Georgetown Lecture: Social Gets Bigger and Blander

Spring at Georgetown Campus

Later today I will guest lecture at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business on the general state of social media for the Social Technology Marketing MBA class.

I usually write out my thoughts before speaking. Here’s what I’ll be talking about today. Please comment if you’d like to suggest something, I’ve got a few hours to cram (yikes!).

1) Social Media Gets Bigger

We have entered the post adoption phase of social media in America.

Even a significant minority of senior citizens use social media. As of February 2012, one third (34%) of internet users age 65 and older use social networking sites such as Facebook, and 18% do so on a typical day Pew Internet.

Now that businesses realize social won’t go away, and they intend to invest more marketing dollars.

The most recent CMO Survey (August) showed social media investment continuing to rise. This year social commands 7.6% of the overall budget with an expectation to increase beyond 10% in the next 12 months, and to 19% of the total spend in the next five years.

Growth represents a great opportunity for you as social media takes one fifth of the overall marketing budget.

2) Social Media Marketing Gets Blander

vanilla ice cream
Vanilla ice cream by fruitcakey

Industry discussions about community engagement best practices, nurturing, blogging, conversing, commenting, liking, moderating, etc., etc. have become a redundant meme over the past five years. Sharing, commenting and liking are technology feature sets that have become an expected part of most web pages.

Look at social media marketing blogs as an ongoing professional conversation about best practices in two-way conversations, just like you would with other marketing subset like branding and public relations. Usually in social media this includes how to foster community, integrate with traditional online and print media, monetize social media activity, develop word of mouth, build better customer service, and more.

3) Technology Continues to Evolve

However, social technology continues to evolve. This represents another opportunity for online marketers who want to separate from the pack.

Augmented reality via Google’s Project Glass promises to change everything, bridging social and traditional data into our real lives. Facial recognition technology will further blur the boundaries of online networking and our physical world, expanding niche advertising opportunities while threatening privacy.

Image via UX Magazine

Perhaps the biggest current impact is in the mobile realm. The mobile revolution has forced many interactive designers and social media communicators to adapt in subtle and not so subtle ways.

Consumers use phones, tablets, computer and TVs to consume 4.4 hours of digital content per day. This creates all sorts of incredible consumption patterns, from simultaneous device use during social TV to file sharing across all screens.

On the mobile phone, we see strong app based social network activity that features photo intense and short text input. This is critical for strategists because mobile has become the starting point for brand engagement according to a recent study from Google. Creating meaningful engagement at the top of the funnel requires a simpler (and more thoughtful) approach than a long blog post.

Multiscreenworld Final


A current branding theory features the evolution and fragmentation of mature markets to support niche brands. Consider how the airline industry saw many competitors arise from Southwest to JetBlue. Recently, we have experienced a new era of consolidation in that sector.

The trend holds true for media as well. That’s why though Facebook is king, we’re seeing significant media fragmentation in the social networking space.

Like cable TV to broadcast, competitive social networks have arisen on a grand scale like Pinterest and Instagram as well as niche networks like Care2 and dogster.

Big Data and Marketing Automation

The proliferation of customer data elements across a wide variety of traditional and social media presents difficulties for marketers. There’s just way too much data. Identifying content preferences and lead maturation from email, social media accounts and interactions, webinar participation, white paper downloads, etc., create demand for sophisticated customer relationship management solutions.

Enter the world of marketing automation software, the power tool set of social media. The trick with automation remains great strategy, gentle lead management over time and copywriting/content creation.

This in turn requires a significant time investment, particularly for smaller businesses and entrepreneurs. However, costs are lower than traditional advertising and direct marketing so there’s a financial trade off.


More social media dollars, common best practices, technology evolution, fragmentation, and big data/marketing automation are my big five social media takeaways for Georgetown MBA students this year.

It’s always a privilege to return to my alma mater where I received my Masters from the Communications, Culture and Technology program. Special thanks to Jimmy Lynn for asking me.

20 thoughts on “Georgetown Lecture: Social Gets Bigger and Blander

  1. (1) I’d like a broader discussion of “blander.” Do you mean that “discussion” is blander because the roads are more well defined? I would like to see a bigger think here; e.g., a clear comparison to a more exciting past, or a clear trajectory and cause of “bland” argued for. Does corporate = bland?

