Earlier this week, Facebook bought Instagram for over $1 billion, and the reaction to its acquisition of the popular photo-sharing social network was both strong and predictable. People hated the move. In a scene reminiscent of Quit Facebook Day, scores of people voiced their frustration via Twitter, and many threatened to delete their Instagram accounts:
— Hamce M (@Napaceni) April 9, 2012
— Mike Monteiro (@Mike_FTW) April 9, 2012
— Andrew Crow (@AndrewCrow) April 9, 2012
But we all know how well Quit Facebook Day turned out, and in fact, news of Facebook’s acquisition has rocketed Instagram to the top spot in the iOS app store.
Regardless, there’s evident frustration here, which provides a clear lesson for all of us: Facebook is Walmart, and we love boutique shops.
Think about it. Facebook is the massive destination that has everything you need, at a level of quality that is just good enough. But Path, EveryMe (and arguably, Google+) allow for easier control of sharing. Twitter nails the interest graph, and Pinterest‘s unique approach to image curation has helped it explode to become the third most popular social network in the United States (so Facebook went out and bought a potential Pinterest killer).
But what does this mean for you?
If you’re a marketer, you need to remember that niche networks with tight, interest-based communities are highly-valued by consumers (this shouldn’t be a revelation). As the large networks like Facebook and Twitter race to the middle with “me too” features that appeal to broader user bases (which I’ve, ahem, written about before), there are opportunities to capitalize on granular interests and use cases. You just may need to work a little harder to find the hangouts of your target audiences.
If you’re an app developer, understand that narrowly-focused, well-designed products that do one thing (or few things) well are prized by consumers. People don’t need another Facebook or Twitter (as those 3 minutes/month they’re spending on Google+ indicate), and they certainly don’t need more location-sharing apps. Plan your strategy accordingly.
In summary, think like a specialty retailer. As an app developer, you’re unlikely to beat Facebook on volume, and as a marketer, there is evident potential for micro-targeting. Use this knowledge to compete more effectively, an tap into the sentiment that Instagram’s user base has expressed loud and clear.
What do you think about the Facebook/Instagram hubbub? I ‘d love to hear your thoughts below (And lastly, I have no plans to delete my Instagram account).
Millions of people are about one week into working on their goals/resolutions for the 2012 year. For tech savvy types, these plans may involve learning to code via Codeacademy’s Code Year initiative, or obtaining a new technical certification. For others (aka the “Normals“), plans might center around losing weight, becoming more active, or saving more money (at least that’s what this fantastic infographic from Radian6 shows).
And for me? I’m committed to reading more books, trying new foods, and learning to meditate. But each of those resolutions will be a piece of cake compared with my most ambitious goal for 2012:
I’m going to spend less time on Twitter.
To be clear, I’m not planning to spend less time on social networks. It’s just that I’ll be allocating my time differently. Twitter is great, obviously — it’s become a daily essential for me alongside air, food and water — but it has become relatively less interesting as other apps and/or social networks increasingly pull away my attention.
Like other established heavyweight networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn, Twitter has come to resemble a presidential candidate who has survived a grueling nomination process and must now focus on appealing to a more moderate general electorate. In other words, these social networks are racing to to the middle, adding “me too” features that newer users expect and appreciate.
A couple of examples:
- Facebook’s recent “subscribe” feature that enables individuals — especially public figures — to share public posts with non-friends, providing for asymmetric follower relationships similar to Twitter.
- Twitter’s enhanced profile pages that allow businesses to manage initial consumer impressions, similar to landing tabs on Facebook (yes, I know they’re not actually tabs anymore).
And there are more. This is a good problem for these networks to have, of course. But the need to cater to the expectations of newbies due to mainstream acceptance doesn’t always lead to terribly interesting innovation.
As a consequence, I’m starting to spend less time on the heavyweight social networks. My average time spent on Facebook per day has dropped by about half, and LinkedIn has been relegated to a few visits per week (Yes, I know this is a bad thing. I know.). And Twitter? I’ve refined my Twitter lists to segment professional connections, news sources and personal relationships. These lists are so finely-tuned now that I keep up-to-date with news related to digital strategy and social media during the day, and scan through tweets from friends when I have free time.
So where will I be spending more of my time online? In place of Twitter, I’m going to commit time to a handful of other apps that are simply more interesting to me right now, such as:
- Pinterest: A self-described “Virtual Pinboard” that facilitates easy sharing of images from across the web via virtual boards. It boasts a phenomenal growth rate – over 5x from September 2010 to December 2011. Here’s my profile.
