Are Social Media Platforms Trying Too Hard to Be the Same?
by Heidi Besik
posted on 01-18-2016
Twitter. Facebook. LinkedIn. Today’s social media platforms are certainly not mutually exclusive. In fact, most of us engage across several social channels at once. But with competing platform functionalities announced daily related to data, messaging, search, and social commerce, are the networks trying too hard to be the same? Are social media platforms becoming homogeneous imitations of each other?
There are certainly some trends developing—at least across the major social networks in terms of mimicking one another’s functionality and use. How will this impact marketers? More importantly, with competition fierce to keep social marketing fresh, how can brands remain inventive as platforms move toward uniformity? Here’s a high-level look at how social media platforms are maturing and some thoughts on how forward-thinking marketers can respond.
Major Trends Are Repeating across Social Media Platforms
With the big social networks in particular—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and to some degree, Instagram—we’re starting to see major trends repeat in terms of messaging, access to data, social commerce, and search functionality.
- Messaging. Social messaging is hotter than ever and the networks are responding with new and improved options for users to share video and have casual conversations seamlessly. On the heels of Facebook reporting 600 million users on its messaging app, Twitter increased its character limit to 10,000 in direct messages and LinkedIn rolled out its own messaging experience. Instagram and Twitter (until now) may have dominated the emoji experience, but Facebook now offers an emoji alterative to the “like” button. With Facebook at Work mimicking LinkedIn space and other comparable enhancements being made across channels, we’re seeing messaging as a differentiator sort of collapse across social networks.
- Data. Facebook and Twitter are in many ways fighting over which platform can package and present the best opportunities for brands in terms of rich data. In March of this year, Facebook introduced Topic Data, designed to make content more relevant and effective for marketers. Twitter responded by transitioning data access to its own platform and in October announced Gnip Insights APIs. By design, Facebook is more private than Twitter and has had to toe the line between user privacy and surfacing meaningful data around popular trends. Twitter users have no expectation of privacy, and the network has more flexibility. However, user profiles are limited, and that can be a data disadvantage.
- Social commerce. Again, Facebook and Twitter are sparring as it relates to social commerce, even as Pinterest is a more natural fit. Recently, Facebook announced a new mobile shopping section with a new native product browsing experience called “Canvas,” where users can click through ads to check out products. Of course, this came on the heels of Twitter’s “buy now” button and Pinterest’s Buyable Pins.
Keeping Social Media Marketing Fresh
As the platforms begin to mimic one another, marketers will likely face challenges in understanding how best to maximize each one. However, there’s a flip side to this scenario: practitioners may also find it easier in the short term to measure across platforms that are more closely aligned. And in the long run, homogeneous platforms may result in better social commerce options and more insightful data.
Either way, enduring platforms will need to carve out an area of differentiation to survive, and those that can’t, won’t last. But are there other implications as social networks begin to imitate one another? Will marketing strategies become homogenized too? How will practitioners keep social marketing fresh?
Tailor content to your audience. As social media platforms mature, the one-size-fits-all approach won’t work, and even as networks homogenize, messaging must be tailored. Data, both on audience and content performance, is key. Although there are sure to be overlaps between the different networks’ strategies, audiences will still vary. As platforms share information with you, that’s what should inform strategy. After all, each platform still serves unique user needs—for example, LinkedIn is the go-to for B2B and recruitment, whereas Twitter excels in second screen marketing, especially for media and sports.
Understand data limitations, and don’t neglect content performance. Facebook is the most powerful network because the company knows the most about its audience. However, users have an expectation of privacy and Facebook has to walk the line between accumulating data and violating privacy. Traditionally, Twitter is a more open network, but the platform doesn’t have access to robust user profiles. LinkedIn has incredibly rich data and can provide valuable audience insights. On Instagram, user profiles don’t exist, as they are essentially a string of emojis. Keep in mind that there will always be limitations on audience data across networks that will impact insight, but you can and should figure out how your content is performing.
Play to each platform’s strengths. Ultimately, inventive social marketing comes down to learning how to maximize each platform’s strengths. More than any other social media network, Twitter has mastered capturing the “real-time pulse” of the world. Whether it’s disseminating breaking news or gauging feedback on an event, when people want to know what others have to say in the here and now they turn to Twitter. Pinterest is set up naturally to take on the role of a visual search network and may be the right option for prioritizing social commerce. Playing to the strengths of each platform as it makes sense for your brand is the solution to a fresh, inventive strategy.
Social media marketing isn’t going anywhere soon, and as the different networks compete for user attention span (the new currency), there is some homogeneity taking place. For marketers, this isn’t a bad thing, and driving business results by building an actionable audience across platforms is still the best plan. Network homogeneity through enhancements in data, commerce, search, messaging and more may ultimately result in exceptional advantages for marketers—better social commerce options, improved aggregated insightful data, etc.
Savvy marketers will continue to seek ways to use rich data to both learn about an audience and assess how content is performing—the key to managing your social media presence effectively. For the social platforms, those that survive the test of time will undoubtedly be the ones that have managed to differentiate themselves the most. In the meantime, as they hash it out, it can only mean better features and more options for marketers. The never-ending fight for marketing dollars seems to be prompting the social media platforms to do more—think Instagram’s move from a square image format, support for direct messaging in LinkedIn and Tumblr, and the use of stickers everywhere—and that’s never a bad thing.