Like many of us, corporate social media is maturing. But a new report from social consultancy Useful Social Media sends some confusing signs about social media's trends in companies.

"This year," The State of Corporate Social Media/2014 states, "we appear to have reached something of a fork in the road."

In this last three versions of the report, the firm noted, "it has been evident that social media use was scaling up rapidly across businesses around the world."

But now:

  • The size of the social media team is falling. Does this show that social is being dispersed within businesses, or that companies are losing their interest?
  • Fewer budgets are growing. Does this mean that infrastructure costs have already been covered, or that fewer companies are seeing a return?
  • Fewer KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are being measured. Is this a sign of less interest in measurement, or just less interest in measuring KPIs as they relate to social?

What's the Reality?

Some trends are clearly discernible, such as more than half of companies using social media for marketing, communications, customer insight, customer service and reputation management/crisis control. By contrast, previous versions of this report found that most companies were simply focused on the vague "additional channel" potential for marketing and communications.

And 94 percent of businesses now say that social's importance to marketing is growing, a larger percentage than in previous reports.

But a variety of areas indicate mixed trend directions. For instance, nearly three-quarters of responding companies now have at least one person working on social media, a healthy proportion – but there is only a modest increase in companies with more than one.

"Either social media within companies is beginning to mature," the reports says, "and the drive to leverage social to its full extent is undiminished. Or, social media within companies is stagnating, and there’s an increasing lack of resources available to those within business to move forward to fully leverage social’s potential."

From the Useful Social Media report

The key to the dilemma, according to Useful Social Media, is measurement or the lack thereof. A "glass ceiling" had been hit, because backers of social media investment can't prove their value. But that statement conflicts with the just released third annual Social Business Global Executive Study and Research Project. Conducted jointly by the MIT Sloan Management Review and two subsidiaries of Deloitte LLP — Deloitte Consulting and Deloitte Services — the report is based on insights from surveys, interviews, literature and what the authors describe as "robust debates."

And it runs counter to the views of several industry thought leaders, as we explained in this discussion on the ROI of social media.

Like many in their middle age, social media in the corporation just seems to be trying to figure itself out.