The social media landscape can change rapidly. In less than a decade, most of what we think of as social media sites have come into being and captivated the modern world. So, what will be the next big thing, and will it replace Facebook? It may seem like Facebook has such a large share of the market that it will never be unseated, but that is probably not the case.
The Current State of Facebook
Facebook dominates the social media market. There is little debate about that. The company is worth almost $100 billion and has spent over $20 billion acquiring competitors since 2012, according to Forbes and Brandwatch. What’s more, 30 percent of internet users log onto Facebook at least once a day, according to venture capital firm Bond.
Businesses also find that Facebook greatly increases their marketing power. Almost 40% of users will follow a Facebook page to get a special deal; over half of consumers say social media influences their spending habits; and Facebook hosts 80 million small business pages, according to Kentico, Marketing Dive, and Facebook, respectively. What’s clear is that Facebook is a marketing and business listing titan.
That being said, Facebook certainly doesn’t have a monopoly, especially when it comes to business listings. Bing and Google compete for listings, as do some smaller but still robust sites like Foursquare and Whitepages. Foursquare for businesses has 93 percent of businesses listed on their site, though not all are claimed. This means that the data on Facebook is available from many business listing services that are also competing for rank on search engines and developing their own apps for businesses to engage with customers. With questions about privacy, bias, and regulation looming over tech giants, Facebook may be less secure than one might think.
How Facebook is Vulnerable
Of course, privacy and regulatory concerns are important ways Facebook could lose its grip on the market, but there are also other vulnerabilities. A key reason that Facebook has grown so much is that it combines social media with business listings, closing the gap between businesses and customers. This model is powerful, and it is replicable. Facebook could rapidly decline if another company becomes prominent in the social media market and develops the tools to let businesses take advantage of the pool of people there. There are plenty of companies that have one piece or the other but not both. If the other piece of the puzzle ever gets made by one of these companies, Facebook’s market share will shrink rapidly.
Companies to Watch
There are several companies that could be poised to make just such a transition. Foursquare and Thumbtack are the two frontrunners in this category. Each of them has the great advantage of focusing heavily on their user interface and customer experience. They prioritize the way a user would interact with their products and then build business tools to suit that experience. Their primary focus is still on business development rather than social networking, but a shift could be easily made—at least, easier than it would be for competitors.
What Are the Signs?
There are a few things that would indicate a coming end to Facebook’s dominance. First, any further privacy or regulatory problems Facebook faces would mean not only a hit to their bottom line but a demand to adapt in ways a larger company may find difficult. Second, even if usage metrics for Facebook continue to rise, pay attention to the quality of interactions reported. If they start to fall, Facebook will become more like the Yellow Pages: used strictly for informational purposes. Third, watch for another platform that has what Facebook has with a slight twist. Just as Myspace was replaced, Facebook can be as well. Facebook tends toward longer formats with both posts and time, which Twitter and Snapchat cannot accommodate. If another platform comes around, it will have the great advantage of being new and not having Facebook’s problems. It could catch on very quickly.
What to Expect
In general, any company with a real chance to replace Facebook will have to give users the ability to post in both long and short form. It will also have to be able to entice users with real social value, such as being able to connect to people who matter. A good strategy would be to roll out these features in a highly metropolitan area first before spreading into more rural parts of the country or other countries at large. You can also bet that if Foursquare or Thumbtack starts expanding into this area that their business listing services will be leveraged to attract more users. However, you’ll be able to notice changes in their marketing strategy. Rather than messages that encourage users to join so that they can interact with businesses, users will be encouraged to join so that they can interact with each other. That shift is a key element in building the social features of a platform.
Ultimately, any predictions about the next ‘big thing’ are subject to error. The goal here is to try and show what parts of Facebook make it most vulnerable, which alternatives could be in the works and what features the new platform will likely have. However, if history is any indication, Facebook will not be on top for too much longer. It will be interesting to see who fills the vacuum that will be left.
Here’s another article you might enjoy reading: Put Facebook In Your Control With These Four Features