In the late 90s, we had plenty of search engines to choose from: Yahoo, AltaVista, Lycos, Ask Jeeves, AOL, Excite, Looksmart and so on. Once we crossed the Y2K hump, however, the market went through rapid consolidation, culminating in the two dominant players we see today: Google at the front of the pack with Bing far behind in second place.
The same thing appears to be happening in social media. Facebook—the proverbial Wun Wun in a field of Tyrion Lannisters—continues to grow steadily as smaller platforms like Twitter and Pinterest struggle to add users.
If your business relies on social media to communicate with potential or existing customers, then this should give you pause. Why? Because a social media landscape consolidated under one hegemon in a grey t-shirt threatens business in 3 big ways:
Threat #1 : Pay to Play
This isn’t exactly new for Facebook. If you’re a business, your branded content is less likely to show up in a user’s News Feed than Aunt Sally’s latest pic of Mittens resting on the window sill.
“Don’t sweat it,” says Facebook. Want to give your content a competitive advantage? Just cough up enough cash to promote your post and Facebook’s algorithm will gladly show your content a little love.
That’s fair enough, I suppose. After all, Zucky’s gotta eat.
But what happens when Facebook decides to turn the screws on business owners by charging them to directly interact with customers? What happens when you’re suddenly forced to cough up serious marketing dollars just to establish a community page?
If Facebook’s the only game in town, then can you really afford to go elsewhere?
Threat #2 : Unilateral Product Changes
When you’ve got your market cornered, there’s nothing to stop you from making decisions that benefit your brand over against your customers’ experience.
This is precisely what Facebook has been up to with some of its recent News Feed changes. By throwing their weight around with publishers, Facebook has shown they’re more committed to squeezing every last drop out of their revenue model than creating a better experience for their partners.
Consequently, media companies are struggling to find a way to gain some leverage over the social media juggernaut without biting the hand that feeds them at the same time.
So far, their prospects look fairly grim.
Threat #3 : Lack of Innovation
There comes a point when it’s easier to simply buy out and/or squash your competitors than come up with innovative ways of competing with them.
In other words, Facebook doesn’t have to lift a finger to make themselves stand out in the social marketplace. Instead of working on exciting new ways to keep you on board, why not just strong arm all the little guys so you have no choice but to stay?
Twitter isn’t exactly the model of innovation, but at least they’re taking steps to help businesses serve customers on their platform.
Do we anticipate Facebook doing the same? What motivation do they have when no-one else threatens to knock them off their throne?
We’ve seen this story play out before with IBM, AT&T, Microsoft and AOL. Who knows? Perhaps Facebook will surprise us. Maybe they’ll defy our expectations.
But, if you ask me, ‘maybe’ isn’t good enough.
Instead of trusting Facebook to do the right thing, start hedging your bets now. Take as many customer engagement eggs as you can out of that basket with the blue “f” on it. Migrate your advocacy, engagement and support channels to owned platforms instead.
That way, you won’t have to worry when giants like Facebook start throwing their weight around.