A plan to challenge the Facebook monopoly

A very frequent question I am asked is “What will be the next Facebook?”

For many people, the logical assumption is that a better product will come along to replace Facebook because MySpace bumped AOL and Facebook bumped MySpace and so it is inevitable something will bump Facebook in the foreseeable future. That logic is incorrect and I will explain why. However I do think Facebook has a seam of vulnerability and could be trounced, and I will riff on that too.

But before we get to that, let’s first explore why Facebook is seemingly invincible, despite rumors to the contrary. Let’s look at Facebook’s obvious flaws … and why they don’t matter.

1) Somebody will build a better technology. But who cares?

What you must first understand is that technology did not make Facebook the biggest media entity in the history of the world.

Facebook is not a “technology.”  Facebook is not a website. Facebook is a lifestyle. So you need to shatter your image that some technological tweak is going to unseat Facebook. Arguably Google Plus is a better mousetrap and it has not made a dent in Facebook’s growth.

To unseat Facebook you have to focus on creating a lifestyle alternative that is cooler than Facebook. Now, how hard is it to change somebody’s lifestyle, their daily habit? Just about impossible. It is easier for people to move to a new house and a new city than to move away from their social network. So the first idea is, this is not about technology.

2) Privacy violations will be their undoing. Wrong.

Many people are waiting for a backlash against Facebook because of their arrogant approach to privacy. My question is, “why hasn’t it already happened?”  Facebook was found guilty of misconduct by a U.S. congressional investigation and even this did not mitigate Facebook’s growth.

Privacy in our culture is like a lobster being boiled in pot. If you drop it in a hot pot, the animal will try to get out. But if you drop it in a cold pot and turn up the temperature slowly, it will allow itself to be boiled without a fight. This is what is happening to us all now. Unless some privacy violation affects us monetarily in this moment, there will be no critical mass of unrest to unseat Facebook because of privacy concerns.

3) People need choice so alternatives will appear. Not.

Choice is desirable for most consumer goods.  We enjoy having choice on the breakfast cereal or shampoo aisle of the shopping center but not so when it comes to social media platforms. We don’t have the bandwidth to desire two Twitters or an alternative to LinkedIn. We already have platforms in those spaces that work just fine. And the social networking space has also been fulfilled for most people and we don’t need another one.

In fact, day by day Facebook’s stranglehold on the social networking space grows tighter. As they scale, add new features, win new patents, and solve the complex problems of serving a billion people, they are creating further distance between themselves and any challenger. In general, people don’t want choice in this space, which is why the monopoly persists.

So where will the competition come from?

Let’s go back and see where this powerful emotional attachment to Facebook came from in the first place. How did it become a lifestyle?

It’s hard to imagine but not long ago, Facebook used to be a very exclusive club. It was only used on college campuses by college students. You had to have a college email address to even have access and if that went away, you went away too.

So it was this limited, exclusive connection, this college coolness that first ignited the Facebook fever.  And that is exactly what could unseat them now.

Facebook is now a public company trying to be everything to everybody. They are gaining ubiquity across every demographic and every corner of the world. And as they are working hard to be the social media channel for everybody (and their shareholders), they are creating something supremely excellent for almost nobody.

The only way to unseat Facebook is to go back to the beginning and create a platform so exclusive and amazing that it will attract the “cool kids” and thought leaders in junior highs, high schools and college campuses. That is where a new network will be born and I believe that is the only way a new idea will “tip.”

The biggest complaint I hear is that Millenials don’t like Facebook because their parents and even grandparents are on it now. Perhaps the time is right to give the cool kids what they want. An exclusive place of their own, limited to their own group. And by the way, when you hit your 25th birthday, you get kicked out.

Here’s the game plan if you’re a willing entrepreneur:

  • Create an interface that is bold, conversational, and truly user-centric.
  • Commit to serving the 25 and under crowd exclusively.
  • Spend every marketing dollar you can muster aligning yourself with the under 25 crowd and their culture, sports, music, and Hollywood idols. Be the definition of cool.
  • Don’t become a public company. The moment you do, your focus is on serving shareholders and quarterly financial results instead of customers. Your cool would be doomed.

So that’s it. Your plan to unseat Facebook. Now, who’s ready to get started?

All posts

  • From Ottoman to Byzantine, across British, and Roman, all the way to USSR, and German. One thing all empires have in common is that they all fail.

    Such is the faith of GeoCities, Yahoo Search, AOL, MySpace, Google, and Facebook.

    All empires fall, the only question is when.

