Like all brands, Social Media platforms that are the most successful are the ones that stand for a strong idea in a consumer’s mind. After all these years, Twitter is for short, temporal thoughts, YouTube is Video, Instagram is for pictures, and Facebook is a personal social network while LinkedIn is a business network. Snapchat and TikTok are a new generation of creativity apps (note the app part of the equation) that enable people to express themselves as a form of communication.
That said, many people tend to use social media in many ways not originally intended by platform creators… and that’s a good thing. Plenty of people chastise others for using LinkedIn as a personal network, and sharing things not related to their business or career, but if that works for them, then who is really to say? My business partner Ted Rubin has built his career through Return on Relationship which is far more than just what he has done in his business life. I’ve been in many high-level corporate meetings where the initial conversation was about Ted’s socks, his daughters, or some travel he just completed. Certainly more interesting and personal than some small talk about the weather.
The business models of social media networks are built on advertising like it or not. The simple match is that more people spending more time on a channel equals more potential ad dollars. This is an old-school model in my opinion but it’s the one we have at the moment. There are a finite number of people with a finite number of hours in the day so at some point, there comes a law of diminishing returns for user growth and time spent. We are already producing more content daily than the entire population of the world can consume even if it wanted to (and it doesn’t). This naturally produces an arms race of features as the competitors seek to steal share but this generally has little effect in shifting user habits.
The network effect works. People who have built large networks, or even small and tight personal networks, are unlikely to leave the place where that network connects. It’s very difficult to get networks to move en masse, and even when they do, they frequently lose access to the body of content that existed on the original network, along with its engagement markers. Instagram Reels, which was launched to take advantage of the Bizzaro-world political storm TikTok found itself in a few months back, really hasn’t gained traction. In fact, it has increasingly added in-your-face commerce to its platforms, and in doing so Facebook and Instagram have alienated some users.
Not to be outdone, Snapchat launched Spotlight to compete with fun ‘vertical video’ that was widely criticized by social media ‘gurus’ not that long ago. Both Facebook and Snapchat are paying hefty rewards for leading influencers to make content via their networks hoping to spark other users to follow them. This tactic doesn’t seem to be successful, likely due to the aforementioned network effect. Snapchat has a highly engaged audience that uses the platform to stay in almost constant contact and that same audience uses TikTok for more long-form content creation. Spotlight is not likely to change that user behavior any more than Fleets is likely to garner Instagram stories users.
The bottom line is that the community makes these platforms work, period. Social networks are exactly that, social! When viewed through the lens of making all things commercial, marketers must remember the primary reason that people are on these networks, to connect with friends, family and like-minded people, not to buy stuff. Use the platform that suits you and your community best. Experiment with new tools to see how they fit with your needs. You are likely already using the platform that suits your needs best, it’s why you spend your time there in the first place.