At the core, social media has always been about connections made between individuals. At least, that’s been the convenience for the average user. Yet the business world faced the challenge of progressing these networks into multilayered solutions—platforms that benefited advertisers, media publishers, influential content creators and, of course, you and me.
Most industries experience some sort of churn, where the leader board becomes increasingly limited to only those businesses that continue to evolve in the face of obsolesces. In the past 18 months, we’ve seen social companies come and go, dive and rise, as the market shakes up the field. What was once a core differentiator—community—is now table stakes in social media. To survive, these businesses must expand beyond the realm of “connections” and enter a world of “complete immersion.”
We all know Twitter’s financials and the uneasiness broadcast by the company’s investors and users. Market shares are down, but worse than that, the company seems lost. Twitter users lament proposed changes to its user experience, hating on longer Tweet parameters, complaining about algorithmic changes to content discovery, and dismissing the platform’s advertising offerings altogether.
In a similar situation, LinkedIn has added and deleted lead targeting solutions, acquiring Bizo and then dumping the business a year later. The company made a massive investment in creating a content platform for its users, but didn’t anticipate the decline in quality of each post and never put processes in place to manage the water-faucet of information pouring into its system daily. Now, users look at content published to LinkedIn as spam—the complete opposite experience the company envisioned back at the drawing board in 2014.
For a platform like Google+, social never came easy, and through series of investments by its parent Google, the network seemed to float along blindly, rumors circulating of its inevitable termination, until it fell out of conversations within marketing departments.
Why have these promising platforms failed, while competitors like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube prevailed?
The answer’s pretty simple. In fact, Theodore Levitt covered this business phenomenon extensively in his Marketing Myopia in 1960.
Levitt makes the point in Marketing Myopia that businesses fail when they have too narrow a vision for their product—not their tangible product, but the augmented product they sell (the additional offerings off of the core product). For companies like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+, most innovation has occurred within the walls of their original technologies.
Twitter spent the majority of its time perfecting its in-stream advertising solutions, tinkering with its news feed to deliver an array of media to users, introducing new features to organize real-time moments, and completely overlooking consumer trends, such as people’s growing preference for visual and ephemeral content.
LinkedIn, while making an impressive move to launch a Medium-like publishing system on top of the core LinkedIn features, has failed to elevate its publishing system to compete with the massive influx of content pouring into the web on multiple channels. Instead, stories posted to LinkedIn are mere notifications in a user’s feed, as annoying as InMail sponsored content and connection requests from strangers.
In both of these cases, Twitter and LinkedIn defined their purpose as their core platforms. They weren’t inspirational enough to see what bigger role they could play in people’s lives. Take Facebook, for example, and its numerous acquisitions, product lines, independent companies, and you begin to see the difference between a narrow-focused company like Twitter and a forward-looking business like Facebook.
Why use Twitter when you can be active on Facebook, use its Messenger app, access customer service chatbots from your favorite brands, receive daily news, and integrate with LinkedIn? The list goes on. You see my point?
Twitter, LinkedIn, and any other company that’s found itself in a similar situation can rebound. But in order to do so, executives and marketing leaders have to redefine company mission and vision. This can start during the storytelling process: How does your brand’s history, story, and product enrich lives?
Levitt offers locomotive industry as an example:
At one time, the US train system looked promising as it established convenient travel options for people moving from city to city. But the businesspeople in charge of this industry spent their time focusing on trains, and failed to see innovation happening all around them. Instead of defining their business as a “travel” business, they essentially narrowed their focus to only trains, and left the door open for any other business to come along and present a better method. Enter airplanes.
The same concept applies to social media business—any other business, really—if your head is stuck so far into the sand that you can’t see just over the horizon, your product will become irrelevant. No brand is immune, no product too coveted.
As content marketers, you’re the eyes, ears, and pen of the businesses you work for. I challenge you with being the front lines, the people who see the bigger picture, and the change agents who teach those around you how to see and plan for the unavoidable transformations that will impact and ravage every industry today.
You might not have control of your product roadmap. You won’t be on every sales call to reinforce your brand message. But you can be the teacher, the skeptic that pushes your colleagues to think about every direction the company can go, along with telling stories that follow a different tune. Because if you don’t do it, who will?
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