Social Media Social Media life Cycle

Published on March 31st, 2011 | by charliesaidthat


The Social Media Platform Lifecycle (Part I)

This is the first in a series of several blog posts I have planned to discuss the lifecycle of social networking platforms. I decided to publish this after several conversations I had this week, stemming from a tweet I sent at Social Media World Forum (below) that got retweeted over 50 times.

Don’t build everything on Facebook. Whilst it seems unassailable now.. It’s just like Myspace 5 years ago. Platforms change. #smwfless than a minute ago via TweetChat

This post is an overview of social media platform lifecycle. It’s borne of traditional marketing theory and it’d be great to further the discussion here.

What we can learn from social media’s (brief) history.

There is a common social media lifecycle emerging, and it looks pretty similar to traditional product adoption and product life cycle theory.

Product Life Cycle

Based on: Diffusion of Innovation, Rogers, E (1962). & Product Life Cycle, Levitt, T. (1965)

Diffusion of Innovation / Network Adoption

Diffusion is the communication process that a new social network is introduced and (possibly) accepted by the public. The rate of diffusion relates to the speed that the new idea spreads from one consumer to the next and is therefore vital in understanding the growth of social networks (and “viral” videos etc.).

The adoption process is evident in social networks across the board. Quora, saw an explosion of users earlier this year by creating an intuitive interface allowing users to import their friends from their other social networks, meaning they skipped from innovators to early adopters very quickly.

As marketers, we should all understand the power of targeting marketing messages to innovators and early adopters. These are the most influential 15% of people that care enough about your product or service to spread it to their friends.

Product Life Cycle

A social network is developed and eventually launched; it grows, and at some point, may die.

The shape of its life cycle is based on how quick it’s adopted and how much market penetration it has. Whilst it’s clear there are exceptions to this theory, e.g. some platforms will be able to adapt and alter their life cycles through innovation, most tend to fit the following lifecycle model.

The Social Media Lifecycle

Social Media life Cycle

  • All good social networks start with a simple core premise which usually serves a niche well.
  • It generates buzz and creates hype around the service.
  • Good coverage and word of mouth spurs growth.
  • Growth tends to mean widening the appeal of the service to more than the intended niche.
  • Quicker growth is a by product of widening appeal (services are often jumped upon by spammers at this point).
  • Saturation and stagnation can set in, meaning users can become bored of the service.
  • This in turn causes concerns in core users, often based on spam or lack of focus but could be privacy concerns or just the service is no longer cool.
  • This will cause people to start looking for alternatives, whether they are “cooler” or more suited to their needs.
  • If there is an alternative, a mass migration of users is likely.
  • At this stage, a social networking site must innovate, adapt or face death.

Expect and Adapt to the Unpredictable

In late 2006 when Myspace reached 100million users, few people would have imagined that only 5 years later in 2011 Facebook (or any other service) would have over 6 times the number of users than Myspace had at its peak.

But it does.

Are you putting all your social media eggs in one basket?

So what does this mean for Social Media Marketers?

We need to keep our ears to the ground and our eyes peeled. The digital landscape is shifting everyday and social media lifecycles will go on with or without us.

So ask yourself are you…

  • Living a digital life outside and beyond your dayjob?
  • Embedding yourself in the communities you are a part of?
  • Keeping on top of trends?
  • Filtering the right content to avoid an information overload?
  • Listening to the concerns of our communities?
  • Fixing those concerns where possible?
  • Passing on the concerns of your community to people who can fix them?

As the platforms must evolve constantly, so must you. Keeping on top of this is the basic requirement to be a social marketer. Over-reliance on platforms is not a long term strategy, understanding your community is.

Are you a social media marketer? or a social media platform marketer? And what do you do to keep ahead of the social media lifecycle?

Update: Part II of The Social Media Platform Lifecycle Myspace vs. Facebook

About the Author

Hi I’m Charlie, a digital strategist, I have an interest in social media, SEO, lead acquisition and understanding consumer behaviour to make a definitive difference to the businesses I work with. Find me on: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Linkedin | or just Email Me  

  • Angie Haggstrom

    I absolutely agree Charlie. Banking on a site being there forever is foolish, and basing your business off a single platform is downright stupid. Those famous words ‘nothing lasts forever’ ring true in the online world as well.

    I really think the secret is forming relationships and bonds with your target market. Once you have that relationship, they follow you on other networks, and will invite you to join in when they make a switch.

    • Charliesaidthat

      I think that this is key. Listening to your audience and following their example, if they migrate to a new service, follow them and be there for them. They will really appreciate the attention to detail.

  • Jonny Rose

    This post shows why it’s important to *be* social before you *do* social.

    So many businesses jump onto social platforms with nothing to say and no idea how to ‘socialise’ their brand. Others know how to ‘socialize’ their brand on a specific platform but are unable to adjust when there is a subsequent migration to newer ones.

