2019 will be a year of upheaval in the social media universe, IMHO. Some predict the demise of one or two major brands, a prediction that can be rather easily diverted with some timely and judicious mixes of savvy marketing, PR, and policy change. I don’t believe Facebook is intentionally malicious, as some claim, but it has been more than a little dumb, to be blunt. Engineers are renowned for their brilliance, but also for their tone-deaf pursuit of iterative project advancement. This year should be a year of listening, adapting, and evolution. The consequences of doing otherwise could be dire. 

(December 2018 poll of 39,496 Twitter users)


I recently conducted a far-reaching poll, the results of which confirm that Facebook is struggling with its brand reputation. This needs to be addressed promptly. What also needs to be addressed is the reputation of social media platforms and channels, in general, as isolation chambers, echo chambers, and breeding grounds for extreme and intolerant voices. Social Media promised a brave new world of community, consciousness, and communication. The reality has been far less appealing. What will the likes of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and even LinkedIn do in 2019 to moderate the narratives and dialogues on their platforms, sufficient to more equitably encourage and realize the promise once seen? It’s not a request easily fulfilled, but it’s worthy of the effort, if businesses and individuals are to effectively leverage internet technology in pursuit of more meaningful and rewarding connections and relationships.

It’s worth noting that the results of the above poll are strongly influenced by several factors:
1 – the poll was conducted on Twitter, which partly accounts for the massive Twittaffection. Let’s subjectively assume a 3X factor of skewing, which means a more objective platform might have yielded a comparative 25% loyalty marker.
2 – Poll respondents seem to suggest that the Instagram brand is not as adversely affected by the Facebook scandal as investors have presumed.
3 – LinkedIn is the most specialized of the above 4 brands, focused as it is on those business communities that might benefit from digital networking activity. I estimate this means their 8% mark is a far stronger and more focused group, and thus less susceptible to having their loyalties changed.

Given the above, I posit the relative contextual strength of the four brands might be better compared as follows:

LinkedIn – 36% 
Facebook – 8%
Twitter – 35%
Instagram – 21% 

These numbers are subject to wide variances, depending on the business decisions made by Microsoft, Twitter, and Facebook, in the coming year.

 

 

The power of live streaming is incontestable, as most recently demonstrated by the awful but important footage captured by Lavish Reynolds (warning: this video is graphic). This media innovation has the potential to revolutionize journalism, communications, storytelling…but then Twitter had that same potential, when it rose to prominence. Technological innovation will usually manifest compelling results, but many pioneering brands will stumble along the way. Is this unavoidable? Are there better ways to grow a product or solution, so it may realize its best potential more effectively, efficiently, and sustainably?

The recent Democrat “sit-in” in the US House of Representatives launched Twitter’s subsidiary Periscope into the spotlight (at the edges of which it had been operating for more than a year). This app has the potential to merge the functional merits of both Twitter and YouTube. Will this “Video Twitter” evolve into a long-term media platform enhancement, or is it little more than the latest social media fad? Who remembers Meerkat?

Snapchat took over from Instagram, which itself apparently supplanted Pinterest, after the latter briefly challenged Facebook. Of course, some will argue that I have one or two of the brand incursions mixed up, but that only underscores my contention: Will everyone have the Periscope app on their smartphones for the next 6 months, only to hop to the next shiny bright object, as soon as some bright young startup creates it (with a surfeit of investment from Venture Capital companies eager to reap quick cash rewards, before their latest vaporware is supplanted)? Will Periscope instead grow “too big to fail”, as Twitter seems to have done, yet – like Twitter – represent little clarity, in terms of functional positioning? Are our social platforms and channels destined to come and go with the whims of youth, or are some focusing on developing a degree of operational maturity that will more securely establish their merits and utility, both on our smartphones and in our communities? For all of Facebook’s flaws, it has consistently pursued this maturation with the degree of academic humility and professional confidence that is the hallmark of most engineers. Its relative longevity is as much a result of its willingness to adapt and iterate, as it is due to its refusal to be molded by its user base.

Therein lies the lesson.

Too many brands have relied upon the “Crowd” to manifest and elevate their identity and fortunes, simply because it was this same “Crowd” that first adopted the company’s initial value proposition. The “Crowd” is a powerful current, but while it runs most aggressively in shallow waters, it carries the greatest power in deeper seas. In much the same way, it behooves companies that operate in the Social space (which effectively includes all M&E and Communications companies, along with a host of other markets) to study more assiduously the role of their user base in the ongoing development and growth of their brand. It is not the Crowd’s responsibility to identify or define the brand, nor its value proposition. Furthermore, the longer we allow Startups to scale too quickly, simply as a means to secure larger investments, IPOs, and other Get-rich-quick objectives, the weaker our innovation pipeline will become. The vast majority of Venture-backed startups fail in their first year, and the many articles acknowledging this long-known but too often ignored fact effectively concur that the solution lies in more sustainable development, both of IP and workforce.

I have spent the past 15 years promoting this thesis: that Startup success should no longer be gauged by how fast a company sells, but rather how solidly it is able to build its value proposition; how securely it is able to hire and retain talent; how reliably it is able to integrate its offering into the physical and functional communities within which it operates. While the ROI may not be as immediately “sexy” as the silly Unicorns investors still chase, the longer-term returns generated by the far less mythical “workhorses” I have been supporting are more rewarding, both financially and otherwise. With this in mind, I look to brands such as Periscope, and I wonder: will they be seduced by the noise and sparkle of short-term ROI aspiration, which more often than not represents little more than a mirage of unattainable yearnings, or will they plot their course with thoughtful care and imagination, giving themselves, their investors, their employees, and users the best chance of hitting the mark, and driving forward into an increasingly valuable future?