Charting Social Media’s “Maturity Continuum”

Social Media lineupAs social media has crept more and more into the fabric of life for so many people, it’s only natural that social scientists and marketers are thinking about the wider implications.

One of these thinkers is someone whose viewpoints I respect a good deal.  Social media and online/search über-strategist Gord Hotchkiss has come up with a way of looking at social media vehicles that he dubs the “Maturity Continuum.”

According to Hotchkiss, the Maturity Continuum is made up of four levels of increasing social media “stickiness” — meaning how relevant and important the social platforms are to people’s daily lives and routines.

Specifically, these four levels are:

The Fad Phase — This is when people start using a social media platform because it’s the bright shiny thing … and “everyone else” in their circle is doing so, too.  This dynamic is commonly found among early adopters — you know, the folks who try out new things because … they’re new.

Gord Hotchkiss
Gord Hotchkiss

Of course, early adopters don’t necessarily stick around.  A new social platform has to have some sort of “there there” – to deliver some measure of functional benefit – or else it won’t keep fad users around for long.

Also important at this early stage is the aspect of uniqueness and novelty — which is always important among this group of people who tend to be higher on the ego and narcissism scale.

Making a Statement — If a social platform makes it through the pure novelty gauntlet, it continues to be used because it makes a statement about the user.  In the case of social media, it’s often as much about the technology as it is the functionality.

Thinking about a platform like FourSquare, here you have social tool that’s probably at this level of maturity.  With FourSquare, there may be a few utilitarian reasons for using it — getting vouchers or other “free stuff” from restaurants and bars — but it’s probably a lot more about “making that statement.”

A Useful Tool — At this point on the Maturity Continuum, here’s where a social platform breaks into a more practical realm.  Going beyond the novelty and ego aspects, users find that the platform is a highly beneficial tool from a functionality standpoint — perhaps better than any other one out there for facilitating certain activities.

Thinking about a social platform like LinkedIn in this context, it’s easy to see how that particular one has done so well.

A Platform of Choice — This is the highest level of social media maturity, where users engage — and continue to engage — with a social platform because they have become so familiar with it.

At this level, it becomes quite a challenge to dislodge a social platform, even if “newer, better” choices come along.  Once social habits have become established and a large critical mass of users is established, it can be very difficult to change the behavior.

Facebook is “Exhibit A” in this regard:  Despite near-weekly reports of issues and controversies about the platform, people continue to hang in there with it.

Thinking about other social platforms like Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, SnapChat and Pinterest, it’s interesting to speculate on where they currently fall on the “maturity meter.”

I’d venture to say that YouTube has made it to the highest level … SnapChat is still residing in the early “fad” stage … while Pinterest and Instagram are transitioning between “making a statement” and being “a useful tool.”

Where Twitter resides … is anyone’s guess.  I for one am still wondering just how Twitter fits into the greater scheme of social — and how truly “consequential” it is in the fabric of most people’s social lives.

What are your perspectives on the Maturity Continuum in social media?  If you have opinions one way or the other about the long-term staying power of certain platforms, please share them with other readers here.

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