    Now I know the title was supposed to pull me in, so good job doing that. And as you said, something WILL dethrone Facebook, but I dont think it will be the platform that services the under 25 “cool kids” set.

    The platform that will dethrone Facebook is the platform that puts the most influential netizen first. The Blogger.

    Bloggers are the celebrities of the future. Bloggers are the “cool kids” today. Bloggers are the purposeful audience builders. Bloggers are the influencers.

    You know any platforms that puts bloggers first? Ey, Mark? Huh? Huh? 🙂

  • I have 2 sons in high school. They and their friends have already left Facebook for Instagram. I wonder if this is a trend elsewhere.

  • Claire Axelrad

    Wish I had the smarts to be the one to do the deed. I’m just happy you ended your post with some hope for it to happen. I found the lobster in a pot analogy so very apt… was beginning to feel downright depressed. Love your posts Mark.

  • Dino,

    If bloggers are “cool kids” of the future then there’s hope for me yet.

    And I assume your talking about Google+… The best conversation and discussion building social platform that exists today.

    Great thoughts,

    Hanley

  • Great article 🙂

    You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned Facebook trying to please everyone and simply ‘growing’ (for want of a better word) a pretty generic social site.

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  • Thanks very much Claire!

  • Many high schoolers are using Twitter + Instagram now to get away from mom : )

  • I wish it were that simple. Here is something I find in the classes I teach and lectures that I give — college students don’t blog. They probably need to but it’s not kicking in. Maybe they need a class on Triberr! : )

  • I agree Google has something good there but really don’t know where it’s heading. Google seems to be forcing people onto it instead of attracting people to it.

  • There are not too many products that appeal to every single demographic group in every part of the world. : )

  • Mmm, great question. Always great taking a few moments to dream like this. I think you hit the demographics right on, but there needs to be a definite mobile focus added to the mix. Need to also get rid of the keyboard & perhaps Google is on the right track with their Glasses interface. That would address the ‘coolness’ factor.

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  • My high schoolers are addicted to Tumblr, that’s where they share their passions. But they do business (homework, projects, etc.) on Facebook.

  • Well, you know I disagree with you on a
    number of fronts here, since we’ve been debating this one already. But you do seem to agree that Facebook could be unseated, as you know I believe. I’d say:

    Facebook is not a lifestyle, social networking is.People want to connect with friends and family, but I think they are far less tied to Facebook as the tool. The rise of Instagram is an example of how easily they adapt other methods.

    It’s true that a lot of us busy adults cringe at the idea of another social platform—but not the younger audience you mention. They try new tools and switch around with ease. They don’t view learning a new tool as a burden, and they are excited to try something different. So, switching isn’t a real barrier for them.

    I’ve shared with you data suggesting that Millenials are already leaving Facebook or trying other tools that may displace FB. Like Chris, my experience with my own kids is that Facebook is not the center of the universe, at all. They like Tumblr, YouTube, Skype, gaming forums, Reddit, etc. With so many ways to connect with friends, and new ones arising all the time, with that crowd I think the pressure is on Facebook to stay valuable and relevant—especially since Facebook wants to increase its use among youth, not just maintain it.

    So, I agree that it takes new, compelling technologies and I agree the change is likely to start with youth and take time. But I don’t think it will take the perfect technology and the perfect youth-oriented marketing campaign to unseat Facebook among the young. Especially with FB doing so much to undermine its value prop for users.

  • What’s crazy to me is that I’ve not seen anyone say this before. The fact that FB is public now will not be their undoing, but it does seem to turn them into the Walmart of social media. Everyone goes there, but no one actually likes it. In other words, regardless of how much of a pain in the ass they are, they’re not going anywhere. Kind of like family reunions. You’ll keep going, even though it’s always traumatic 😉

    For what it’s worth, I’ve seen a lot of the under-25 group moving to Twitter and using that exclusively. For them, it seems to be less about sharing media and more about real-time communication. Twitter simply offers a way to do that with far fewer distractions.

  • That seems to be true right now of MOST of the things Google is doing. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. Doesn’t feel good.

  • Mark,

    I agree, but despite that being the case it seems like even Main-Street businesses are beginning to enjoy the functionality. It will very interesting to see where Google+ and Facebook shake out.

    Hanley

  • The only way that I see Facebook failing, is it killing itself off by doing stupid stuff.

    In other words, Facebook will be its own worst enemy.

    As to challenging it, I agree “niche” approaches would be better (like the 25-under category you mentioned Mark).

