One very noticeable change of the digital revolution has been our communication, an aspect of our lives that from the very beginning has consistently responded to every major discovery like fire, the wheel, steam power, electricity and the internet, each spawning significant innovative improvements in our ability to communicate further, faster, and with more people. Out of all of these discoveries it was the advent of electricity that saw the telephone propel us into a new world of both communication and commercial opportunity, closely followed by television, mobiles, email, SMS and now social media.

Each of these innovations have gone through a common cycle of events from their original carnation to subsequent iterations:

1. Innovation value

2. Innovation adoption

3. Innovation opportunity

4. Innovation immunity

5. Innovative change

The question is have we reached social media immunity and if so what’s next? In order to expolore this we need to appreciate the impact of the five steps on a previously revolutionary innovation.

First came innovation value. When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, he was only able at first to communicate with a guy in a different part of the post office where it was used, a one-to-one communication which had value to the post office but not to anyone else in the world at that point. However, once the demonstrated value of the innovation had spread, each additional telephone connected to the exchange incrementally increased the telephone’s value and eventually the majority of the world became connected via it. At this point all you needed was to know the number to dial and you could speak to anyone anywhere in the world, anytime (assuming they were there to pick up) which gave the telephone tremendous value.

Next came innovation excitement. For many years people would enjoy sitting by their telephones and waiting for someone to call, or would look forward to using their telephone to reach out to someone. Even within my own lifetime I can remember being sat at home as a child with my parents in the early 80s (some one hundred years after the telephone was invented), the phone would ring and one of them would say eagerly, “Ooh I wonder who that is? Are we expecting a call?”

Next is when the technology offers such a huge commercial innovation opportunity that it begins to erode the technology’s excitement as the commercial invasion disrupts users’ enjoyment. In the case of the telephone it was the onset of telemarketing and telesales. All that commercial organisations needed (in the early days) were a list of telephone numbers and that would then connect them directly into the homes or work places of potential customers. Telephone owners became hounded by unsolicited calls, people felt negative about the volume of unwanted interruptions, the level of personal invasion and angry about wasted time, the burden and discomfort of which resulted in telephone users exhibiting innovation immunity. And with that came innovative change – suddenly people had begun to screen their calls through the innovation of ‘caller ID’ and answerphones.

So have we reached this point with social media? Let’s consider the journey so far. The internet gave us our first taste of social media twelve years ago, the value was slow to establish at first. Then boom! The digital revolution saw social media connect the world in a way that has never previously made communicating so easy, so fast or capable of going so far. Something worthy can happen anywhere and more often than not the world will know about it faster than global news channels can report it. People could keep up with their friends’ lives, people could keep up with the details of celebrities’ lives, people could become world famous themselves with a single post, as such people fell addictively in love because social media is personal, authentic, intimate and very public.

But this has meant that it has demonstrated a tremendous commercial opportunity. Apparently nearly 60% of content on social media has now been artificially generated by organisations. Brands employ social media strategists and invest millions on social listening to better understand the lives of the consumer. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now employed to learn the behaviour and interests of potential customers through their connected online activity and with the help of permission-based marketing, is very cleverly deployed to engage these potential new customers. It was not so long ago I would hear people say, “It’s so weird, I was searching on line for X and the next time I went onto social media there was an advert for X….it’s so strange!”

But now we are getting wise to the techniques and capabilities and there are increasing whispers of people becoming disappointed with the direction of large social media platforms particularly in a professional capacity. Is this the first signs of social media immunity? If so, what’s next? What’s the next innovative change that will allow us privacy whilst being able to to communicate in an authentic way which adds value to our lives and the lives of others?

For me, in a professional capacity at least, it is the development of PDNs (Professional Digital Networks) which offer closed purpose-built networks for specific working groups to facilitate communication with a common goal. They are able to harness the power of social media technology and supercharge innovation, collaboration and best practice sharing. A PDN is a place to connect brilliance beyond geographical boundaries, a place for those more interested in self-development than selfies, a place where genius is shared, not just GIFs, a place where people come together for collaboration rather than cat videos.


By Chris Knight, Innovation Director

Chris Knight