    This is why it’s important to first teach generalities and theory which can be applied to any social platform. For example

    “What is the difference between social and broadcast”
    “What brings people together?”
    “What makes people talk?”
    “What alienates people?” Etc.

    …Before we educate and consult with clients about specific platforms (e.g. “This is how to generate leads on Youtube”).

    Generalities and theory are broad laws that will never go out of fashion, even if platforms do.

    • Charliesaidthat

      Agreed, far too many people/companies start out doing social media because everyone else is, without pause for thinking *who* their audiences are.

      Let alone the behavioural traits of those people, or understanding why they share things. I think the fundamentals of communication are important before shouting about the latest platform *or* placing an entire budget in one platform.

      I strongly advocate multiplatform campaigns that not only share data to platforms that the companies own (e.g. newsletters etc.) but to also listen to the feedback of the community and then act on it.

      Long story short – listen, understand, act, review, act. rinse. wash. repeat.

  • EdHartigan

    Nice post, Charles.

    Absolutely right that putting all your eggs into one basket as a long term strategy is foolish. Also spot on with the advice from a social media marketing perspective that you need to keep monitoring the social web for communities where cleints’ customers are hanging out and be nimble enough to divert resources to them. Also important to remember what the point of using these channels is – how it will help the business (eg as a way to drive traffic, for lead generation, for customer service etc etc).

    On your other point – I think the problem with many of the networks we have seen get huge and then start floundering is when they move out of their initial niche and try to be a network for everyone. Admittedly, Facebook aren’t doing too badly ;-) but I think eventually, we will see more and more niche social networks built around a context which should get easier to participate in and navigate between with ID portability (hopefully). While they won’t become the Trillion dollar company, the chances of staying relevant and useful to the user is much higher.

    Nice one!

    • Charliesaidthat

      Yeah, I agree Ed – I think there is a lot of room for a competitor (which may still yet be Twitter) who allows niche communities to thrive. To have conversations more easily/intuitively tagged and easy to navigate to, so users can drop in on conversation based on interest, or location etc.

      The marketing use of these channels is like any other – fax, anyone? ;) It’s not going to be around forever, or even be as effective as it once was like television, radio??! etc. As marketers we have to constantly innovate, so do the platforms if they want to keep up with consumer demand.

  • Xavier Izaguirre

    Charlie, good stuff.

    I have lately been thinking loads about what I call “the flavour of the month syndrome”. We all are familiar with flavours of the month, being Quora as you recall, January’s. Is Color, the new photosharing service, the flavour of this month?

    We have seen so many social networks rise and fall than relying on anything to stick forever is mad. Also, even the more robust social networks ( eg Facebook ) may not be the best solution for your social media marketing. Perhaps your audience is more active elsewhere. Perhaps your competitors are very strong in it. Perhaps you are giving up much control.

    I’m with you, I am all for multichannel strategies with comprehensive ROI analysis for each of them, taking synergies into account. Easier said than done though.

    • Charliesaidthat

      Thanks for dropping by Xavier,

      I agree. Its all about knowing your audience and being where they are, adding value to them.

      I think as marketers we are quick to try and adopt new tech and new platforms – its easy to forget that we are way ahead of the curve and most users are not this far advanced.

      Flavour of the month platforms show signs of a typical fad cycle. Anyone remember Google Buzz? Google Wave? ;)

  • Katy Howell

    Charlie, nice logical piece. Which again confirms that it is not all about the platforms.

    a couple of points to add….

    Some products will have a very long life cycle. Take Google as an example. As you say those that continuously innovate and stay ahead will last longer. So whilst I started in social media when the world centred around MySpace, innovation slowed and it is now a struggling network. Google on the other hand has kept itself ahead. Now it is even pushing hard into the social aspect of search. So I don’t expect some of the more popular networks to disappear soon.

    The other point is that platforms don’t really count- as you say. Like pubs and clubs where we meet our friends, they go out of fashion. But the groups still hang together. Find the communities, the passions, the reasons why your customers/ consumers are behaving socially. That is the key. And then focus on the diffusion model by turning you attention to the influencers and early adopters that will spread the word fast and help you reach tipping point.

    What do you think Charlie? I wonder sometimes if we get so hung up on the media (social or otherwise) we forget about the people we are trying to reach!


    • Charliesaidthat

      Thanks for you thoughts Katy!!

      I agree, I wonder if the longevity has something to do with not selling the platform and staying “independent”.

      Bebo and Myspace are both platforms which sold the network to other companies who didnt have a niche focus. Although Google Wave and Google Buzz are examples of products that had very short lifecycles.

      Ultimately I agree, it is all about the end user. Their Experience and what we can, as marketers, add to their lifes to enrich their experience in any sector. :)

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