To view social media in terms of “before” and “after” is a deeply flawed approach to understanding technology’s continual impact on business. For one thing, media has always been social; media, by definition, is any form of communication reaching the masses of society. For another, what is considered social media today didn’t pop up overnight, nor did it “happen” all that recently. Social media is not the future, and it did not become the present. Media has simply been evolving, as should we.

Delia’s (stylized as dELiA*s) announced this past December that the “girls only” lifestyle brand would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and liquidate all its merchandise. Delia’s began to struggle when direct-to-consumer advertising, for which Delia’s led the forefront in the 90s, shifted from monthly style catalogues to online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Delia’s inability to grow with the times can easily be reflected in its antiquated logo, stylized after the way teens typed nearly 20 years ago.

The evolution (or lack thereof): Summer 1999 catalogue cover, Winter 2014 Instagram post, today.

The evolution (or lack thereof): Summer 1999 catalogue cover, Winter 2014 Instagram post, today.

Such is the danger of dwelling in the romanticized nostalgia of the past.

Retailers everywhere, including Aeropostale, American Eagle Outfitters, and Abercrombie, are fighting the same battle against ecommerce while struggling to build relationships through social media platforms. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Traffic to U.S. retailers was hurt during the financial crisis and recession, when job losses soared and shoppers kept a tight grip on their dollars. But nearly five years into the recovery, it appears many of those shoppers may never be coming back.”

If businesses don’t evolve as consumer habits do, businesses risk being left behind. The evolution of marketing cannot be viewed solely as a series of changes with a corresponding series of causes because doing so risks periods of complacency, stillness, and consequent ineffectiveness. Rather, innovation must be seen as a constant movement forward.

Delia’s, in an uphill battle against changing consumer habits, failed to do anything different with its social media practices and thus made their losing battle even harder. It’s not enough to simply exist in the online space and call it “social media marketing.” Businesses need to ask themselves: How can we push the existing bounds of social media? How can we push beyond it? Innovation is complex, dynamic, and deserves to be treated as such – like a verb, not a noun.

Alison Zhao, MSD Intern