    However, I think we need to use the incredible technology we have created to solve more pressing problems, instead of creating more ways to connect. We already “know how to do that” as a society.

    I think we are in a period of time where we don’t need “another G+/Facebook/niche alternative”… where instead we need to figure out what this Internet thing can truly help us accomplish in terms of solving the world’s bigger problems.

  • sitesthatwork

    A very interesting perspective – the under 25 age group is a conundrum. I have 3 kids under the age of 25; they finally broke down and made me a friend – but of course I’m not silly enough to think I see everything.

    My kids don’t blog, only one of them tweets, YouTube is the place they most often share media – music and videos. Not sure that they’re the norm, but their circles of friends behave similarly.

    I feel like the window would need to be 18 – 25, no one wants to hang out with their little brother once they get to college – heh – sounds a lot like the original FB dream.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  • I believe this supports what Chris & Mark are saying – http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57572154-93/why-teens-are-tiring-of-facebook/

  • Mark – thanks.. I have to say that after attending your class, I got into reading your blogs as well as finally now I am on Twitter. Unlike the kids these days who figure out things much faster.

    My take on this – although FB maybe monopolizing the whole social media spectrum but slowly and surely most of the tools, Instagram, Twitter, Tumbir, Skype etc are creeping up and taking over some of the space away from FB. Years ago FB had somewhat unique idea thus had less competition, however now(maybe thanks to FB) new tools have surfaced much faster. I agree with most of the folks here about the usage of these tools. My 16 year old cousin blogs, uses FB and twitter extensively, however his parents only know about FB, since they are only on FB, hence fewer parental control. Twitter is excellent, however rather technical for everyone to use, hence people over 30-35 shy away from it in general. Facebook on the other hand is much easier to use, hence the entire family tree is on it. Maybe that’s another strategy of FB to make it global and user friendly.
    Lastly, to Mark’s point of having a tool for kids under 25 – agreed but at a global scale… – thanks

    @twitter-514465584:disqus

  • Is there a need to unseat Facebook?

  • So true Neicole. It’s about the interaction of people …er, socializing. The new technology is probably already out there. It’ll be the clever person that puts together the technology with a fun way for people to interact. We all think that “next big thing” will be another website or mobile app. But most likely it something that transcends all these devices: tv (second screen) apps, car-puters, mobile apps built into tiny watches, whatever.

  • csrollyson

    I think Facebook’s most likely fate is analogous to Microsoft’s. I agree with Mark that it won’t be dislodged by another generic social network platform, but it will be disrupted. Microsoft has been disrupted and is a dead company playing shuffleboard, loaded up on meds and having dinner in a blender. As I argued in the Facebook Trilogy [http://bit.ly/fbtri122], I predict that no general social platform will monetize fantastically; Facebook won’t realize investors’ dreams, but it will make more and more money. However, the big monetization will be at challenge- and outcome-based digital creative spaces.

  • My job would be no fun without being able to speculate. : )

  • Nice to hear from you Shoaib! Thanks for taking time out of your day to comment.

    I think these platforms all serve niches and let’s not forget Instagram is owned by Facebook. But I so think they will continue to be successful in their niches.

  • Thanks for sharing your perspective. YouTube is certainly a cultural powerhouse!

  • Respect.

    Now, having said that, I would conjecture that 95% of Facebook’s customers, hence 95% of their advertising base could care less about using that as a productive tool to solve world problems. As @mitchjoel once said, we carry the entirety of human knowledge with us in our pockets and we use it to see funny cat pictures and argue with each other. But, I stand with you Joseph!

  • Yes, Twitter usage in general has doubled in the past 18 months, much of it from that demographic. They still go to Facebook to connect with friends and family but the juicy conversations are happening on Twitter. Instagram is also hot with the under-25’s.

  • Yes, we disagree. I think you completely underestimate how wedded the world is to Facebook. The switching cost is certainly a barrier to entry and getting steeper every day. Just ask Google.

    And, as I said, it is not a technology issue, it is an emotional issue. The cool platform will win, not necessarily the best one.

    And, I’m glad we disagree. Blogging is much more fun that way.

  • “Fun” I think is a very big word in this space.

  • Oh yes, that definitely will be cool! I think it will change everything. Do you think FB is working on their own glasses? Apple? Samsung?

  • ross_boardman

    Mark,

    Facebook has something that Google doesn’t. I suspect the word would be “personality” which certainly doesn’t make up for lack of talent. There is a different breed of human on Google+ and the tools are all connected. I want to say Google is the way, but something like a Facebook page is much easier to set up for a relevant business. The flipside is that if you lack Google reviews, you score lower, so you need to be a Google place too!! It does feel like force.

