Every time I catch up with my young niece and nephews I ask them about their social media usage. Clearly not a robust analysis, but telling none the less. Given I see them most months it has become like a usage and attitude research program. I’m interested to understand their digital behaviour patterns, and see if they align with what the media is reporting. They are all between the age of 11 and 18 years. The question is simple: What social media are you using these days? No brands or tools are mentioned.
In the past few months Facebook has pretty much fallen off their radar. Not even used to socialise. They all told me Facebook is just good for invites and parties. But they prefer Snapchat and Instagram. In fact, over Christmas all they did all day was ‘snap’ with their friends. Ok, so this is no surprise, but what is interesting is the why. When I asked them why they care less about Facebook now the answers are quite predictable:
- It’s too busy, with too many messages. The page on FB is all messy now.
- It’s not as good on your mobile as ‘Insta’ and ‘Snapchat’ are. They suit it better.
- It’s just my mates, not relatives and parents and all that.
- It’s not cool any more.
There were more responses but you get the picture. Interestingly privacy issues have never been mentioned.
What’s clear again and again with the on-line world, is that it replicates the real world. There is no delineation. It IS the real world. But it seems that every on-line brand and social channel at some point start to forget this. Usually post market success.
I really feel that Facebook cooked their golden goose when they started to manage people’s feed and decide for them what was most relevant. This had a really big effect on brands and organisations who had invested a significant amount in the FB platform, where overnight, their investment in connecting with those who care about their stuff was diluted. Reports say that most people see about 17% of what they actually sign up to see. But I believe it had a bigger and wider effect on individual users. It reduced the need for their members to be careful with who they said ‘yes’ to and what they ‘liked’. All of a sudden they removed the need for their users to be diligent, to manage their digital investment, to ensure their feed is up to date with who they want to hear from. And when there is no consequence, there is no investment. What Facebook tried to do with people’s feeds (keep it relevant and digestible) had the opposite effect in the long run. People lost control, didn’t manage their digital home and it turned Facebook into a crowded shopping mall. People selling stuff, lots of noise, too many options, full of strangers – people you met once at a party…. In any case cool kids don’t hang out in shopping malls, they prefer alley ways, and exclusive clubs.
In my view Facebook has become the White Pages of the web – boring and busy, but most names are there…. with a few unlisted persons. Ironically unlisted for the same privacy concerns people had with phones and addresses being public -
I’m certain it will continue to be used to reach out and find people, but I feel it’s days of deep connection are over. I feel as FB will morph into an older demographic as most cool young brands do when they graduate into serious commercial entities. They always lose their cache.
FB wont disappear any time soon, but the kids on it will (have). Unlike older people using social networks, kids don’t have a commercial imperative to keep them there. They aren’t at a life stage where they are managing a personal brand, or are too scared to exit for industry knowledge reasons. They simply don’t have the exit costs many of us do with social media. I personally find LinkedIn totally annoying, spam filled and interruptive but am yet to turn it off by not wanting to offend people or miss a random opportunity. Though I’m getting closer as each day passes. Twitter has a broadcasting and personal quality to it given it has a one-way follow mechanism, it’s also more flexible and succinct. I truly believe it will be more highly valued company than Facebook in the long run because it more easily feeds into other media, TV, events and has a zytgeist of the times quality due to it’s immediacy.
For me all of this is more proof that power in a digital economy is far more ephemeral than the industrial era. The barriers to entry for new competitors are low, as are the exit costs for users. It’s the mere nature of a democratised economic structure.
While this is good news for all startups, it’s also worth paying close attention to the forums we choose to build our brands in.
Firstly – I’ll start by saying I think Chris Anderson is an incredibly clever guy. I thought his book ‘The Long Tail’ was and is the future of business. But when it come to ‘free’ he has got it wrong this time. As has Seth Godin and all the other ‘free’ converts.
As Malcolm Gladwell correctly points out, they are forgetting many of the fundamentals in business, by getting caught up in the stale newspaper argument, which in the new digital economy, is the easy and soft target of who will disappear. The irony of this ‘newspaper’ argument is certainly lost in the broader economy. The non digital economies are a lot bigger than newspapers and other beleaguered digital industries.
So why is it that ‘Free’ is not a business model. Quite simply, any business without a revenue generation model wont exist over time. We only need look at the the dot com bust of the late 1990’s to see this reality. It’s also much too easy to get caught up in the success of Google and others which ‘started free’ to build demand. But many of the subsequent ‘Free’ offers like Youtube, Facebook, Myspace, Flickr may have been successful for the owners, only because they sold to a business with a large chequebook – not because the business itself was financially successful. The Google business model is not too dissimilar to that of Network TV – generate eyeballs, sell advertising….. Nothing new here.
The real question in the so called ‘Freeconomy’ is how many businesses can be supported by the advertising sales model? So why the idea of ‘Free’ is being touted as new is beyond us here at Startupblog.
Here’s what ‘Free’ really is – it’s part of the marketing mix. It’s the 4th P – Promotion. It always has been and always will be. Anything a company gives away for free is a promotional tool to sell something. If these businesses who use the so called ‘free model’ fail to sell something there are only two options for them as time passes:
- Go broke & run out of cash
- Get bought by large company who values what they have created, albeit ‘non-financial’
Whether it be Proctor & Gamble, giving free shampoo in letter boxes in 1957 or Google giving free search and maps in 2009. It’s part of the mix to attract potential customers, who will be converted into on going revenue. It isn’t free. Free is not a business model, moreover it’s sampling & promotion for associated revenue generating activities. So to call it the future of business as ‘free’ is absolute folly.
Sure Anderson can argue that digital stuff is becoming so cheap it may as well be free – as per the transistor example he uses. But the thing that really costs money is building demand and infrastructure – the kind of stuff that’s really expensive. The other point to consider is the example of some things which previously cost money (a newspaper) is now available free on line, doesn’t mean everything is heading down the free path. Rather it means that certain industries are dying – not that ‘paying’ will be a thing of the past. In fact there are just as many examples of items which were once free, consumers are now being charged for Education, Toll roads, Water, Seeds.
The advice I’m giving here is simple.
No business can survive without revenue. Free, isn’t free, but a promotional expense, the 4th P. If your industry is getting flooded with free – it’s on it’s deathbed – look elsewhere. Industries die all the time when the revenue dries up just like those trying to cope with the current digital conversion. Don’t assume you can build something awesome and give it away with the ability to sell it (the business) or something associated later – chances are you’ll run out of money before that.
The future of business isn’t Free, and the idea isn’t new, it’s part of a complex marketing mix. And if you want to own a startup to thrive, my advice is simple. Have a price which isn’t all zeros.