Facebook is in trouble. Or it’s not in trouble, depending on who you ask, or when. As early as March 2012, long before the company’s IPO, some were predicting its collapse. But we know that Chicken Littles abound when it comes to any big event, such as the IPO of Facebook, the fastest-growing social media platform ever. The company’s struggles have become widely trumpeted around the world. Some media have even picked up on the theme and are having a little fun with it.
But every IPO raises expectations, and some companies struggle at the outset, then over the long run they wind up doing just fine. Ask Google.
It seems in Facebook’s case, that’s not happening. Instead, the IPO has put their finances on the table for all to see, and the outlook is a little grim. Worse, the company’s loss of several executives, and its overall failure to inspire confidence in investors, is now bleeding over into the rest of the online social platform and gaming industry.
Groupon’s value has withered, as has Pandora’s. Zynga, maker of several popular games such as Farmville and Words With Friends, is also suffering. A drop or even stagnant level of use is driving people to question whether these businesses are overvalued in the long-term. Some are even predicting a second dot-com bust.
Is The Sky Falling?
One thing we content marketers should consider is what we would do without social platforms. Our marketing strategies have been riding the social media wave for several years now. Everything we create is meant to be widely published and distributed across platforms that were entirely new to us just a few years ago. If you wrote an article, created a video, or some other clever campaign idea, you could slap it up on your website, email it, display it at an event, or send direct mail. Those methods seem antiquated now, but just a few short years ago they were about all a marketer could do.
Nobody wants to go back to that, right?
So now we’ve got access to a bunch of different ‘social’ websites that attract people and let them self-select by interest. People can easily align themselves by different business segments, hometowns, high schools, sports, soft drinks, television shows, ages, and all kinds of other groupings. That means that no matter what your business type, there is an online population waiting for you.
The Strengths of Facebook
Facebook is not, by far, the only social platform out there, and it was not the first, but with nearly a billion users, it is definitely one of the central pillars of the social universe. Its popularity is due to its ease of use, primarily with respect to finding people you actually know in real life. With LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+, the search tools that allow users to find each other by hometown, college or high school are difficult or nonexistent.
Facebook is also extremely versatile in the different organizational structures it can host, such as groups, pages, places, and apps. Any keywords created by users become a searchable tag shared with anybody using the same terms. These features gave Facebook the position it holds today, and they are the reason it is folly to expect Facebook to loose that as easily as MySpace. Despite that, it is popular to invoke MySpace as an example of how a dominant platform can lose position and leave the genre intact.
Facebook is a lot more entrenched as a pillar than MySpace ever was, and that’s why its collapse will be a little more impactful, should it occur.
Users of Facebook have probably noticed that the average News Feed has devolved into a morass of shared jokes and photos of the sort people used to send by chain email. The company’s tendency to make more activity visible to friends, such as comments or likes on unrelated content, has actually reduced the level of activity. Not everybody wants all of their friends to know that they commented on a political blog or gave a thumbs up to a racy photo.
In addition, we already know that companies advertising on Facebook, despite the keyword-targeted positioning, have not been effective in driving revenues, at least not in the same direct way that banner ads work. People may interact with company pages and share the more entertaining posts, but that’s also a few steps removed from an actual online sale. People aren’t on Facebook to shop.
For a company trying to get noticed, content is what drives interactivity on Facebook, whether it’s a post, a photo, a video, or an app. Without the business revenue to support its still-inflated stock price, the collapse of Facebook would look like an exodus of talent, a lack of server bandwidth (already apparent in its mobile capabilities), the breakdown of development, and a degradation of services to an unacceptable level for users and marketers. Without Facebook, several other tools will have to take over, and hopefully they will not be tarnished by the failure of an industry pillar.
Let’s review the alternatives:
This is the granddaddy of social sharing platforms. It has remained simple while other tools ballooned into unwieldy applications. It is unlikely to go anywhere, and will continue to be the primary means for reaching a highly targeted audience in any category. Because of its simplicity, it is the most versatile, and can be used for business, entertainment, celebrity worship, jokes, and lets people segment themselves into interest groups.
This is the ‘upstart’ platform that in truth is substandard in every way compared to Facebook. It is terrible at finding people you actually know, and its active population is still a little too small and homogeneous (mostly male Google fans) to reach a vast and varied audience. But it is animportant key to driving Google search results, and it stands to gain the most from the loss of Facebook.
This is another major pillar of the social content world, and video represents the largest growth opportunity in content marketing. It is the source link for most video posts on other platforms, and though its internal ‘social’ interactivity tools are somewhat weak, there is no easier way to post and share a video of just about any kind. Still, Google-owned YouTube relies heavily on Facebook sharing to spread videos far and wide.
LinkedIn is the platform most amenable to businesses that do business with other businesses, primarily because that’s what people expect there. While the other tools are used for entertainment, jokes, and celebrity worship as much as business, LinkedIn is designed for no other reason. For the same reason, a user is unlikely to see ads for consumer products, t-shirts, concerts, or sporting goods there. Facebook’s unwieldy and untrustworthy privacy settings prevent it from filling the business niche served by LinkedIn.
This has been an upstart success that originally was used by middle-aged women to pin photos of stuff they wanted. It has attracted the attention of businesses of all kinds, and white papers, event promotions and video stills are now shared in an attempt to gain interest from others. To me, the value of Pinterest for business is still a little up in the air.
I won’t get into the hundreds of other social tools such as Quora, Tumblr, Flickr and the rest here. A lot of people swear by them, but the user numbers begin to dwindle to a point that these could flicker out of existence without endangering the social realm.
Wither Social Media?
Facebook is an alpha. Its existence depends on its ability to fulfill the needs of its users, and now its investors. And the value proposition of other social platforms partially rely on the continuing success of Facebook. But it’s not alone among social or socially-related software companies with stock problems. Groupon, a daily deal site, and Zynga, a social game maker, are both struggling as they try to find a sustainable model for growth and stability.
The explosion in content marketing has driven entire companies and careers as the marketing world shifts to take advantage of a more level playing field. Upstarts selling bacon-flavored mayonnaise can compete with Kraft Foods. Two guys with a camera can compete with entrenched powerhouse ad agencies. Individual experts can write e-books and become household names, at least in their business niches. All of this has been possible because social platforms have displaced the gatekeepers; network broadcasters, print publishers, event promoters, and ISPs. The former industry leaders have found themselves struggling to keep up.
But old-school business requirements have come home to roost as the new platforms finally got called to account, and not all of these upstarts will survive. I believe we are about to enter phase two of the social revolution – now that the world has taken notice, and business realities have kicked in, a shakeout has begun that will set the stage for a more mature industry.
Facebook and the other major social companies will either settle into more strategic behavior, or will wither. And that means content marketing will have to do the same. The question is, do you have a strategy to cope with the loss of one or two platforms, or are all your eggs in one basket?