    The future may lie with someone who can synchronise as well as aggregate? We all use great tools like DropBox, iCloud, Evernote etc. Our e-Lives travel on whatever tool we want. So surely we are not all faithful to one great local pub over another. Why can’t the relevant bits of my Facebook life have a conduit with my Twitter life or my LinkedIn life? Not just the messages but also the back end. Facebook place = Googleplace = Foursquare = LinkedIn company etc?

    All the best,

    Ross

  • I love the comparison to Walmart. Very suitable. Plus the whole fact that Facebook is trying to be a lot of things at once. Twitter is definitely growing a lot, especially as more and more celebrities are taking to Twitter to voice their opinions, rant, and show glimpses into their lives. That’s the value that Facebook cannot deliver.

  • Totally agree with you on 3 the points, particularly the privacy issue. People like to make a big deal about privacy, but those are words. Most people do nothing to remain private online so there’s no reason to think that the next network will somehow take “privacy concerns” seriously.

    I don’t even think there will be one network in particular to dethrone Facebook. I think it’ll be a combination of different networks to chip away at Facebook, slowly killing it. Once that happens, and Facebook is no longer the behemoth it is, THEN a new network will emerge attempting to tie in all those smaller networks together and become what Facebook once was. I’m calling it now.

  • Maybe they do indeed 🙂

  • nah…I definitely dont mean G+. When it comes to matters fo blogging, I’m bit of a purist. Blog is a blog. Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and G+ are not.

    Others have already covered G+ shortcomings, mainly the fact they are forcing people into it, so no need to get into that.

    The thing I dont like about “blogging” on all these other platforms is that we end building their empires with our bricks.

    It’s the renting vs. owning debate, really. And owning is infinitely more appealing to me.

  • Agree on both counts Pavel. The celebrity factor is huge.

  • Yessir. Amen to that.

  • I think that could happen. The problem will be, if a social media aggregator starts making money that is cannibalizing Facebook, I think they would be cut off. Twitter just did that to many companies who were counting on their API. Thanks for the great comment friend.

  • Thanks, Jack.

  • Quite interesting perspective (as always!). I ‘ll have to think about that one. Thanks for the great contribution Pavel.

  • Depending what stats you read/believe, there are anything from 150 million to 300 million blogs online today. Yet only a scant few have a “decent” audience, and even fewer stick at it.

    Bloggers won’t replace Facebook, because blogging is still primarily not a social network. Yes, there are comment systems that make it a bit more social, but that’s about it.

    WPMU isn’t a huge success; neither is BuddyPress. Blogging is still (mostly) opinion-driven and then maybe some discussion will take place after it.

    You want the real option that *may* replace Facebook, and where the real “influencers” often make decisions? Look no further than forums and private communities, the original (and still the most elusive) social network.

  • I like how you highlighted TRULY user-centric. That’s definitely one of the reasons how Facebook got this far anyway but kinda lost it when they went public. From user-centric to shareholder-centric.

  • This is a very good point. I was amazed at the latest data from The Social Habit. More people read online forums than blogs. Old school! Thanks Danny.

  • It remains to be seen how this will play out. But having worked in a public company most of my life, I know what kind of pressure Facebook will be under and the compromises they will be tempted to make!

  • And Google does it every day.

  • A lot of comments here about “Cool” and pervaisive. IMO what will hurt Facebook (and to a certain degree already has) is when it becomes too intrusive. As we are already seeing, people are leaving because of that intrusiveness from other users, advertisers and Facebook itself. And, since there are options, those users have somewhere to go (unlike Google where there seems to be no viable alternative, yet).

  • If FB is working on their own glasses that would be boring. Right? They’ve got to be working on something bigger and grander. And I’m sure it’s going to come through an acquisition of some sort. Perhaps the high tek startup space will give a few clues..

  • Very interesting to think about!

  • I have not seen that data. Use of Facebook is increasing across all demographics according to the September research from The Social Habit. There will always be stories of people leaving but the data says something else. I think it is something like 65% of the people who use FB intend to use it MORE in 2013. And that’s just the US where the market is already pretty saturated.

