Reality Check: Don't overestimate the rate of adoption of social media

So, there I was, delivering a presentation on “Sustaining a Successful Blog: If You Build, Will they Come?” The crowd of approximately 30 attendees had each paid $2,000 to attend a two day conference on new media.

Learning about social mediaAs I began my presentation, I asked a few questions to gauge the knowledge and engagement level of the audience. And of these thirty people who had paid a lot of money to hear my presentation on sustaining a successful blog – how many actually had a blog? None. Zero. Nada.

Note to self: Don’t overestimate the rate of adoption of social media. There’s a lot of curiosity. But it’s still early days.

What do you think? Is social media breaking into the mainstream? What is holding back broader adoption?

  • I don’t think social media is mainstream yet, although some of the services may be mainstream within demographic groups (MySpace and teens, for example). A room full of non-bloggers spending $2K to learn suggests a growing awareness, though.

    How did they do on the easier survey questions: do you know what a blog is, and do you read any blogs?

    There’s a lot of buzz about social media and, well, buzz in marketing circles. Maybe you had a room full of people who have heard enough to realize they need to figure it out.

  • “Managed” social media will of course have its place. Whereas the “cede control” nonsense will go down as one of the biggest and most embarrassing boondoggles ever to hit PR.

    What’s holding it back? A few things: business experience, the law, property rights, risk, ROI, reality, and most of all, just plain common sense.

    – Amanda

  • Yes, it is still early to be considered mainstream. Part of the problem is that a lot of speakers at conferences are not breaking it down into simple language. How many people understand what RSS is!? For the event that I organized last month and one that I’m organizing next month on Social Media (, I’ve gone back to the speakers and made sure they bring real examples to the table and not just theory. Also, I make sure they bring examples that can be applied to people in the room. We don’t have the size of the US, so no point trying to duplicate their campaigns – it won’t work..

  • I think the important thing to remember is that social media is made up of actors and audience. In order for it to be successful, there needs to be a critical mass of actors, but if they outnumber the audience, there’s no point in performing. What’s critical to the success of social media is not necessarily more bloggers, but a more widespread understanding from both corporations and consumers. Once we have that, marketing through RSS, blogs, widgets and the like will have the audience we need for social media to make a difference.

    That being said, I agree with you. The social media zealots are quick to forget that even some of the smartest people I know have no idea what RSS is even now.

  • Judy Gombita

    Joe, perhaps too much emphasis is being placed on the positives of jumping in to social media, without spending enough time on the downside (or negatives). If you haven’t had a chance to explore the excellent report by The Commission on Public Relations Education (released in November 2006), a chapter is devoted to Communication Technology.

    Here are some of the pertinent excerpts from that chapter:

    “Public relations practitioners are among the heaviest users of today’s communication technology. However, technology remains simply a tool–albeit an important tool–that practitioners must manage. This means public relations professionals must not be unduly constrained by technology in developing their communication strategies, nor must practitioners’ strategies and tactics be restricted by the technicians who develop and maintain organizations’ communication technology infrastructures. Rather, public relations practitioners must be the managers of how their organizations strategically use communication technology to affect public relationships. Within their organizations, public relations practitioners best understand that communication technology that conquers time and space by permitting instantaneous communication worldwide not only can create understanding and cultivate harmony and empathy between an organization and its publics, but has great potential to generate misunderstanding and to exacerbate disharmony and conflict….

    The 1999 Commission report said one factor that was causing the impressive incremental growth in public relations was communication technology that had enabled a veritable explosion of one-to-one communication leading to an uncontrolled, gateless dissemination of messages. Communication technology-related skills the Commission regarded as necessary included the management of information; technological and visual literacy (including use of the Internet and desktop publishing); and public relations writing and production for new media. Instructional recommendations included a greater variety of teaching methods and technologies that might be appropriate in continuing education courses….

    Largely unappreciated is the contention that technological developments do not inherently provide meaningful social benefits, as well as the likelihood that adoption of new technology may influence different cultures in different ways or to a different extent. Fundamental questions remain worldwide about the access to and control of communication technology, as well as about which parties benefit from advanced technology usage.”

