Will social media go mainstream?

A tweet from Gary Andrews this afternoon reminded me a blog post that I’d started and then abandoned ages ago about how  social media will or will not scale. I will get round to gathering my thoughts on that one day soon but until then I thought I’d briefly examine if social media can go mainstream.

In his tweet Gary asked;

Serious question: do you think too much social media is overhyped or restricted to a few, and how much genuinely has mass-market potential?

Being naturally cynical all of the time and more then a little grumpy this afternoon, I succinctly answered:

Yes, yes and I’m not sure social media can or indeed should scale to mass market

Regular readers might have gathered my position on the first two questions already, if not have a peek at this post and this one, which I guess naturally leads onto a position that social media is of limited mass appeal. I accept that some elements of social media, such as Facebook and MySpace are as about as mainstream as it is possible to be but if you asked the majority of users if they considered those platforms to be social media they’d most likely say no, they’re just a web site they use.

I also think that some other social media elements are getting closer to being mainstream. Most of my friends who are outside of the social media echo chamber know what a blog is. Although again they probably just view them as another web page that a Google search returns, that isn’t from an instantly recognisable site, such as the beeb.  I really do think that some, like Twitter will remain niche though, I just can’t see the vast majority of people embracing it, well not just yet anyway.

And when they do, will they refer to is as social media or will it be another web page that they use to communicate?

Just as Douglas Adams once said;

Technology is a word that describes something that doesn’t work yet.

JavaOne keynote, 1999

Perhaps Social Media is a phrase that describes something that isn’t mainstream yet.

6 thoughts on “Will social media go mainstream?

  1. I’d actually broadly agree with a lot of what you say here. For all the hype over social media, especially if you work in a related area, it’s easy to forget a lot of people actually have no idea what you’re on about.

    The various sites may have more practical use outside of the main circle than others, and some people may find their way to it because it fits nicely in what they do, but there’s still an awful lot of social media that I can’t ever see getting beyond niche.

    There’s a lot of great stuff out there – and sometimes it’s very easy to get overwhelmed by all these supposedly life-changing sites that are thrown at you – but it often doesn’t hurt to take a step back, like you’ve done, and say it won’t make it beyond its own particular sphere of hype.

    That said, I think there’ll probably be a few more social media applications that do become a lot more mainstream. Quite what they are, though, is anybody’s guess.

  2. IMHO – the question you’re asking pivots on the question: what do we mean by mass?

    If you just mean a majority of people using the Internet then what we might call ‘social media’ is definitely mainstream.

    But if you mean ‘mass’ to imply e.g. ‘mass media’ or another indicator of industrialised society then no – but then the sheer nature of social media undermines ‘mass culture’ thus it will never be mass in the same sense. I’m not sure that makes sense.

    What I mean is: if you looking for Facebook or blogs to replace a mass circulation newspaper, ain’t gonna happen. But if you see the social features of ‘social media’ (sharing/self-publication etc etc) being taken up by millions of people then it is having an effect on mass society.

    Scalability is problematic as socal media is driven by human interactions. Thus crude commercial applications won;t work; but that’s good for humanity and society as anything/one wanting to use social media effectively must really, genuinely engage with people.

  3. @Simon By mass I mean generally accepted/used/understood by the vast majority of people and not just avid internet users. So when I mention something like twitter to a lay person I don’t have to explain exactly what it is, why I use it why they should use it and why it’s cool.

    You’re right in the facebook is never going to replace the mainstream media but I think you are wrong about the social elements of social media affecting mass society, rather mass society is affecting the way we use the internet. Ppl have always shared and self-published, we’ve now just developed lots more tools to do what we’ve always done.

  4. Yes – I didn’t mean to come across as a technology determinist. Social media is already mass in the sense of it taps into basic human needs, but not everyone has access to the right/relevant tools. Doesn’t that mean you’ve answered your own question? 😉

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