When will the social media bubble burst?

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People have been asking that a lot lately, watching the eye-popping growth of services like YouTube (20% per month) while the number of blogs passes 50 million and MySpace membership soars past 100 million. Many marketers are waiting on the sidelines, figuring they'll get into the game after the inevitable crash.

Well, they can stop waiting. The social media bubble isn't going to burst any more than the e-mail or instant messaging bubbles burst. In fact, there is no bubble. Bubbles need an air supply in the form of venture capital and inflated expectations from investors. They also need a payoff. Almost none of that exists in this market. Few people are going to make much money from social media because there's no compelling business model and little barrier to entry. But it doesn't matter.

I'm currently wrapping up a book for marketers about social media. Researching it has given me the opportunity to speak to scores of bloggers and podcasters. What's remarkable about these people is the near universal lack of a profit motive. While some are making a living with their blogs--and several are making a very good living--the vast majority are working for pizza money or less.

The factors that motivate them transcend profits. In blogs, podcasts and social communities, they've found a soapbox, a voice and an audience in a community that matters to them. Most have told me they'd practice their craft even if they didn't make a dime at it.

In the words of John Frost, author of the Disney Blog, "It's all about getting my opinion of the world of Disney out in the conversation. As long as people enjoy reading [the blog], I'm going to keep doing it."

The growth in blogs, Web videos and podcasts will inevitably slow down. Some people will try to make a lot of money off of social media, and some may succeed. But the backbone of this movement will continue to be the millions of enthusiasts who see it as an opportunity to connect with others who share their passions. As the price of entry continues to decline, they will keep coming.

Marketers who stick their heads in the sand and wait for this phenomenon to blow over are making a career-limiting mistake. Blog search service Technorati says that 55% of bloggers are still actively updating their sites three months after creating them. That is a highly engaged audience. The bottom line: People are out there talking about your company, your products and your markets. They're doing it because they care, and they will continue to do it whether you want them to or not. If you're not figuring out how to become part of this conversation, you're going to be shut out.

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