- Instagram: It’s the fastest-growing mobile social network ever, and it provides an easy means for sharing photos with amazing filter effects.
- Path: Taking a unique approach to social networking, Path caps the number of friends for each member at 150. The focus is on closer, more personal sharing between friends (without the acquaintances and professional colleagues who have started to bleed over into your Facebook friendships).
- Google+: I’ve had the unique experience of recovering from Google+ page suspension; despite that, I’m bullish on its potential. G+ is fresh off of its largest-ever surge in traffic during December 2011, and the Google+ continues to add features to improve the service. Here’s my profile.
In addition to spend more time on these four apps, I have also started up a photo blog on Tumblr, a platform that I adopted early-on and then abandoned a long time ago. I’ve found a reason to give it another shot this year.
Thus, 2012 will be a year of trying out new things and spending less time on the networks — especially Twitter — that have garnered most of my attention over the past couple of years. It’s not just a case of chasing new and shiny objects, either. I view Pinterest, Instagram, Google+ and Path as apps/networks with real staying power, and the first three are especially interesting for brands.
Sometimes, it’s important to look beyond what is mature and proven. It’s certainly more interesting — wouldn’t you agree?
Note: This article originally appeared on Social Media Today
Change is constant, and trends related to social media and technology are no exception. In this edition of the social media “virtual roundtable,” a handful of strategic thinkers cover topics pertaining to Google, Quora, mobile applications and social media planning. The featured participants for this edition are:
- Lauren Conner, a social media analyst for the automotive industry specializing in online community strategy and management.
- Annie Janssen, the co-creator of Story of My Life Cards and social media girl for a snack foods company.
- Clark Dever, a national speaker on social media for small business owners and the web strategist for Vuzix Corporation.
- Shane Barnhill, a digital strategist, blogger, and founder of the Uptick Sports prediction market.
- Heather Herr, a social media strategist, recovering architecture student, and occasional runner with a bad (or maybe it’s good) habit of signing up for the latest beta release social site whenever she has too much free time on her hands.
Note: if you would like to be part of a future roundtable discussion, send a reply on Twitter @shanebarnhill.
Let’s start with Google, which recently announced +1, the search giant’s answer to the increasingly ubiquitous Facebook Like button. Do you think +1 will be part of a successful social strategy for Google, or do you think it is doomed to fail just as past social initiatives from Google (Buzz, Wave) have failed?
Conner: Similar to Facebook’s ‘Like’ button, the Google +1 feature is designed to allow you to highlight the search results you found most useful or relevant. The question is ‘Will the Google +1 have as much success as the Facebook ‘Like’ button?’ The Facebook ‘Like’ button is successful mainly because it reaches out to the large network of people we have connected with on Facebook. The average Google user is probably unlikely to have such a significant social network through Google’s Gmail service and the network built with Gmail is likely to be much different than that of a Facebook network. My Gmail network is made up of the people I email on occasion (ie. my insurance broker, my grandma in New Jersey, my accountant, my dog trainer, etc.) whereas my Facebook consists of friends, family and acquaintances I interact with fairly frequently. I don’t need my accountant to know that my search on local organic grocers resulted in a great link to a neighborhood co-op. Beyond that, I don’t want my search affected by my insurance broker’s preferences. I appreciate Google’s attempt to stick to what they know and what they are good at, search results, but this feature looks like a desperate attempt to be more like Facebook.
Janssen: I think overall Google will see more success since Larry Page took over as CEO earlier this year. However, I’m still unsure of how he’ll help their social initiatives as a guy who doesn’t even have a Facebook or Twitter account. In a recent article in Fast Company, Jason Shellen, who spent four years as a business-development exec at Google and now works at AOL, said “There’s an EQ – an emotional intelligence – around social software, and it just might be out of Google’s reach.” However, I think this is a safe step for Google in their attempt to be more social. They’re not creating a network, just building off of consumers’ existing networks. With “likes” perhaps soon replacing links, I think this is a great idea that has a lot of potential to catch on.
Dever: There’s two ways to success in markets, be first or be the best. Google has tried several times to come late and be the best, but have failed. I don’t think that +1 will suffer that same fate, but I don’t foresee it rising to be the market leader. I think that its integration with search will add enough value to users’ lives that the project wont be killed, but I don’t believe it will become the de facto “like” button. It will end up being just another piece of social debris that aggregates at the bottom of blog posts.
