We live in a world of bubbles. The Dot.com Bubble. The Housing Market Bubble. The Banking Bubble. Now, as I spend more and more of my time in the various social media spheres, I can't help but wonder if there isn't also perhaps a Social Media Bubble, rapidly expanding, thus moving every minute closer and closer to bursting.
Here's how I see it: A blogger reads other bloggers blogs and comments on them. Then, each blogger adds her favorite bloggers to her Google or whatever RSS feed reader she chooses. She follows the same people on Twitter, friends them on Friendfeed and Facebook, Stumblesupon and Diggs them and then adds a link from her own blog to theirs. They, in return, follow, friend, comment and link back.
I see the same names pop up on mailing lists, Pitch Engine and HARO -- two sources where writers, journalists, PR Pros and regular people go to ask for publicity or sources for their stories. Which means, reporters send out queries on HARO which are then picked up by the public relations people from Pitch Engine who then write articles for the blogs that are then fed and followed by Technorati, Digg, Stumbleupon, Squidoo, Ning, Twine, Icerocket and that only brushes the surface of social media outlets out there.
There's no tangible product here, so how does anyone actually make money from this.
Ok, there are eyes and clicks. How many people view your page and eventually click on your links. That counts for something. In fact, every site has a method of counting and measuring. Feedburner and other such feeds are perhaps the biggest yardstick for knowing how important your blog has become.
Then your feed serves up articles about How To Gain More Followers, How To Be A Better Twitterer and How To Optimize Your Subscribers. The posts on my own blog that recieve the most traffic -- of course, I'm counting too -- are the ones that focus on blogging, twittering and any any number of other subjects related to Social Media Success. So the circle goes around, feeding itself.
But how much can a click really mean? What is the product being sold? Who is buying? And how many articles can one really read about how to drive traffic to your site and who are the best people to follow? Maybe we should all just pack it in and go do something real and solid, something worthwhile like teaching orphans or rebuilding communities devastated by earthquakes.
Or maybe, just maybe, this online world works because people interlink. People subscribe to HARO because they have direct access to reporters. Every day, I recieve upwards of 100 queries. At least two per day pertain to me. That one AOL article brought more than 20,000 hits in five hours. And HARO costs me nothing to join, so really, why not? When fifty thousand people say why not, you have a solid audience, one that will click on links and buy from your advertisers.
Even better, we are building real community here. We go from being the faceless consumer to having names. I recently ran a contest with a Whimsy and Spice sampler box of cookies and cake as a give-away. Since only four people entered, I decided it only made sense to send a box of goodies to each of the entrants. Thus, Whimsy and Spice has four more sales. I have four happy readers who are very likely to buy from Whimsy and Spice again. These four happy readers -- Jessica, Shannalee, Jennifer and Jodi -- will soon be featured on my website, including their blogs, and will most likely return to read my blog. Jenna, the owner of Whimsy and Spice, of course, understood whyI wasn't able to put in my order until Noah felt better, because she has a family too and knows how life slows down when someone is sick. She wished Noah a fast recovery and also offered me a price break on shipping.
We reciprocate, not just because we have to supply a product for a price, but because reciprocity and generosity have a value. Kristi Colvin recently wrote a a must read article on Twitter and the Law of Reciprocity. "We must genuinely like people to benefit from social media," she says."Because if you like someone, your intention is naturally more reciprocal and less self-serving."
So which is it? Have we created something unique, something that will transcend past business models or are we inevitably headed for the Next Big Pop?
You tell me.