Digital media strategists (those managing corporate web, social & mobile strategy) are burdened with determining which burgeoning technology is going to survive and which will eventually whither away and produce little results. I have blogged about the life cycle of social networks in 2011 (Social Media ForecastingSocial Media Forecasting (2011) – Facebook, Twitter, Google + and more), where I noticed that the average social network only lasts about six (6) years (before we tire and leave or stop using). Only the largest networks survive and it’s because of their services, ad networks or sheer volume of content we put on them.
Determining which networks will thrive or at least live beyond the six years is tough. Here are some of the rules and checks I use to identify which networks will thrive or die.
1) Design with intent – No matter how awesome your innovation, technology or idea, It will not succeed unless it is designed well. Design, matters whether it be graphic, user interface, product or programming. Without good design, the chaos of undesigned work will rear it’s ugly head at the most critical time in your business life-cycle. Take the time to think about how you want things to look, flow, work and be shared before you get too far down the road. Below, I have included my breakdown of the ‘Innovation Evolution’ and design is an important part of it. Although it is last (in my unnumbered list), some of the world’s most successful companies have put design first.
2) A digital generation is short! Successful social networks (until Facebook) have had a lifespan of only about six years until people are tired of them and stop using them (ghost towns) or leave them (death). Even Facebook is starting to feel some contraction and signs of losing interest. Historically, technology the size of Facebook won’t die, it will shed its fair-weather fans (users) and develop into a useful, strong and powerful tool maintaining anywhere from 65-80% of its active users. Stabilize the hype of fads by sticking to the fundamentals of communication, business, design and success. Things like social media, instant messaging, mobile apps and even email, the web, etc. are/were all fads, they made people billions of dollars and then they lost their flare but they all still exist today in their (some) more stable forms. The innovation and technology of today will grow, improve, mature, age, lose it’s luster and either die or become mainstream. If you know this you can grow with it.
3) Money matters – in the early days of email, search and social we could “hack” the system through SEO, subject/body or post optimization. All of these principles still apply today but eventually the innovation and technology has to make money and the resulting restrictions/limitations put on us require us to invest in creating content, buying advertising, development, design or production in order to profit from and see effective results. Successful technology companies ensure that optimization still works and matters but the highest performing lead generation, targeting and performance (with the least effort) requires an investment in them and their technology.
4) Size matters – I talk about this in the ‘innovation evolution’ section below but the reality is, in the digital space, for the foreseeable future there will be an ebb and flow toward bigger or smaller devices, designs and targets. This is an industry of flux, if you can’t live with that, start job hunting outside of digital. This is not a bad thing, most innovation and technologies are born in a state of flux or in the gap found between it. If you plan for change you can prepare for change and identify opportunities in those changes (there are many). Plan for innovation to change from small pieces of (Google) Glass to massive cloud computing systems and back to the desktop/laptop/tablet again. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.
5) Centralize ideas – we live in a world filled with living gods (watch Jason Silva’s “We are the gods now”, you’ll understand), in order for you to become one or to communicate with them you must subscribe to, adopt and innovate in a language and sphere that the rest of the world can understand. Changing the world is no longer good enough, to change the world now you must do it in a way that your grandma, cousin, niece, accountant, janitor and IT person can all understand and relate to. When you innovate, communicate or cogitate an idea, do it in a way that the world can cling to. You will find that everything you do is better, easier and more successful if everyone around you can understand and relate. Build yourself, your ideas, our community, world and universal intelligence…communicate ideas and do it better!
