There’s little argument that social media has changed the way we think about business, about marketing and about consumer behavior. Whether or not most businesses have figure out how to properly prioritize, leverage and measure social channels, everyone can admit social is a big factor in how they think these days.

But remember the good ole days of social when the whole space was really about growing and learning and collaborating? Sure, there’s still a hint of that around today, but the business of social media has matured.

Think of some thought leaders in the field – Chris Brogan, Brian Solis, Gary Vaynerchuk, Scott Stratten, Amber Naslund, Jay Baer – and think about them in 2007 or 2008. All were relatively new to the scene (as we all were). They showed up and spoke at a lot of events. They blogged often and were generally participants in just about everything that went down in the landscape of social media.

Then the business of social marketing grew up. Brogan went from blogger to author to consultancy owner. He started charging for online courses and speaking and webinars and everything else. Solis went the high-falutin’ author way and became a Silicon Valley analyst and high-priced speaker. Vaynerchuk inked a big publishing contract and started a media company. Stratten turned his podcast into a CBS property and soon will be interrupt in his bantor with Alison Kramer by – gasp – advertisements! Amber got a real job, started her own company, then got another real job. Jay’s consultancy blew up into a huge agency which now charges for just about everything he does.

Don’t get me wrong – none of this is intended to be a criticism. We’re not in the business of giving away our time and expertise. We all have families to feed and what-not.

But I do find it strangely ironic that the very people who preached community and collaboration over the years have simply become the high-dollar show ponies of an industry moving out of its childhood and into adolescence.

To be fair, I’m in the same boat. When I came onto the social media scene, I worked for an agency that was fine footing the bill for my travel and the like so I could network, learn, see and be seen. When I went out on my own, I pissed a lot of friends off by saying, “I can’t do it for free.” We all had to monetize what we were doing or sacrifice our very freedom to do it in the first place.

In a similar vein, brands who dove into the social media pool early were tickled they had the ability to spend a fraction of the money they did on advertising to reach the same amount of people, provided they played well with others, participated genuinely and didn’t spam the hell out of their audiences. Fast-forward almost 10 years into this thing and now most find they have to pay to play.

Teenagers cost more money than toddlers.

Social marketing has reached its teenage years. And teenagers cost more money than toddlers. Soon, it’ll be wrecking the car, knocking up its girlfriend and stealing from the liquor cabinet.

But we still love him. There’s good in there despite the growing pains. Some tough love may be ahead of us, but we can’t let go just yet. There’s potential in that boy, I just know it.

That doesn’t mean, however, we can’t wish for times gone by to come around again.

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