The Social Bubble is harming the Niche Networks of the future.

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I work as part of a digital marketing team for a large hotel company, as part of my role, I am constantly trying to prove the value of Social Marketing as a brand awareness and customer acquisition tool. The idea, I tell them, is to help our company stand out from the competition, using what is unique to us, to speak to our customer, rather than just the price. However, in many people’s minds, social begins and ends with Facebook. Convincing someone that there are other platforms available, while attempting to prove their worth, can be a double-edged sword.

The problem today however, is that we see Facebook Fatigue kicking in in large numbers. At the moment, it’s confined to the younger user base, the users who won’t spend, but we should expect this to spread, as more and more niche social networks arise, catering to the needs of the tech savvy customer. What we must be aware of, however, is that while Facebook is losing users, it’s still a key way to access an affluent demo graph. We also shouldn’t hop onto new platforms, just because they’re potentially the next big thing – they simply don’t work.

Snapchat, is an example which instantly springs to mind. Having made a real name for itself, the new social network, along with Kik and Whatsapp, began attracting younger users in droves, suddenly – it became the ‘must market’ platform, with companies eager to see how to grab the attention of new customers. The problem here is a simple one; namely Snapchat neither has a big enough user base nor the capability to allow for mass marketing.

Mark Zuckerberg is another who believed the hype, offering a massive buyout of the company, which was flatly rejected. While some might leap at the chance to become overnight billionaires, the Snapchat team decided against it, and for good reason. They didn’t have to look far to see the example of Instagram, who barely two years ago were in a similar situation. Overnight multi-millionaires, the platform was valued by Zuckerburg at $1billion, the problem however is that Instagram has to prove its worth, something it has failed to do so far.

It’s easy for a lot of startup networks to become taken with the idea of a major buyout form the likes of Facebook, Apple or Google. What they fail to remember is that to get to the point of being valued so highly, they first have to do something different, something niche which attracts a certain type of user. This is where we encounter problems – the minute they get a major valuation it’s time to prove they’re worth it, as we’ve seen in the case of Instagram, ads just haven’t worked, they won’t work for Snapchat either, at least not in the traditional sense. Ultimately, this creates another exodus, a user base which didn’t join for the ads, and would probably be happier to pay for the app instead.

The ultimate upshot is that the ads fail to work; users either ignore them, or leave the platform. The few exceptions are obvious; Facebook, Twitter and Google – each faces a battle everyday to prove their services are unobtrusive, but need to sell ads to maintain services.

The future for the big three is looking a little more awkward, in a few years we’ll be looking at a more diverse landscape in terms of social networking and marketing. The reality is that companies need to make money from their product, and users should pay something towards that and there will be some interesting marketing opportunities. The problem at the moment is that the valuations being stamped on companies are phenomenal, Instagram was never, and still isn’t worth $1Billion, and Snapchat certainly isn’t worth $3 billion – but once bought and valued at that, the pressure is on to aggressively make the money back.

Ultimately, the bubble will burst, social marketing is here to stay, but we will hopefully see niche networks allowed to work on innovative and subtle methods, like Twitter – to promote to their user base, without the huge valuations forcing them into action before they’re ready

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Facebook buys Whatsapp; the figures | Ciaran's Tech Blog

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