The concept of being social is inherent and should be a part of everything that a company does, in any industry.Social is just the nature of things and people. When you’re in the grocery store and you bump in to someone you know, that’s social. When you ask for directions: social. When you talk to a petrol attendant: social. When you get advice from a friend on a dinner venue: social.
Everything is social.
Therefore nothing that claims to be social as a unique selling proposition is defensible or, in fact, unique.
What do I mean by defensible? It’s quite simple. As a startup in the technology space (in any industry really) you need to be able to defend your business. You need it to be defensible against competitors. A simple test of this is as follows: If someone had US$20-million of investment and wanted to do what you do, could they easily be better than you at it and take you out of the market? Could they take contracts and staff away from you and crush your business? If your answer is “Yes”. Then your company, idea, brand, or niche is not very defensible.
This brings me to the social aspect of my core idea; social is not defensible.
Friendster thought it had it in the bag with social. Then MySpace thought it had in the bag with social. Now Facebook thinks that it has it in the bag with social (and a few other tricks up its sleeve).
At each point the three previously mentioned social networking companies had critical mass, reached a tipping point and grew exponentially. Two of the three were, in the eyes of the public that matter, were virtually wiped off the face of the Internet by the next big social thing. (To be fair, Friendster has over 100m registered users and is now a gaming site and MySpace was recently bought by some people including Justin Timberlake who want to do some things with it, or something).
If social is inherent and everyone has it, then what is defensible?
I think Facebook has two key things that make its business defensible: An overwhelming number of active users and an ecosystem.
There is a sense of chance that one gets from the success of Facebook and Twitter, an element of serendipity if you will. Right place, right time, right mix of things. Once that was in place then the market took off and grew Facebook and Twitter’s defensibility.
Now I am definitely oversimplifying (before I get roasted in the comments) and I am aware of the immense volume of cash injected into both Facebook and Twitter, but lets be honest, MySpace had NewsCorp behind it and it tanked. Anything is possible.
The point of this particular article is to emphasize that if you are building a business, a technology, a campaign or anything else for that matter, saying that you are “social” does not set you apart, it puts you firmly in the category of appropriately average.