Much has been written about Facebook’s inability to keep the valuable teen/tween audience engaged and interested. Frankly, too much has been written on the subject. Last week, my feed was filled with people debating the brilliance or stupidity of SnapChat’s founder’s decision to spurn Facebook’s supposed $3 Billion acquisition offer. For what it’s worth, I think Facebook got lucky in the way Google was lucky when Groupon rejected their $4 Billion offer. I also, think, much like Groupon’s lack of hubris lead to their demise, I think we’ll see the exact same thing happen with SnapChat. When Facebook or anyone offers you $3 Billion, you take it…especially when you have zero revenue, zero revenue model and Facebook has a track record (eg Instagram) of acquiring large platforms and letting them thrive.
Facebook dodged a bullet, it’s simple as that.
You know what’s easy? Print advertising. You know what else is easy? Creating commercials for TV. Let me explain…in traditional marketing channels, that are mature and established, there’s very little fragmentation and distribution of your content is fairly simple. Yes, there are 1000s of magazines. Yes, there are 100s of channels (most with nothing you’d want to watch), but for the most part we consume a fixed/finite number of “channels” and “shows.” If you want to connect with tweens/teens it’s fairly easy to pick the 1 or 2 magazines they read or the 5 channels they watch and place your media. Also, since print, TV, radio and other traditional marketing channels are so mature, there’s a limited number of ad formats to contend with. For example in TV, we have the 15, the 30 and the 60. Yes, there are other “formats”, but that’s pretty much 98% of the market. Because, as an industry, we’ve been contending with the same distribution model, the same ad formats and roughly the same number of major players (ESPN, CBS, Meredith, etc.) it’s a relatively safe environment to bet on. You can pretty much predict which channels and which shows will do well.
The problem with digital and social in particular is that it’s the exact opposite. It’s a fragmented market, with 100s of 1000s of “channels” and an infinite supply of “shows.” In social you…as a person…are a show. How I interact with you in Facebook is completely different than how someone else interacts with you in Facebook. The permutations are seemingly infinite. What makes it so difficult is that we, as consumers, jump from one network/channel to the other to the next to the next, throughout a day. Some call this the “bored in line” era. When we’re bored we open an app, then another, then another, then another.
When you add teens and tweens into the mix, this problem is exacerbated. My daughter, Cora, is 6. She’ll be 7 in April. She has an iPhone and an iPad. She’s pretty damn digitally fit. In the last 2 years, she’s gone from loving all things Dora to saying that Dora is for kids. She’s gone from not being interested in My Little Pony to a collector. The Disney movie “Brave” went from a must see to “boring.” Kids are fickle. Actually, fickle, doesn’t even begin to describe it. If we think marketers chase bright shiny objects, then what do kids do? Now, at 6, I can at least control and limit some of her options. But, what happens when she’s 13? Not only will she have opinions, she’ll also be in more control of her “programming.” She’ll be making more of the decisions. I’ll look to her for what social network is hot or interesting. She’ll know well before I will.
Behaviors have a much longer shelf life than platforms. Remember how big MySpace was? What about Color? Take something like Pandora; it was once the future of radio, now we’re burying it, because Spotify is the future. Just yesterday I read an article about how Google Playw as going to bury Spotify. Think about that progression…we went from traditional radio to satellite radio to streaming services like Pandora with limited customization to iTunes to Spotify to Google Play and iTunes radio. I’m sure I missed a bunch of big jumps in that list. The platform du jour changed and did you notice how much quicker it’s changing? Think about how long it took us to go from FM/AM to satellite and then satellite to Pandora? Decades. We went from Pandora to Spotify in years and Spotify to iTunes radio in month. The pace of change in digital and social is relentless.
Managing through that relentless change is like running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace. You must look long and far, but move quick…even when you don’t know what’s around the corner. To do that, in this business climate, you need to focus on and value behaviors much more than any one platform. The reason SnapChat has gotten so big is that it delivers on 3 key behaviors:
- Taking Back Control of Our Privacy: the content is disposable. Mom and dad can’t check up on it.
- The Me Culture: SnapChat is the ultimate selfie. It’s predominantly focused ME and what I am doing. It’s the narcism of Instagram, on steroids. Frankly, I’m susprised the default camera setting isn’t the front facing one.
- Visual Snacking: Sure, you can type things on SnapChat, but it’s more about the visual. If you have 50 friends on SnapChat, all sending you 5 snaps a day, that 250 pieces of visual candy to snack on.
The behavior matters. And much like Facebook did to MySpace and twitter did to FriendFeed and Instagram did to Flickr…there will be a platform that builds on SnapChat’s success and becomes the SnapChat killer. We live in a fickle world where platforms are virtually disposable to users. Focus on the behavior. It’s long term. It will guide you. Don’t become distracted by the short term play…the platform.