    * * *

    I noted that three members of the 2006 Commission on Public Relations Education are Canadian, so perhaps you should engage in direct dialogue with them regarding what is holding back broader adoption. Canadians include Dr. Terry Flynn, APR, McMaster University and a board member for the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS); Jeff Martin, Quorum Communications Inc., who is also a member of the Canadian Public Relations Society; and Jean Valin, APR, Fellow CPRS, who works for Service Canada and, for the purposes of this project, represented the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management.

  • Mar Warrender

    TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year,9171,1569514,00.html?aid=434&from=o&to=http%3A// is pretty mainstream – it certainly shows main stream media’s awareness. I don’t think we want 100% adoption – I certainly don’t.

  • Joe Rancourt

    There has been plenty of news recently (Associated Press, Reuters, etc.) about the blogosphere soon reaching critical mass. The premise is that most of the people who are likely to actively create and maintain a blog have likely done so already.

    In some sense, I think they have it all right and all wrong.

    On one hand, there is a difference between active and passive users. I remember reading at some point that it is estimated that about 1% of people online are the creative drivers, the next 10% are passive contributors (i.e. adding comments, etc.) and the next 89% are lurkers. With all of life’s distractions, it can be difficult to maintain something as simple as a blog. Some people skip meals because they are too busy, so getting to their blog may be a little more effort.

    Now on the other hand, I still think there is a massive part of the population who may either not be 100% up to speed with technology or who haven’t found their muse.

    Nevertheless, we are seeing more and more that the concept of things going mainstream applies more to the system in which is lives. The online and offline worlds co-exist in an ecosystem and where there is intersection as well as complete separation. I believe this will continue for many years now.

  • For a recent presentation on social media, I tried to dig into what scares people about corporate blogging. I came up with Four Ts that strike terror into the heart of any authentic business person considering starting a blog:

    Time (to write)
    Talent (for writing)
    Topics (to write about)
    Thick Skin (in case people write back)

    Unless you have all those Ts, or the patience to develop them, I figure you’re better off not trying to blog.

    And seriously, how many people do you think have all those qualifications in the first place?

    I believe blogging is a powerful tool for some. But probably not for most.

    You can read my original post at

  • Eric Eggertson

    I would think that people who want to find out about blogs are most likely to pay $2,000 to hear experts talk to them about it.

    People who are already into it will be more likely to attend a conference where people share tips and war stories with each other.

    Besides, whoever said blogs were up for adoption, anyway. Their parents Egotism and Fanaticism are happily married…


  • Jon Husband

    perhaps too much emphasis is being placed on the positives of jumping in to social media, without spending enough time on the downside (or negatives)

    My goodness, Judy .. what linkcircles do you travel in ? There has been an abundance of negative, criticial and ill-informed press on blogging, social software and social media .. almost as much as the significant volume of cheerleading.

    We’re all still new at it, and many many “content providers” will struggle in the first, second and additional attempts to become more-social media.

    It IS about connection and conversation, and all the messiness that accompanies both of those loaded words. It will not disappear, it will grow (it can’t not) and attempts to control and regulate (which IMO will come) will teach us all a lot. These are new conditions, and wrt use in and by organizations we have at least 50 years of various degrees of unlearning to undertake while at the same time learning more about these new conditions and dynamics. There’s lots of hierarchy DNA that we have to examine and probably use differently.

    it will certainly make for interesting work as PR professionals for the next decade or two.

  • Lena Wan

    In theatre, the fourth wall is the invisible barrier between the audience and the stage. It’s also used to describe the emotional distance between the audience in relation to the action on stage. This fourth wall essentially tells people (actors/audience) what their roles are and it gives them the choices of watching/acting/ignoring. The same analogy can be applied to cyberspace too. The internet has given people a chance express themselves and to share ideas unlike any other communications tool before it. Regardless of whether you are writing, reading or ignoring a website/blog, we all leave some kind of footprint in cyberspace. It’s up to you how to define what your role in cyberspace will be and if you want to break down that ‘fourth wall’.

  • Judy Gombita

    I’m not understanding your question, Jon:

    “My goodness, Judy .. what linkcircles do you travel in?”

