In the Social Platform Wars, Utility Will Win Over Complexity

I tweeted some time ago that I felt Twitter would win out over Facebook in the “social platform wars”, as I dubbed them. As Twitter slowly began to chew it’s own arm off with recent changes to it’s API’s, I walked back from that statement. I still do feel there is a major shift happening in this space, and Facebook, among other large social networks, are beginning to falter.

For the past couple of years, we have seen niche social platforms spring up and become the hot new thing seemingly overnight. The successes these niche social platforms have seen – like Pinterest quickly becoming the third most visited social site or Instagram breaking 100 million users – is telling of how consumer behavior in social media is quickly changing.

ReadWriteWeb made a good case for why Facebook may be dying off like Myspace before it. Poor stock performance and decreasing site visits can be a negative sign for any internet company. But, numbers aside, there is a clear role that these new social platforms play in the lives of consumers that larger social networks are not – they provide utility by making it easy for them to more easily perform simple, everyday tasks.

Aaron Shapiro writes a lot about the concept of utility marketing in his book “Users, Not Customers” (which is by far one of the best marketing/business books I have read all year). The basic concept is that brands should build technology that adds value to the lives of consumers. If we step back and look at the broader digital landscape, we are seeing this trend across platforms – desktop, mobile, web. The brands and startups that are winning in the digital space are the ones that have figured out how to become an integral part of a consumers lives.

We are seeing this happen across sectors, from  large brands such as American Express to startups like AirBNB and Uber. It’s not just about creating a Facebook Timeline app that results in a million installs of your app in a week. Brands need to find a pain point, or pain points, that consumers face and provide tools that scratch that itch, which is at the core of what Spotify and other utility apps do.

David Copeland articulates the dilemma of large social platforms well:

Both MySpace and Facebook started with a core audience and did well focusing on a few key offerings: music and collecting friends for MySpace, and the newsfeed and photos for Facebook. Both faltered when they started to focus on too many offerings, and each faced even greater pressure when a powerful force came along to upend its business model.

Large social platforms are too complex. Simplicity is key. These platforms are focused on providing too many features to appease too many user types. Look back at digital software of the past in comparison to now. There is a clear trend towards simpler, more beautiful software.

When I look at the apps I use the most – – Evernote, Wunderlist, Google Calendar, GMail, and Facebook Messenger – they are apps that help me organize my life and communicate with others.

Look at your own behavior as a consumer. What digital technology do you use the most and why?


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