Welcome to the Social Media Splinternet


While everyone focuses attention on Facebook’s astounding usage numbers, they might be missing an equally important trend: there are many new social platforms gaining traction and splintering attention spans — and creating plenty of challenges for brands in the process.
To refresh everyone’s memories, let’s start by looking back at the classic Robert Scoble social media starfish and the JESS3 Conversation Prism. When we look at these telling graphics, it is very clear that agencies and brands struggled with deciding where within the social media landscape they should disseminate content, create experiences, and establish a following.
Many were blinded by these shiny new social objects and, as a result, disregarded all conventional marketing wisdom. Some brands jumped in and haphazardly experimented in secondary social media destinations like Brightkite, Dopplr, Ning, Jaiku, Pownce, Kyte, hi5, MyBlogLog, Xanga, CrowdVine, and Second Life.
Unfortunately, while some of these secondary destinations showed consumer promise at the time, they all fell short for brands. None offered a user base significant enough for brands to connect with their core consumers. Additionally, none offered agencies/brands a great sense of how to measure effectiveness and calculate return. While many of these destinations were the site du jour in 2008/2009, none remains a viable choice for brands to leverage in their current social media strategies.
Fast forward to present day and we see the same cycle unfolding with services like Instagram, SoundTracking, GetGlue, IntoNow, Gowalla, GoMiso, SCVNGR, GroupMe, Beluga, and Yobongo, just to name a few.
This has created an incredibly clamorous environment, resulting in an overwhelming amount of choice for users and brands alike. While these secondary destinations are interesting in their own right, they all face the same challenges that previous social start-ups faced—modest user bases. Because of this basic shortcoming, it is difficult for brands to achieve scale in reaching their core consumers. Furthermore, the aforementioned platforms all lack measurement tools that show effectiveness and return on a brand’s investment.
But despite these factors, some brands are still experimenting. For example, look at what Pepsi is doing with IntoNow and MTV with GroupMe. There are always exceptions to the rule, but most savvy marketers will put a cap on experimentation.
As social media practitioners, we all know that this space has garnered its fair share of critics who dispute its effectiveness. By introducing further experimentation to social media, we continue to muddy the conversation and make it that much harder to prove the medium’s impact on the bottom line.
I believe that brands shouldn’t do anything just yet with these secondary social media destinations: none of them has the reach or scale necessary to properly build a brand. I also believe we should hold tight and track their progress, allow them to scale first before considering them in your social media strategies. Stick to established entities like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Foursquare and allow them to become the pillars of your brand’s social media strategy. Don’t let the Social Media Splinternet distract your efforts or water down your time, resources, and budgets.
Richard Ting is svp and ecd of mobile and social platforms at R/GA.

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