    That is, if there is a real question buried there. Quite frankly, it’s the kind of “attitude” remark that makes me less enthusiastic about the social media in general. That being the idea that only the cheerleaders are allowed to comment and debate the issues in online forums? Of course, you indicating that connection and conversation are “messy” and “loaded” words speaks volumes in and of themselves….

    I am very interested in social media, but I think what we have right now is boomers and older gen Xers trying to take newfangled tools and adapt them to old ways of doing, but without the research and reflective thinking that went into something like print (and to a lesser extent) broadcast media . Whereas for the younger generations it just IS the predominant way to learn and communicate. Not the only one, but the one they know best and enjoy the most.

  • Judy,

    The faster pace of development is how things get implemented anymore.

    However I think social media does use newfangled tools and adapt them to old ways of doing, but informing and entertaining as print and broadcast media is only half of social media. The other half is the participation and conversation, which is a huge difference.

    Some will use it negatively, but sometimes that’s just as important as the positive.

  • Judy Gombita

    Ah, but Owen, you would say that, because you are Gen Y (a.k.a. Millennial), n’est-ce pas (born in 1980 or later)? You are hard-wired differently in how you want to receive and process information and “participate in the conversation.” That’s a reality of which I’m 100 per cent accepting.

    But don’t forget the other reality that must be acknowledged: that there is a huge segment of the population in the developed world–generally the ones still in the positions of power and leadership–who learned to access and process information differently. Yes, a small percentage of the (defined) generations have glommed on to social media in a big way (with the forward flank serving as relentless cheerleaders, critical mass be damned), but many, many more aren’t interested/don’t care about online participation and conversation. (They use the Internet, but primarily for straight research and commerce.) It remains to be seen when the tipping point will happen, I’m guessing it will be when social media becomes more useful, relevant and intuitive to daily work and personal life.

    For the record, generational learning, marketing, preferences and relationships (especially within the work environment) is of enormous interest and use to me. I also see huge potential and possibilities for social media, particularly in the learning sphere, which is why I originally made reference to The Commission on Public Relations Education’s chapter on Communications Technology. Although, as yet, I remain unconvinced that the current iteration of blogs, audio and video bytes, etc., will prove defining in the long run, I’m certainly willing to debate the issues in a collegial and congenial fashion and environment. I’m willing to be dazzled, stimulated and (maybe) convinced with acuity, but I get bored and dulled by comfortable (and unproven) complacencies, crowd mentalities and wagon-circling.

    Owen, I did note (positively) that you addressed my ideas rather than criticizing me on a personal basis. Two SM brownie points there. Cheers.

  • Judy,

    Couldn’t agree more on the complacency and crowd mentality. When I first began participating in blogging and social media it seemed as though there was a lot more of it than now. It was almost as if everyone was saying, “Hey I’m here like you, so you must know what you’re talking about.”

    Now I see more disagreements and debates, some of them even getting personal over issues. I don’t monitor much outside the PR realm, but I imagine there’s a bit of the same elsewhere as well.

    It is indeed true that I was born post-1980. Nice use of the French/English by the way.

    If I understand correctly, you’re saying that older generations, though some may use social media, might not necessarily care for conversation or participation because they are accustomed to receiving information differently. But we also agree that at some point there will be a tipping point in which participation and conversation are accepted as the norm of social media?

    When you say ‘more useful,’ what do you have in mind for social media’s future?

    I don’t disagree that it could be more useful. And perhaps it’s because I’m younger, but I’ve already found much use in using social media to keep up with news and information about my future profession. Progress, though, is nearly always a good thing.

  • Judy Gombita

    Yes, receiving *and* processing information differently. It varies from generation to generation on how much “conversations” they want to have.

    Interestingly, for in-person meetings, traditionally it’s the boomers who want to talk all subjects to death and ensure that everyone has a voice and say and is feeling “comfortable” with the final decisions. Gen X just wants to vote on decisions, plow through the agenda quickly, end the meeting so they can get on with the work day and be out the door by 5 p.m. (Meetings with boomers tend to make them crazy). These are all generalizations, of course.