6) Make sound recommendations – I use to tell people that until their profile/page had 500 followers/likes, they were simply playing and experimenting in social media because there is no statistical significance to make sound business decisions. We are seeing that a similar rule applies in determining which social networks will survive/thrive, although the number is somewhere in the ballpark of 500 million users (not visitors). MySpace was not too big to fade away with 245,218,960 users in 2006 (source: myspace.com/tom in ’06). LinkedIn has moved at a slower, steadier pace but knows their audience and market and has created a strong community that won’t go away because of it’s ability to act more like a service and network, combined. A network doesn’t need a fixed number of users but it does need a strong number of either highly active users or sheer volume to survive. Here are some tips for making sound digital media strategy decisions:
- Think big – sign up for, test and play on movers-and-shakers but don’t recommend them until they are big enough or active enough to mean something. If you find a new technology that you love, give it love and talk about it as a potential and ‘tech to watch.’
- APIs = potential – if a new tech is not open or does not have an API (application programming interface) they are limiting their potential (for good and bad). Open, accessible information benefits everyone and helps us all grow, get better, bigger and thrive. If it’s closed it is either because they are too young or they are protecting their data/users/site. It is up to you to know and understand why and how to make recommends (or not) based on their short and long term benefits.
- Reality requires analytics – if a technology doesn’t have a way to quantify benefit, it’s too young to invest your time or you shouldn’t trust it. – I still don’t trust Twitter, their math just doesn’t work but the engagement by those who are active is superior to most online properties.
- Follow the money – we want new technology, that we love, to thrive. Look at business (and income) models of the innovations you recommend and become very familiar with it, you can predict future decisions and strategies if you understand a businesses goals, objectives and financials. All of these companies get bigger, better and stronger if you understand, help and support their business models. If you don’t understand, like or agree with it, stop recommending it.
- Do a background check – you can stalk your old girlfriends/boyfriends like a boss! Are you at least as diligent at looking into new technology? You will find greatness (and nothingness) in knowing everything you can about the companies you recommend.
7) Be nice – it saddens me that I even have to bring this up but as the social media industry is starting to stabilize we see data showing the natural separation of the wheat from the chaf (audience, traffic and engagement get smaller but more targeted and refined). Instead of talking about how this makes networks like Facebook stronger, many SEO and mobile app professionals are using it as an opportunity to downplay Social Media and promote themselves. Meanwhile I’m seeing social media professionals knock on SEO and mobile apps. This is all kinds of bad! The mobile apps, social networks and SEO industries are not the same, don’t have the same audience and don’t give you the same tools/abilities or results so why are you threatened by them? If we are going to genuinely help clients/customers/employers we have to work together and promote one another. Web, social and mobile are not going away; your job is not going to evaporate if Facebook contracts, websites are not going away nor are the search engines we use to find them and mobile is just getting interesting. Stop shooting down your brothers and sisters and invest in promoting your own business and benefits, I don’t care which area of digital you are in, your promotion helps us all.
According to Bloomfield, in Mankind in Transition, technology evolves in three stages; tools, machine and automation. Digital media and technology in general is not much different.
- Innovation – the ideas and changes in thinking that create major shifts in the way we do, see and engage with anything.
- Technology – technology can be the manifestation of innovation. Email, instant messenger, Flickr, Classmates.com and MySpace were all innovations and technologies that needed to exists before the manifestation of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, which are hybrids, improvements & automated forms of the prior technologies.
- Automation – this is the constant drive toward the perfection of our technology which includes integration into our daily lives, devices and into legacy systems that may or may not have technology
- Dimension – Digital is different from most industries in that we are never satisfied with the size or dimension of our technology. Every 6-12 years we change from a macro to a micro-demanding audience and back again. Part of the evolution of technology and innovation is learning to adapt to (and adopt) the idea that size always matters and it is always in flux. Mobile is one of the best examples, you can see, over time, trends for bigger-is-better and micro-matters, sometimes at the same time but often times countering each other.
- Design – often times design is an after-thought in the digital world or has to be addressed later in a life-cycle to address serious issues not considered by the innovator(s). Design may occur in line with dimension but it also includes the aesthetics of the technology which may include: color, shape, user-interface and all other forms of design. Apple is one of the best examples of design because they integrate design into innovation, very early (and often times, skip innovation and focus on design + technology).