Why social media companies should stop being ‘all things to all men’

Written by on February 10, 2017 in Opinion with 0 Comments

With the bizarre terms surrounding the Snap IPO, the focus this week seems to be firmly back on social media. To be frank, you have to wonder whether there is a grand plan behind some of the trends, directions and announcements coming out of social media companies or whether they are beginning to flail around for ideas, and hoping something will stick.

Leaving aside the ridiculous valuation and demands of Snap, there seems to be a growing sense of chaos in the ‘middle’ of the social media whirl.

The problem comes back to the difference between what we want to do (and are used to doing) and what companies want us to do.

If we want to find something, we go to Google.

If we want to buy something, we go to Amazon (maybe eBay).

If we want to find out what our friends are up to, we go to Facebook.

After that, we have choices, but we probably have favourites.

If we want news, we have our preferred sources.

If we want to chat or message, we have various options, depending on the consensus of the ‘chatees’.

As we have seen many times in technology history, companies that try and be ‘all things to all men’ seldom succeed. And sometimes fail spectacularly.

Several companies in the social media space are, indeed, trying to be all things to all men, and they are fuelled by an arrogance that makes the cynics amongst purse our lips and tut in a grumpy old way. We have, let’s face it, seen it all before.

Take Twitter (please). Twitter is a fire hose of news and video and rants that is still trying to find relevance in what it does. Top executives are leaving in droves, and only people with pretty specific needs for Twitter bother using it. If they do try and use it for news, they scroll for 30 seconds or so, until they go cross-eyed, and stop.

The company recently took the ‘buy button’ off the site. No-one was using it, because people do not use Twitter to buy stuff.

Sadly, the social media companies are not the only ones fighting for our attention.

While these companies are trying to put everything inside their ecosystem, brands are working hard to keep their stuff out. Starbucks is perfectly happy with its coffee/WiFi based ecosystem and is developing it nicely, with easy payments, rewards, loyalty campaigns and more. Wal-Mart, Macys and several others are doing the same. They do not have overall loyalty, but when it comes to coffee, cheap shopping, pizza or burgers these big brands surely do.

And now that net neutrality is heading for the digital landfill, other brands are weighing in with compelling packages. The New York Time just announced free Spotify with one year’s digital subscription to the paper.

You may not think that the New York Times is a threat to social media, but when social media is trying to deliver your news to you – so that you will watch the adverts – then make no mistake, they absolutely are.

Social media companies are trying to create compelling ecosystems, but the only entity that will create the perfect one will be the customer. He will create his own ecosystem – of ecosystems.

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Alex Leslie

About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .

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