    Why doesn’t that translate to more boomers wanting to participate in online conversations? I’d hazard a guess that most find them rather artificial, in both the (lack of) speed (i.e., not asynchronous) and the responses of people. Boomers tend to be more touchy feely, wanting to look directly into someone’s eyes and monitor responses, etc. In sharp contrast, I’m still amazed how teenagers will be in constant communication with friends by IM, e-mail and phone for several hours each evening…even though the friend lives on the same street. (Technology is preferred to in-person contact.)

    I have no grand design on the future of all social media, but as mentioned, I see distinct possibilities for lifelong learning for the near and farther future. What education needs to do is adapt the range of tools and accessibility to suit the next-generation of learners and workers. So, information is provided in chunks, through a variety of formats. The learner gets to pick and choose how to access (print, online or audio/individual or group) and in what order to learn. (As opposed to linear learning.) There are downsides to this, but I won’t go into them here.

    Today, Jyotika Malhotra, writing in the AIMS blog, published a great quote from Ken Schafer, VP of marketing at Tucows Inc. and publisher and contributing editor at One Degree (

    The question I asked key industry types: What are three professional resolutions, goals, to dos or things you’d like to try in 2007?

    Ken Shafer: “My resolution this year is simple…. Kill complexity every chance I get. I’m so tired of EVERYTHING being so complicated. Getting clarity and simplicity in what I do and say is crucial for me this year.”

    I think Ken’s vision would make SM “more useful.”

    Here’s wishing you a weekend full of fruitful conversations, online or off the grid….

  • Judy,

    I feel you on younger generations wanting to get through the meeting. I feel sick of this conversation already.

    Only kidding. I suppose you’re basing that off some personal experience with both groups and your observations with each. I wouldn’t say that’s my experience at all, but I’m you have more than I.

    Shafer’s quote is a good one. Simplicity and clarity is something I always strive for in communicating. There’s nothing that frustrates me more than feeling as if all my effort in communicating was wasted because there was a misunderstanding.

    I think social media, naturally, will get simpler. That seems to be the trend with most technology. Not all, but most. Hopefully simplifying it will create larger potential for use and implementation.

    Thanks for the conversation. I’ve learned quite a bit, which is why I’m here.

    Have a good weekend yourself.

  • Judy Gombita

    Owen, I’m glad you’ve found the conversation useful but agree that it has come to its natural conclusion. (I’m also conscious of over-staying a conversational welcome on Joe’s hospitable blog.) I’d like to end my end of the conversation with one suggestion (as you appear open to suggestions) and an interesting additional bit of information.

    1. Suggestion: get some more critical acumen when it comes to reading blog posts and comments. I mean…why should or would you believe what I wrote? You didn’t ask for my sources or how I arrived at my conclusions. I’m pretty confident when I indicate the observations, because I’ve been studying the dynamics for several months now, I have a pioneer in the field as a guide and mentor (recently received a copy of her new book), plus I spent a lot of time in the generational marketing track at a recent conference (held the same time as Joe’s speaking gig, except this one boasted close to 900 attendees and it came from a more targeted group of programmers/marketers in lifelong learning). The thing is, hearing and reading about something and judging it against your own experiences and POV is one thing, but to make sure it’s empirical knowledge you have to test the theory with others. And that’s what I’ve been doing in the last couple of months, asking colleagues, friends, family and acquaintances about how they prefer to receive and process knowledge, group dynamics and relationships, etc. Sometimes the person will ask me, “OK, tell me about the preferences of my generation?” Almost without fail, I get a kind of “OMG, that is SO me” kind of reaction.

    But, again, don’t automatically believe me. Test it. Or look for other subject experts or sources that either concur or disagree with what I’ve said. And don’t just do it within the confines of the people you know in the blogosphere, particularly the niche groups. Widen your circle.

    2. Interesting bit of information (as yet unverified) I heard about this a.m. when chatting with someone from the marketing department (Gen Y) while getting coffee, which goes back to the suggestion that your generation is hard-wired differently. He was telling me that someone was studying the way the various generations use doorbells. Up until now, the preferred digit of choice was the forefinger (a.k.a. second digit or pointer finger); however, it appears that *your* generation tends to use the thumb. The thumb has moved up in the utility index, because the younger generations have become so adept using it in computer games, PDAs, etc.

    I find that fascinating! Now I’m going to spend a bit of time observing/asking Gen Y whether this is true or not! Cheers, Judy