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Social media: a maturing channel?

I spent a day at the Social Media World Forum yesterday, witnessing plenty of handshaking and good intentions but hearing very little in the way of new thinking...

If you didn’t already know that social media is an essential ‘new’ area for marketing departments to focus on, or if it comes as news to you that you need to reply to people who interact with you on social channels, or even if you weren’t aware that “listening is a verb,” you may have walked out into the early evening Kensington sunlight armed with new ideas and a fresh approach to your marketing activities.

But if you did already know about these things, if you’re already engaging on social channels and following last year’s best practice points, you probably picked up relatively few revolutionary tips.

The event wasn’t devoid of interest, however. Interesting forward-thinking panel debates looking at how to engage communities and what social mobile means for news providers were real highlights, and well-appreciated by those crammed in to the relevant rooms.

There was also a pretty good B2B debate, which looked at the additional challenges B2B brands face when trying to make a go of social. Unlike in some other sessions, the speakers provided informed and candid responses to the questions fired at them.

And though their content deserved better than the noisy exhibition-stand-laden communal hall in which they were presenting, Andrew Dalglish, of Circle Research, and Base One’s John Bottom were also on hand to provide some interesting closing comments.

Such highlights, however, did not entirely paper over the event’s general lack of useful best practice bites. There was little to provoke a change in approach within marketing departments with a decent grasp on social media. And there was also a lack of case studies (with the exception of the excellent presentation from Lego, which showcased how it uses crowd sourcing to create new products).

Towards the end of the day, when I realised nothing ground-breakingly new was going to be said, I began to question why there was a lack of new advice.

Maybe it is because social media is maturing as a channel. Not necessarily because it has peaked in terms of the ROI it can offer; it’s not a mature channel like email is. But in terms of best practice and how to establish a credible presence on the relevant platforms, most of the tips and tricks are now pretty well-known.

I’m not suggesting that everyone is using social media effectively yet. On the contrary; most brands could and should do better. But the tools and techniques needed to achieve success are now all out there and waiting to be exploited.

When (if) someone comes up with a magical formula to calculate the ROI of every minute and penny spent on social media platforms, new best practice tips will once again start circulating. But until then we’re all best off just knuckling down and getting on with it.

Or am I wrong?