The rise of Facebook is one of the great phenomena of modern history. The platform currently sits at more than two billion users. That’s nearly a quarter of Earth’s population. About 70 percent of Americans use Facebook. Now a Fortune Global 500 company, Facebook’s revenues topped out at more than $40 billion in 2017.
The End of the Facebook Era?
But could it all come crashing down? What seemed laughable just a few months ago–the actual demise of the biggest social network of all time–is a legitimate question in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. And perhaps it should have been a question open for discussion anyway.
After seeing Google fail with Orkut and Google Plus, one might think Facebook’s market leadership is insurmountable. Those who can think back a little farther can remember a time when MySpace was the social behemoth. Facebook itself was merely a site with the ambition of being an online freshman yearbook for Harvard University. Back then, Facebook was not even an upstart wanting to be “the next MySpace.”
So, history itself says that displacing Facebook is far from impossible. This is especially true when lax data privacy standards have left nearly 87 million users feeling violated. Millions of others are rattled enough to start a #DeleteFacebook movement. Just as almost all of us are now affected by the opioid crisis, many of us also know someone left unprotected by Facebook.
A negative story on the scale of Cambridge Analytica is destined to spill into the ranks of celebrity influencers. To date, multiple celebrities have taken principled stands against Facebook. Notably Will Ferrell, Cher, and Jim Carrey. But Facebook remains strong and a mass exodus is yet to ensue. However, it’s important for agencies, brands, and users to think about where disaffected influencers may go and disrupt digital marketing in the process.
Where Will the influencers Go?
Some influencers will seek to be tastemakers and select their own digital upstart. Others will simply follow the crowd and set up their online influence shop where the herd parks itself. Also, we may already be in an era where social media use is fragmenting anyway.
In the US market, for example, Facebook, while a social network of choice for 68 percent of Americans, doesn’t own its audience any more than one television channel with high ratings owns its viewership. People will always consume other content, whether it’s on TV or the internet.
Furthermore, social networks, like their TV counterparts, must constantly tweak their offerings to retain and grow participants, while risking user runoff in the process. This dynamic creates an opening for other networks. This is evidenced by the fact that three-quarters of Americans are active on more than one of the major social networks, according to Pew Research.
And Generation Z, whose oldest members are leaving college, have post-Millennial attitudes that eschew platforms like Facebook. They favor of more “disposable” social interactions like Snapchat. Generation Z is the first generation born into social media and used to juggling multiple platforms.
A Fragmented Marketplace
There is a breakdown of confidence in the major networks. They have not only demonstrated a lax approach to data privacy but have also been subject to attack. Just like dominant sites in other internet sectors, we may be in for further fragmentation of influencer spaces and a rise in mid-level and micro-influencers rather than reliance on celebrities.
Either way, influencers should seek to connect more directly with their fans. This ensurex an authentic user experience and assuage those concerned about privacy and security of online platforms.
So, people are tired of Facebook and other major players in reaction to data breaches. Phenomena like “fake news” and “porn bots,” and the crazy habits of other users are lowering confidence. Not to mention the fact that people are creeped out by a lot of the data-driven advertising. Lastly the dynamic in recent years that everybody’s parents and grandparents are joining, just isn’t cool.
The Potential Successors To Facebook
In light of these factors, let’s take a look at emerging social platforms that could catch fire in a shifting online marketplace.
One of the youngest emerging players on the social spectrum, SpokeHub launched in 2017. The platform combines the best in retro social features. You’ll find chat rooms with cutting-edge technology like augmented reality in its chat functions. Users can join and also create communication rooms, known as “hubs,” based on topics and interests. If you’re a sports fanatic, you can tie into hubs on college basketball or the NFL. While your crazy uncle can hit the politics hubs to his heart’s content.
Although this newborn social network boasts a mere 10,000 users, the effective design to promote authentic, two-way conversation with brands and influencers has already attracted George Lopez as a SpokeHub brand ambassador and its first influencer campaign in the service of the Thurgood Marshall biopic, Marshall. SpokeHub’s mix of the familiar and the new, along with its design focused on user customization (discuss what you want, when you want), signals a great future for this upstart community of communities. In fact, with SpokeHub’s Platform on Demand concept, they may have created something both altogether new and a real differentiator that facilitates runaway success. Brands can leverage the augmented reality experience to create a real-time feedback loop to capture the opinions and imaginations of users and fans.
Founded in 2015, Vero has grown by 3 million users from its previously tiny 200,000. The site, modeled on an experiencesimilar to Facebook, with a chronological feed and contacts divided into followers, acquaintances, friends, and close friends. The site’s revenue model is based on an annual fee versus advertising. But right now, the site is taking users with an offer of free lifetime membership (an offer that will ostensibly expire at some point). The annual fee will eliminate the need for Vero to take on advertisers. Thus, no user data is currently available to any external sources.
Even a platform this small has already seen influencer campaigns and a rise in celebrity accounts, fueled by Selena Gomez, Kim Kardashian West, Paris Hilton, and Mischa Barton. Vero appears to be a direct beneficiary of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica blunders.
Less of a Facebook-killer and more of an alternative in a fragmented social realm, Ello has attracted between 2 and 4 million users since its 2014 launch. This Facebook-alike has seen interest come and go during that time, due to its ad-free and thus uncompromised data experience.
While Ello originally focused its revenue model on premium features, it’s now refocused on becoming the premier social platform for creatives, attracting over 600,000 self-identified artists in the process. While there’s little celebrity or intentional influencer presence, Ello partners with a niche design platform for social good called Dribble. As we’ve seen with the rise of Creative Allies, never discount the potential impact of social communities comprised of creatives!
Perhaps 2018 will be a blip on the screen when Facebook looks back years from now. Facebook might still be going strong with a billion-plus users and raking in advertising revenue. Even still, trends from both the general population, as well as emerging markets like Generation Z point to a landscape that’s big enough for more than one. We may see up to five or six major players in the world of social media.
As with any type of outlet, platforms that embrace innovation, capture the imaginations of users, provide creative opportunities for brands and influences–and do so safely and securely–will emerge as victors in a fragmented marketplace.
Donald is the CEO of Creative Allies and an accomplished author writing about business, leadership, an entrepreneurship.
Guest contributors are the opinion of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of Creative Allies Inc. or its affiliates.