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?