Barnhill: From a strategic standpoint, I see enormous potential for Google +1 for several reasons (which I’ve detailed previously). First, +1 is a lead generation vehicle, because in order to endorse links, a searcher must first create an account with Google, which provide leads to whom Google can market its products and services. Second, +1 will provide a new data source to protect Google’s flagship search asset. The quality of Google’s search results have recently come under fire, and +1 feedback will undoubtedly be used to improve search quality by serving up results that your respected contacts have previously vetted. Third, +1 clicks will help Google serve more relevant advertisements, both through explicit feedback (as users +1 ads that they find useful) and implicit means (as Google’s inventory of +1 data on individual web searchers allows them to deliver more personalized ads). Fourth, the +1 system will almost certainly expand beyond search and into Google’s other digital assets (YouTube videos, Android apps, Google Places and as buttons embedded across websites), thereby its utility for web surfers and also helping Google draw more complete profiles of the consumers who are being targeted for advertisements. In summary, +1 will augment Google’s core competencies in search and advertising.
Herr: Assuming it is adopted by users, I think the strength in +1 lies in it’s potential to improve search results quality, not in true social influence. +1 scores are cumulative. It may provide a general rating of social proof, but it’s weakness is that it does not identify if any up-votes came from people you know and trust. Google’s prior move of integrating their “results from your social circle” into results, displaying the avatar and name of the person who has shared that link is more effective at influencing click-through. Searchers make an immediate assumption about the quality of the link based on who shared it.
Conner: I’ve had the opportunity to speak with a good number of people trying to break into the social media field of business. Upon diving into their experience with social media in their personal life and where they see opportunities for businesses to use it to their advantage one thing always stumps them. Twitter. It surprises me the number of people who think they know social media but haven’t gone beyond the profile setup and customary “I joined Twitter!” tweet. For companies, Twitter isn’t a platform to announce what’s for lunch or that you have a fever. Twitter is a great way to break away from the confines of branding (to a certain extent) and share a human side of the company. Companies should use Twitter to interact with its customers one-on-one, share community involvement, conduct market research, augment customer service, etc. As of March 2011, an average of 460,000 are set up each day. Some of those people are bound to be your customers, or future customers. Get out there and tweet with them!
Janssen: There are a lot of very important aspects, but honestly, I believe that this exact type of roundtable forum is often one of the most overlooked – but most important – for newcomers. I notice a lot of new companies and brands making the mistake of talking only about themselves – what they think, what they know, and what’s new with them. While it’s crucial to be an expert in your field, no one likes to talk to someone who only talks about themselves the whole time. This sounds very simple, but it’s the basis of good social interaction. I would encourage companies to reach out to their existing fans for their opinions whether it’s through polls, surveys, roundtables or guest blog posts. Everyone who participates will want to share it with their network and all of a sudden there’s much more potential for the information to go viral.
Dever: Building relationships, that’s the key to the kingdom. You have to personify your brand and make people feel that you are their friend. It doesn’t matter how many people you have following you if they aren’t engaged. Speak to them, answer their questions, introduce them to one another, play games with them. It’s simultaneously the easiest and hardest part of SMM.
Barnhill: It’s important to start small by piloting social media projects and then basing larger initiatives on the results of those efforts. This is especially true in larger, complex organizations. It’s very tempting to aim for a comprehensive strategy when you’re just getting started, without allowing for sufficient experimentation. Of course, early lessons learned need to augment business goals and be consistent with your brand message. Just be certain to document them while testing the waters so that you have data to show which tactics are driving results, and which are not.
Herr: Reciprocity. It sounds so soft, but think about it this way – our social networks have become so congested with brands, business, and professionals that plug their messaging, that we’re forced to ask ourselves “what am I getting out of this relationship” with each new follow. We’ve all become takers or pushers or both. People who genuinely like you (or your brand), and whom you genuinely like in return will be your best allies. Relationships aren’t net zero – their net sum, with people on both sides finding value.
Conner: Look at your keys… or perhaps your wallet… feeling overwhelmed by the number of grocery store club cards, reward key cards, shoe store membership cards? My wallet and my keychain looked like a rolodex of my brand preferences and they were starting to get unmanageable. The Key Ring app, available on your iPhone, Android or Windows phone, helps organize all of those membership cards on your mobile device. No need to carry the cards, just scan and store them in your phone. Sounds pretty basic but recent updates to this app have upgraded the use of the virtual rewards cards by including coupons, offers and discounts. It seems they even have a partnership with CellFire, “the premier destination for valuable savings on groceries, shopping, restaurants, and entertainment.” On a recent trip to the beauty store I presented my iPhone with the barcode for that store to the cashier and received the card’s standard discount along with a $5.00 off coupon available only through the Key Ring app.