    (2) More highlighting of seeming paradoxes, e.g., an overall “bland” trend v. creative use of niche networks.

    (3) “mobile = simpler but more thoughtful entry point than writing a blog post.” this is a very intriguing thought. Would like to hear more.

    (4) Where is creativity in all of this? Sounds like you are saying: here are the roads that are paved. Here are the ones being built. To what extent will those students be constrained by this interstate highway system (versus the open road of a few years ago)? What can they do creatively with these tools?

    • Yeah…agree! “Blander” is a horrifying word to negate the hard work we’ve put into social media to integrate it as part of the marketing mix. Why bland, anyway?

      If you’re a small business, you have more opportunity to play with the big guys; maybe not for that level of budget, but certainly to level an aspect of the playing field with nimble and relevant content that speaks directly to an audience?

      For a PR person, this remains one of the most exciting times to be in this business. Social media is still new to so many companies that have no clue how to integrate or determine ROI.

      • Bland to me is that it’s not new. For example, with Pinterest even repinning, commenting, sharing, building boards really harnesses the same principles we have learned elsewhere. I don’t see great innovation in a how to engage people from a community management standpoint or to build calls to action for ROI. That’s just how I feel about it.

        I do see how if you are a small business person or a communicator how it is exciting to be able to build your own constituencies.

    • Thanks for reading the post and taking the time to comment. I responded to both you and Jayme on the bland thing, re 1).

      On 2) A new network doesn’t mean that commenting, liking and resharing are new. It’s like learning a different car, it has everything in different places, but it still drives in the same kind of way. At least that’s how I see it.

      3) I wrote a a series of posts on this over the past year. Here’s the one on multiscreen impact: I hope that offers a good start!

      4) Creativity is the art of marketing, no? I think afterall the research, measurement, understanding of tools and general data, what we do with it is the differentiator… The creativity if you would.

      BTW< I did write a post on the homeless thing.I am waiting for the right time to post it Promise to give you a heads up when I do.

  2. OK, I think you just outlined my near entire prez to the University of Tennessee in October; thanks for that!!

    Meanwhile, a thought for you…don’t forget to put yourself in the shoes of the audience with whom you’re trying to engage — whether it’s social customer service, social business or social marketing. What are the pain points? What content marketing strategy should you implement to feed the queue with relevance AND authenticity.

    • Totally agree, it should always, Always be about the customer/stakeholder! Great reminder, thank you!

  3. I think you just hit the nail on the head. The fragmentation will only continue and grow more so as the technology continues to advance. It is one of the most exciting aspects of social media, and it’s why I prefer the term social business – at least if you’re not approaching it as a shiny new toy – which it isn’t any more.

  4. I’m an MBA candidate at Georgetown and I’ll be there tonight. Really looking forward to it, especially after reading this. One thing I’d love to hear more about: in our last session Prof. Lynn suggested that Facebook has few worries for the future– with so many users, it has every ability to stay at the top of the social media pile. I saw one of your recent posts that said that Facebook is likely to go the way of AOL. I think our class would be really interested to hear that perspective. Thanks so much for coming! Looking forward to it.

    • Crap! Just getting this. I hope your questions were answered sufficiently, I did address this a bit, but not in full…
      Let me know and thanks!

  5. Dude is this your next book? LOL

    Amazing data very impressive stuff. Thank you for sharing.

    I was just thinking recently my interaction with brands via social is at an all time low. Wonder if others are experiencing the same?

    • Hay, my next book is likely to be a self published novel, but we’ll see…
      I am sure you are right, everyone is done talking with the Gecko, there’s nothing exciting about that!

  6. I like this as almost an aside: “(Marketing automation) in turn requires a significant time investment…” Yep, signing up for Salesforce is NOT the end to all your problems. :-)

  7. Thanks for sharing these lecture notes, Geoff. As someone who just graduated University last year I’m highly envious of the students you’re speaking to for being able to take such a fascinating class. Not to mention the pleasure of having you as a guest speaker. I hope it went well!

  8. Pingback: Georgetown Lecture: Social Gets Bigger and Blander | Geoff … | Barry White

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