  • Everyone has an opinion. But, there are as many reports about user declines as there are about increases. Here’s the Facebook annual report page discussing this (decline in use?) concern.http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2013/03/05/Facebook-In-Decline

  • “Microsoft has been disrupted and is a dead company playing shuffleboard, loaded up on meds and having dinner in a blender” … that might be the most entertaining company description I have ever read : )

    I enjoyed the article you shared very much but I’m not sure about your conclusion about monetization. I don’t know the answer, but I just have to think that any company that is the dominant media channel for a billion people can figure out a way to be profitable and useful at the same time, especially since it has 3-5 years of “breathing room” as you say. But time will tell. Thanks for the great comment!

  • Good! FB like family reunions. And I kind of have to check FB now because it’s where my friends post. Age 25 x 2 and counting.

  • Excellent article. I tolerate the ads & some nauseating posts bc FB is where most people are.

  • Since there are already 54 comments, I am not sure anyone will read this but I want to say it anyway. I LOVE social media. I LOVE facebook. That doesn’t mean I LIKE everything about it.

    But I am along for the ride, what ever vehicles I need to learn so that I can post, pin, share and spread what I have to say, show as well as curate from the wisdom of others.

    Mark, your article is invitingly thought provoking. I cannot say what would replace facebook or the demographic/culture that it would involve. It does not matter to me because I am in the game as long as it works for me. And at almost 65, I see no end in sight (except when I am fly fishing, ballroom dancing or doing tai chi).

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  • Hey, I read your comment Alison and I appreciate you taking the time to share your point of view! : )

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  • Good argument to make but I disagree with your reasoning. Facebook is an idea. That is all. A great idea that rode the crest of a tech and cultural wave. Technology created the cultural phenomenon which changed behaviours. Facebook filled the gap. To say that Facebook is in any way invincible is to say that it is an idea that cannot be bettered. Which is insanely myopic. Of course someone will have a better idea. The cultural rupture caused by the digital tech revolution is only just beginning. Digital behaviours will be very different in 5 years than they are now. You don’t have to replicate Facebook to dethrone it.

  • Food_chick

    When friends say to me, “why aren’t you on facebook?”, “Why don’t you join facebook?” I tell them I do not want to support a service engaged in monopolistic behavior. They look at me like I have three heads. Then I explain to them what I mean.

    I don’t care about uunseating facebook, I have never been on facebook. Since it’s inception I have never wanted in on something that shared my info, unknowingly with people I don’t know. Also, I don’t have a need to have my every move looked in on by relatives, friends, past acquaintances or prospective employers. Who cares if I “like” this product or that “event”. I am not that needy that I need that kind of attention. 

    I can’t say that I hate facebook but I HATE the businesses that make their event calendars, discount offers, contests, etc available only to facebook friends. For expample I used to regularly spend big money for brunch at the Four Season in Georgetown, DC. I decided to follow them on twitter. Four Seasons would announce various perks or contests but they were all only available through facebook. After a bit I was sick of being excluded from the opportunites so I no longer do brunch at Four Seasons, which was usually a party of 3-4 people and larger for special ocassions. A club that re-opened in Baltimore and was hoping to bring in the crowds put its event calendar on facebook but the calendar was not available to the public, one had to sign in to facebook to see the event calendar. A great way to excluded and alienate potential new customers. It’s okay, I can take my money and party and dance elsewhere. 

    Here’s the thing companies and marketing departments, if I take the time to visit your company website you should provided me with as much information about your company, product or service without sending me off to some other website that has nothing to do with you. 

    Today, I happened upon what I thought sounded like  fun event. The Dunes, Columbia Heights, DC is having painters paint to musicians playing live music and audience energy, interaction is welcome. Cool! I read about the event in a news article. I clicked on the link to the website. For this event, The Dunes website sends me to facebook and ‘you must be logged in” to facebook to see the event info. WTH! Isn’t art supposed to be free and accessible to all. Apparently The Dunes does not think so. Art and their events are only available to facebook friends. The organization’s event callendar, as of an hour ago, is blank, and the ‘upcoming events at this venue’ list stopped at March 16, 2013. Yet another organization that doesn’t need my business or patronage unless I am on facebook. 

    I have run into this several times, no access to information unless I log into facebook. I decided not to support the businesses and organizations want to make me be on facebook. I think it is a stupid business move and shows just how lazy some business es are. Not only lazy but they would rather cater to fake “friends” rather than real live customers. Some meek sheeps and followers out there may be saying I am fighting an uphill battle, companies will not change, facebook is the way. But I say not. I should not be discriminated against and denied access to information and services to just because I don’t belong to facebook. Businesses that think it is okay to deny me opportunities for discounts, contests, freebies, or detailed information about events do not deserve to have my patronage and they will not get it. 

    Free to be me, facebook free

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