I wrote a post the other day about the Myth of Discovery, and at the end I mentioned I have similar feelings about social. While I’ve held them for a while, I realized Andy is the only person whose ear I’ve bent about it. It would probably be a more shocking view a couple years back when I first made the realization, but I’m posting it now in case it still merits discussion. And because Hunter asked nicely ;)
In the last decade or so, no word has been thrown around tech circles than “social.” As we’re now seeing a burst of “Uber for ______” startups (some of which could be more legit, since they’re applying economic pressures to inefficient markets), so too have we seen hundreds of companies try to ride Facebook’s coattails and “make _______ social.”
Simply making something social is not a valid foundation for a startup business.
Much like discovery, social is a feature. It’s actually more of a layer, which should be built into most every consumer product these days (in some fashion, at least; because hey, we’re connected, so why not?). It may even bring you a whole bunch of new users, but it’s not sustainable in and of itself as a value proposition.
The motto for startups that I keep repeating is “add value or die.” Social does not add value, it multiplies the value you add. Add real value, then multiply it using social.
Now, this may seem obvious to some of you, but we’re still categorizing apps as “social.” The App Store has a “Social Networking” category, and Google Play has a “Social” category.
Tell me: have you ever gone looking for an app because it’s “social”? Have you said, “Hmm, I want to be social today. Is there an app for that?” My guess is no.
Ok, so let’s look at the top list of what these stores categorize as social and see what they really mean:
- Facebook: Identity. They can (and probably soon will) sell ads anywhere you’re connected, which is probably almost any app on your phone. Why? Because they offer identity as a service. Their own apps just happen to be the biggest client of that service.
- Tumblr: Creative expression & inspiration. As they say: “Follow the world’s creators.” They haven’t *really* proven how much that’s worth yet, but it’s clearly worth enough to get Yahoo!’s attention.
- Twitter: World’s biggest comment platform and/or personal news feed. You can comment on anything, and Twitter targets ads based on that. Check out their TV ad system. Just reading news? Ok, then get ads like you would on any other news network.
- Skype: Telephony. No longer requiring physical land-lines to make connections, Skype makes money when people call each other all over the world. And it’s cheaper for you.
- Pinterest: Collections. First and foremost, it’s a personal utility. They wouldn’t exist if it weren’t. Social becomes a multiplying factor on engagement, but it’s not the core.
- Foursquare: Connections to your physical surroundings. These guys realized (arguably a little too late, but I still have hope) that their early focus on social (making it a social game with leaderboards and such) was actually damaging their core business proposition.
- Kickstarter: Really? I love Kickstarter too much to even comment here.
- LinkedIn: Recruiting tool. If it was social, they’d focus on having you network with other folks through LinkedIn. Instead, they plead with you *not* to connect with folks if you don’t know them. They make their money by making it exceptionally difficult to find anyone in your extended networks unless you pay up.
And on and on. I would’ve expected more messaging apps in there, which, like Skype, are really about communication (something that people have been monetizing for centuries).
Point is, social is not your business. It may help, perhaps significantly, perhaps to a point where your business couldn’t exist (or thrive) without it. But it is not a business in and of itself.
Worth noting: The myth of social is particularly dangerous in media businesses. See Turntable.fm (“making listening social”) for a high profile example of a business that applied social really well to get growth, but never added real value to back it up, and thus collapsed. There were plenty more that never got as far as they did.
1 year ago - Permalink