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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

In your face...book!

Can Facebook be the Twitter killer? Recent changes have suggested that is the new direction for the popular social networking site. Tweetdeck users can even combine their friend's status updates with their twitter stream. But is this a good thing? Is Twitter being killed?

Doubtful.

First, they are different products. Facebook grew as the safer, cleaner alternative to MySpace. It started slow, with an emphasis on privacy. Originally restricted to college students, it still maintains more privacy as you have to be a member of Facebook to browse the users. Advertisements are minimal, and the primary use of the service was communicating to your friends. 

Along came "social media marketers" who embraced the platform, speak loudly, and gather thousands of "friends." This is not inherently a bad thing, as people are still opting in who they consider to be a "friend" and has access to their family pictures and conversations on the wall. The downside to this, is the death of what a friend is on Facebook, which slowly whithers away the engagement that people have with the service. When they are no longer communicating with their close friends, Facebook is losing that valuable data they can mine.

But recent months have shown that Facebook is more concerned with making a more public service, and reaching out for devices that investors and advertisers love, yet users do not. There was the change in the Terms of Service which ignited outrage among users who spoke loud and clear "change this back, or delete my account!" Rest assured that they have only reversed that policy to think of an easier way to introduce it so people will not resist.

Now, the most recent change was not just a design change, but an entire usability and focus change which makes Facebook look more like... Twitter. Also, speculations of search tools and other "enhancements" meant to more closely mimic Twitter are showing the likely future. Add to that, the overwhelming noise going on with the countless apps and you see this:

The Social Media experts are quick to point out that users can block apps, and customize the information that comes through your news feed, but the point is that people used Facebook because it was easier than e-mailing and keeping a personal web page. They do not want work.

The outrage is sure to keep stirring as Facebook plans more monetization, and less user enhancements. Is Mark Zuckerberg concerned with the customer base being unhappy? No, he has actually said that companies who listen to their customers are stupid

So what's the score? Privacy: disappearing. User base: increasingly upset. CEO: doesn't care.
That doesn't sound like an up-and-coming market leader.

Facebook sold itself to the 185+ million users as one thing, and is now trying to convert those people over to something else. Good luck. This brings us to what Facebook seems to want to be: Twitter.

Twitter has never sold itself as a place for privacy. It is near digital anarchy. But that is exactly what their user base seems to want. It is helpful to many because of the engaged real-time user base is always talking. Simply, they are different products. Facebook is still growing subscribers, but users are tending to be less engaged with the service. In the meantime, Twitter is growing quickly, and their users simply do not shut up. Twitter has a very high engagement. One of the best comparisons I have seen about these two services:

Am I saying that Facebook will fail soon, and Twitter will take over? No. Facebook will continue to exist in some form or fashion, but what will be missing as they continue down their current path will be the engagement of the users. They will survive, but they will never be Twitter.

Twitter, providing they can maintain funding, will continue to grow and evolve. The future is wide open to them because they have never claimed to be something they are not. The user base is highly engaged, and has been guiding them to be the service they want it to be. 

If you call yourself a marketer, you must remember first and foremost: It's all about the brand/customer relationship.

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