Thursday, March 26, 2009

What comes after Facebook & Twitter?

With apologies to Mr. Lennon (and to one of my favorite tunes of all time):

Imagine there's no Facebook,
It's easy if you try,
Imagine all the Tweeple,
Living Tweetless lives.

I love Twitter and Facebook--more than I ought--but I worry there's too much focus in media and within business on these two Social Media venues. In a world of diverse and interesting Social Media, there seems to be an obsession with how to use Twitter and Facebook rather than an understanding of how Twitter and Facebook are part of a larger and evolving Social Media landscape.

In the past month, Google News has cataloged 52,363 articles mentioning Twitter and 61,574 referencing Facebook. By way of comparison, Digg, the leading social bookmarking site, is cited 2,283 times and GetSatisfaction, an interesting Web 2.0 tool for crowdsourcing and customer service, is mentioned just 60 times.

I'm not criticizing the focus on Twitter and Facebook; they've earned all the attention received. In just one year Twitter saw a 1,400 percent increase in unique visitors and Facebook's active users grew 150%. Add to that the demographics of these sites are skewing older--the number of Facebook users over 35 doubled in just 60 days--and it's no wonder Twitter and Facebook are our new national obsessions.

To put the article totals into perspective, over the last 30 days Google News reports 6,138 mentions of "Cyrus," 18,839 mentions of "Rihanna," and 16,411 of "Britney". That's right--Twitter and Facebook are bigger than Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, and Britney Spears combined. (OMG!)

But even if Facebook and Twitter are undeniably today's kings of the Web 2.0 mountain, there are still reasons to consider the broader Social Media world when assessing the marketing, service, sales, recruiting, and other needs of your organizations.

Is a world without Twitter or Facebook impossible? Unlikely maybe, but certainly not impossible. In January 1996, the list of most popular Internet sites included Webcrawler, Netscape, Infoseek, Prodigy, Compuserve, Primenet, and Well, none of which are in your bookmarks today. In fact, three of today's top 5 sites are less than 5 years old--YouTube, Live, and Facebook.

The idea that Twitter or Facebook could evaporate is not out of the question since neither is in the black. Not only aren't these two Web 2.0 darlings profitable, that haven't even seemed interested in establishing a revenue model, opting instead for user growth over income. (Insert dot-com crash joke or pithy insight here.) Twitter just this week announced its first plan to generate revenue by offering special services for commercial accounts. Over at Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that the company wouldn’t even have a revenue plan in place until 2011.

Another reason to extend your Web 2.0 view beyond Twitter and Facebook is that vital communities can be found outside of these two sites. We live in the age of the long tail--Twitter and Facebook may command 74M unique visitors each month, but the aggregate traffic received by 12 other popular Social Media sites is double that of Twitter and Facebook. (To be fair, many Twitter users don't visit the Web site and instead post and read Tweets via applications such as Tweetdeck and Twitterific, so the unique visitor total may not paint a complete picture.)

If you're a brand such as Disney, for example, there are compelling reasons to be on Facebook (where 275,000 people are fans of Disney Pixar) and Twitter (where Disney is mentioned in approximately 900 bios of Tweeple who have an estimated 100,000 followers), but what about, where 213,516 members have posted 29M messages? Over on Ning, the DIY Social Network site, one can find over 100 individual Disney communities, ranging in size from a couple members to a couple thousand. I'd once heard it said that Cinderella's Castle at the Magic Kingdom was the most photographed spot on the planet, and perhaps that's true--a search for "Disney" on Flickr reveals almost 2M results.

From blogs to podcasts to photo sharing to niche communities to Wikis to social gaming to music sharing to social bookmarking to document sharing to geolocation tools, the channels for listening to, engaging, involving, and creating experiences with consumers and other stakeholders is endless. In 2009, brands cannot avoid Twitter and Facebook, but brands that end there are taking a single gulp from the two-liter bottle that is Social Media today.


Kevin Donaldson said...

Great article! Like many other network, often once they get too large they tend to fragment back to smaller niche audiences. Look at the popularity of Ning. Now with open source twitter tools coming on the scene the same will likely happen. I think the legacy of twitter will be that it becomes a verb.

Augie Ray said...

Kevin, The idea of Twitter becoming a verb is a fascinating (and perhaps likely) occurrence. I like Twitter (as noted by my 3600 posts and 1300 followers) but I think people are a bit too confident it will 1) always be around, and 2) will remain the microblogging tool of choice. I've heard the arguments about how it is too large and people won't want to give up their networks, but we've already seen this happen: Friendster to MySpace to Facebook.

Thanks for sharing!