When Twitter announced earlier this year that it was pulling the plug on video-looping platform Vine, devoted fans of the social network were shattered. Vine had built a small, but reliable base of active users who loved the platform for its ability to be both humorous and entertaining, along with being a niche video solution for posting and sharing highlights from televised sporting events.
Some marketers are also feeling the sting. Where influencer marketing campaigns were concerned, Vine had become a reliable outlet for driving sponsored content from users amassing millions of followers. In fact, those Vine stars drew most of their earnings from the platform by wielding their influence to dispense branded sponsored content. Vine, meanwhile, benefited from the presence of influential users who created content consistently and helped nurture engagement on the social network.
So what happened, exactly? In the end, it was a combination of factors that contributed to Vine’s downfall. To some degree, Vine’s demise was spurred on by parent company Twitter’s decision to trim the fat from its budget. As Mashable pointed out, Vine’s closure was announced shortly after the company laid off nine percent of its workforce, alongside other efforts to lower its operating costs. Twitter and Vine leadership, meanwhile, had reportedly clashed over the best business strategy for the company, and despite acquiring the platform, Twitter hadn’t done much to integrate Vine as a featured component of its larger social platform. Eventually, its content creators also turned against the platform: as Forbes reported, a meeting between Vine executives and 20 of its biggest stars featured a request for millions of dollars in monthly payments to those top influencers, compensation for the content they were currently providing for free. While the company did consider the deal, it ultimately declined the arrangement, and some Vine stars began to turn their interests elsewhere.
As Vine’s ability to mature its platform stalled, it faced another rising challenge: other social networks were refining their own video-based experiences, and even borrowing from the template designed by Vine. These forces didn’t crush Vine on its own, but it convinced Vine’s ownership that the platform’s potential value no longer justified its cost. Vine’s rise and fall should serve as a cautionary tale for other social media and mobile platforms, reminding even well-known brands that the future isn’t guaranteed. In fact, there are some such platforms already working in the shadow of Vine’s demise.
There are a lot of reasons to be bullish on Instagram. For one, it’s backed by Facebook. For another, it does well with younger users and maintains a massive, and growing, active user base. And it’s proven capable of innovating its experience: just two months after launching Instagram Stories, a time-limited image-sharing experience designed to rival Snapchat’s user experience, Instagram has seen incredibly rapid adoption. One hundred million active users engage with Stories every month, in addition to the 500 million total daily Instagram users.
By those measures alone, Instagram is nowhere near the edge of the cliff. But there are variables and influences that, should they turn in the wrong direction, put Instagram on very shaky ground. As a Facebook-owned property, Instagram and Vine have one thing in common: they aren’t completely in charge of their own destinies. That’s not the case for Instagram rival Snapchat, which has turned down numerous offers to sell to larger companies, including Facebook.
Instagram just can’t be successful in its own right. It needs to be able to support the mission of Facebook, which complicates its outlook. The growth of Facebook live video, for example, creates a media-rich experience that inches Instagram closer to obsolescence, since the experience Facebook offers bears similarity to Instagram’s platform. Meanwhile, the power struggle that helped sink Vine—a request from its top content creators to be compensated by the company itself—could ultimately reach Instagram at some point. As soon as a more lucrative platform for creating and distributing content emerges, creators are likely to push back and ask for more financial support.
Instagram may be more profitable than Vine, but having to pay for once-free content could press its ownership to decide whether they’re better off funneling that activity into a different channel—encouraging Instagram stars to migrate to Facebook Live, for example, where the company can still generate strong profits while offering a more lucrative platform for those individual brands.
And if Facebook can’t successfully turn Instagram into Snapchat, the value of that platform immediately goes down. But think of an alternative scenario where Facebook finally succeeds in acquiring Snapchat. Where does Instagram fit in to that future? It’s not hard to envision Instagram losing a game of musical chairs and having its assets absorbed into either Facebook or Snapchat.
When Tidal was first released to the public, it made big promises of being an artist-friendly platform that was owned and operated by musicians, most notably Jay-Z. Nearly two years later, there are clear problems, and the brand’s future is unquestionably at risk. First and foremost is a practical consideration: the company isn’t generating revenue. As an artist-friendly platform, it funnels the vast majority of its earnings back to musicians—roughly five times what platforms like Apple Music and Spotify offer.
That may be great for musicians, but it isn’t necessarily a winning business strategy. Tidal needs to build a massive subscriber base to stay afloat, and it hasn’t managed to do that. And, as Digital Trends pointed out, the company is woefully lacking with its own in-platform user experiences: Tidal has suffered more tech glitches than its competitors, and the exclusive content releases it promotes have been plagued with miscues and other mistakes that frustrate its consumer base and kill the buzz of these highly anticipated releases.
Meanwhile, the company has gone through a steady rotation of executives that have been hired only to leave the company shortly thereafter. Investors have begun attempting to pull out their funds. On top of it all, the company still doesn’t offer a music library as extensive as its main rivals. There’s little momentum for this company going forward, and its ability to sell consumers on its experience makes it a prime candidate for getting its plug pulled.
A look at Vine and other at-risk mobile platforms reveal some obvious, important trends. First and foremost is the need for continued growth: Vine’s upward momentum stalled, just as parent company Twitter had before it. Instagram’s self-preservation has come through its ability to continue growing, but there are still challenges to overcome. Tidal, meanwhile, made a great first splash that quickly yielded to consumer disappointment and flagging fan interest. The economic landscape of mobile platforms today values growth over revenue: investors don’t need to turn a profit right away, and they’re likely to prefer reinvesting earnings to continue to build growth. Once you stop growing, your earnings potential flatlines.
That’s why platforms are constantly evolving. As Facebook’s active user base growth has slowed down—due to its high penetration among global internet users—the company is building experience-based features that increase engagement and time spent on the platform. Facebook and Snapchat each have the strongest upward momentum of any social media platform right now thanks to their continued innovation, even as Vine is sent to the scrap heap while other social platforms do some soul searching to find the right path forward.
And as big and well-established as these platforms are, they can’t overlook the oncoming threat of the next big thing. Remember that leading creators’ meeting with Vine executives? Their demand for money wasn’t an anomaly. The growth of content platforms gives creators more options to choose from, and they can seek more demands in exchange for publishing their content through any one platform. Influencer marketing isn’t at risk of dying off, but the destinations for this marketing campaign may be determined by the preferences and business decisions of leading influencers. In hindsight, the meeting with content creators asking for compensation became a clear sign that Vine was headed down: its most valued users were preparing to jump ship, creating a content vacuum that damaged the user experience and killed the company’s upward momentum.
Vine relied more heavily than most platforms on influencers to keep its engine running. Other platforms may seem well-positioned to survive such a revolt, but once the upward trajectory of your brand is called into question, nothing can be taken for granted.