Lots of changes going on in social networks — the Facebook IPO on Friday (and subsequent 11% drop in share price on Monday), Lawsuits filed against Google (Antitrust) and Facebook (Privacy), new social platforms, including Pinterest further fragment the social landscape, and advertisers grow increasingly skittish about paying for online ads without more tangible support for their effectiveness.
This begs the question of whether these social networks will remain viable. Nearly half of Americans don’t believe Facebook will be here in the long-run.
My best guess is the social networks will continue long into the future. It may not be the holy trinity (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn) that survive, but newer social networks, like Pinterest, or some social network that hasn’t even appeared on the horizon yet, but I think social networks are here to stay.
Much of this certainty comes from a book written by Robert Putnam called “Bowling Alone”. In the book, Putnam makes a strong case for the importance of community or deep, repetitious social interactions. He traces the history of human interaction in the US over the last half century or so. He argues that, as each type of community dwindles, a new form of community arises to take its place — PTA meeting give way to phone chains, book clubs morph into online forums. Of course, he wrote before the first social network was conceived, but you can easily see the importance of community coming through in these platforms.
I also don’t see the current leaders — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ surviving forever. Likely, they’ll go the way of MySpace, where users will stop interacting for no apparent reason. Sure, you can point to issues that might give rise to this mass exodus (like Facebook’s constant tinkering with their user interface or Google+’s lack of engagement as it grew), but likely we’ll never know the true cause of their decline. Nor will we, in hindsight, see the tipping point heralding the decline. We’ll just wake up one morning and no one is saying much of anything on their wall, stream, …
Part of the pressure behind the likely demise of these social networks is their persistent struggles with monetizing their platforms. You can’t make users pay for the experience and paid advertising isn’t showing the kind of ROI firms want. Maybe charging firms for their fanpages will provide needed revenue, since this is where firms really see their payoff. Personally, I’d hate to see this change because I think it prices small businesses out of the market.
Well, certainly I’m not advocating you eliminate your social media marketing efforts. I think social networks will stay fundamentally the same over the next year or so. Just don’t put all you eggs in one basket. Spread your social media marketing efforts across multiple social networks. I’d also seriously consider adding a blog to your website or, if you already have one, expanding it. While Google continuously tinkers with SEO (Search Engine Optimization), blogs are here to stay and setting one up has never been easier. In the long run, a blog that provides valuable content that’s updated frequently is your BEST and most stable social media marketing tool. That’s why almost 90% of firms in a recent study by Awareness plan to increase their blogging efforts.
I would also increase my sensing efforts. Step up your exploration of new social networks and begin experimenting in these venues. Learn where you customers are and how people respond on these alternate social networks. Likely, the future of social networking will involve more specialized social networks. Look at recent changes in traditional media where mass market products, like newspapers and broadcast TV are giving way to more specialized programming, such as specialized magazines and cable TV. I expect similar changes in social networks with specialized networks designed for certain demographic groups and catering to special interests.
Finally, I’d reduce my focus on how to optimize specific social networks — especially since success strategies change frequently as owners change their user interface (witness the recent plummet of many company websites after the Penguin update to Google’s search algorithm). I would take that effort and expend it on understanding how consumers behave in online social settings. Invest in a little original research — and I can name a few very competent researchers who could provide such insights. Hire a skilled consultant to analyze data from your existing online efforts to improve your understanding of how YOUR customers interact with you. The days of hiring some 20-something assuming they KNOW social networks and hoping (praying) for the best are gone. You need analytical folks driving your social media strategy, not some clever copywriter churning out drivel.
I think social networks are on the precipice of dramatic change. And, I’d like to help you navigate the process. So, if you find this post valuable, you might consider subscribing to my email newsletter. In it, I share my insights on how to make you business successful through social media marketing and other proven marketing strategies. And, I won’t spam you by truing to sell you coaching programs or other things you don’t want.