Janssen: I haven’t seen many people using Google Voice, but I decided to start using it when I recently lost my phone and wanted to text my friends while I was waiting for my new phone. Now I’m hooked. All you have to do is set up a Google Voice phone number, and you can text from your computer for free. I use the Google Voice app on my Droid so that I can have my voicemails transcribed to text. And if you haven’t used cab4me to call a cab, I would recommend it. It makes calling a cab ten times easier.
Dever: LayAR – Augmented Reality applications are going to be huge in the mobile marketplace. Layar is the current front runner in this marketplace and gives developers the ability to build their own “layars” on the framework.
Barnhill: I have been playing around with Viddy over the past few days, and I really enjoy it. Viddy — like Socialcam — does for video what Instagram does for photos. It provides a method for adding a mood element to short video clips through filtering effects. Each video can then be shared to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (with Foursquare and Tumblr listed as “coming soon” by the app). The business case for Viddy is still unclear to me at this point, but given that brands have adopted Instagram and PicPlz for curating photo streams, Viddy represents a similar use case. But for personal purposes, the app is a lot of fun.
Herr: Instagram, without question! Rather than photo sharing, I’d call it more of a photo journalism or photo storytelling application. The filters are exceptional, and lend an oldness and nostalgia to pictures. The story that each person is documenting is different – it might be family, food, signage, or urban decay – but I feel the pictures that people share with Instagram are different than what they tend to share elsewhere. Also, it’s fascinating to watch how businesses who adopted early are using it to share content. I’d recommend checking out NPR, Red Bull (client) and Dan Rubin.
Lastly, let’s turn to Quora. Much has been made about whether Quora, the fast-growing Q&A website, can sustain its fast rate of growth without losing its reputation as a quality source of information; and in fact, this infographic from KISSmetrics shows a recent decline in unique visitors. What do you think: Can Quora continue to grow and maintain its quality? If so, how?
Janssen: I haven’t used Quora much but I have noticed a decline in the chatter about it in my own Twitter feed. My suggestion for Quora would definitely be to integrate video into the answers. With YouTube having around 180 million unique visitors a day, I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t integrate video into their answers.
Dever: Unfortunately, Quora runs the risk of becoming just another “experts exchange.” Its original appeal was its tight knit community that was built around the start-up, VC, tech evangelists social networks. I’ve already seen a marked decrease in quality of answers over the past months, which is when it appeared to hit “the tipping point” and expanded beyond it’s original exclusivity. I believe that y-combinator’s “hacker news” will probably regain some market share as the portal of choice for that community.
Barnhill: I do think Quora can grow while maintaining quality, despite the challenges associated with mainstream adoption. But I think there are two primary threats. First, there is clear demand for tighter, more-focused communities that revolve around niche interests and problems. LawPivot, for example, is making a name for itself (and drawing investment) by focusing exclusively on providing legal advice to tech companies and startups. Stack Overflow, meanwhile, continues to provide value to programmers as a collaborative platform. Second, Quora requires a lot more commitment than users of many social platforms may be willing to invest. By comparison, services like Twitter and Facebook – which admittedly serve a very different purpose than Quora – thrive partially due to expectations of simplicity and brevity. For example, while I still browse through Quora, the focus on longer, in-depth answers to questions requires more time than I’m willing to commit on a regular basis. So yes, while I expect Quora to grow, I think it faces some challenges that will likely lead to a flatter growth curve.
Herr: The answer to that question really depends on user’s root motivation and Quora’s own intentions. As an application grows, change is inevitable. Founders are faced with a choice: adapt to usage behaviors or stick to their core vision. These aren’t mutually exclusive, but they can be. As Quora grows, they will see a shift in their user base from web-based professionals and aficionados, to a larger population that’s harder to wrap up in a pretty package. The content on Quora will change accordingly. Look at Yahoo! Questions now – it’s a place to get your question answered by other users, but it’s not where you go to have an intelligent discussion on how technology is shaping our lives. For these types of questions, look to the Q&A platform being launched by TED. They’ve built a brand around the caliber of content that makes up a TED Talk that will serve as both launchpad and quality control for their Q&A feature.
Thanks for reading! If you would like to be part of a future roundtable discussion, send a reply on Twitter @shanebarnhill.