are going to continue to rise because people simply are not willing to give up the control they realized they love so much. Being seen isn’t the problem for social media users — they don’t like becoming a dumping ground for marketers based on the words they post or their browsing history.

  • Great post, Geoff. I enjoyed hearing your talk about this at What’s Next DC last week. As you said then, this doesn’t mean social media is dead. I agree – it’s not dead, it’s just inevitable. Brands and organizations have to allow for it in their strategies, but with limited time and resources, they’re channeling their efforts into the platforms that have the greatest impact.

    For start ups, the social media “Field of Dreams” era is over (and has been waning for a while). If you build it, they won’t necessarily come running to sign up. The rise of Dark Social, multi-platform management and “sign up” fatigue are all contributing here.

    Mobile is focused on making life easier, and can better deliver on privacy (e.g., Dark Social), and that’s what consumers are craving right now. Social media has already done what it can do to make your life easier, and signing up for your 8th platform – remembering yet another password, setting up a profile, curating content, etc. – is the opposite of easy. And privacy? It’s a desire directly at odds with the underlying tenets of social. I’m not sure if the Post Social Media Era we’re embarking on will become known as the Privacy Era or the Convenience Era (with collaborative economy models, personal assistance/data aggregation apps and apps that let you turn the lights off in your house from across the country), but either one is a decided shift from the hallmarks of the Social Media Era.

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  • Thank you Geoff. Two things up front – I love the things you have connected here and I love the voice for humanism in business and social media. We are seeing two trends that seem to conflict on the surface – increasing autonomy combined with increasing community. When we can foster both, we create a place for people to express themselves authentically and to feel support for doing so. The “weirdos” coming out of endless closets is part of this and society’s tolerance for a much wider range of people types is one of my favorite trends.

    Marketers who relate first and sell second will continue to be in a stronger position. It’s hard not to feel compassion though for the companies whose business model has been upended; I understand the panic-driven approaches. But if your customers are your community, I believe more often than not they will guide you through marketplace changes. This is enormously complicated by scale, and the “too big to fail” notion is really due for retirement. You probably noticed P&G is discontinuing over 100 brands. They are also lamenting the poor performance of many so-called “beauty” brands. For all the work Dove has done to align themselves with women’s self esteem, their products remain little more than boxed up chemicals.

    One of the unsung benefits of social is that if you sell a crappy product, social is only going to highlight that as customers tell us what they really think. I see this aspect of social business getting stronger and stronger, pressuring brands to provide healthier and more sustainable products. Like so many things today, most of this is easier said than done. Kudos to anyone who is trying.

  • Great post Geoff. Sharing it with everyone. I think social has found its place in the marketing mix (more of a layer than a channel). We need to think in terms of an holistic approach to marketing that includes a variety of strategically-governed approaches.

  • Great post Geoff, very insightful and a very good accounting of what’s happening at the ground level. Part of the problem is that so much of people’s time is spent with social that marketers have to figure out a way to connect as other channels have fallen off the cliff.

    As you point out, many channels aren’t even technically accessible and it’s likely that no one wants marketers there anyway. (although did they really want them on TV?) the challenge for marketers of the future will be to find ways of creating useful content for people in all phases of the path to purchase whether that’s discovery, consideration or conversion.

    The channels will always change, the need for attention will not. The failure of most social marketing is a lack of understanding of the consumer and their needs, a goal as old as marketing itself.

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