Thursday, July 22, 2010

Social media and the hype cycle

I've long been an advocate for thinking practically about social media. While it's always interesting to follow the latest trends and how leading consultants apply them to higher education, the bottom line is that we all have limited resources, and we have to use them judiciously.

Enter the Gartner life cycle, a (pretty accurate) model developed by an IT research firm of the same name:

Social media is still seen by many as a trend, and some skeptics go so far to argue that it's a fad. The hype cycle helps provide some context for how new technologies are often perceived, as well as hints on when organizations should adopt them. Here are my takeaways from this model:
  • Don't get caught up in the hype. It's tempting to ride the hype wave, only to suffer some damage to your credibility when disillusionment sets in. Manage your client's expectations (as well as your own) when working in new media environments.
  • Be prepared to address the uncertainties. Do your homework before recommending new tools, and think of how you might deal with potential pitfalls. If you don't know what those pitfalls might be, hold back.
  • Watch the adoption rates. As technologies become more mainstream, time will tell if they are worth adopting. Not every technology will coast through the enlightenment/productivity curve, but as more people in your audiences adopt them you'll have a better idea of which ones will fit into your media mix.


  1. Good advice, but it's tough to strike a balance between chasing the hype machine and staying relevant. It's a balancing act we're trying to perform as we move forward (cautiously) with mobile apps, electronic publications, etc. For higher ed, the issue is compounded by our broad and diverse audiences -- everyone from pre-college students (not just high school) to centenarian alumni.

  2. Great post Davina, I think there is a market for social media in the graduate market, however as marketer, you are correct to proceed with caution!

  3. Davina - great post too. It is difficult to strike a balance for when to adopt a new technology. One more thing to add - what about from the side of your audience's perceptions. If your school is known for using the latest technology, should your marketing tools also reflect it too? If the school is known for modern technology, when should the school adopt the technology before being perceived as behind the times?

  4. Great comments. Matt, I probably should have been more specific about the social channels--not all are created equal. There is DEFINITELY a need for using social media in graduate school marketing, however with so many networks out there, it's hard for small staffs to create an official presence on all of them. I tend to prefer the more mainstream networks (Facebook, Twitter, blogs) to get the most bang for the staff-time buck.

    Andrew is right--staying relevant is key. I also agree with Travis--if your brand is known for its technology, so too should your marketing efforts. We're probably not going to have a lot of prospective law students choosing their schools because of an augmented reality project, but the digital arts program in our College of Arts and Sciences might.

    Keep those cards and letters coming!