Facebook Poke Chases a Fast-Moving Target
The Facebook Poke app, the social-networking giant's response to Snapchat, took only 12 days to develop and launch. For the IT community at midsize firms, however, Facebook's rapid action reflects another speed challenge: Social-networking trends can develop at a blinding rate.
A growing number of midsize firms are using social media to reach out to customers and potential customers. Even more midsize firms are considering doing so. They look to IT not just to handle implementation but also for guidance in navigating the online environment. This makes social-media trends an immediate concern to many IT managers at these firms.
As Farhad Manjoo reports at Slate, the swift development of the Facebook Poke app indicates the challenge that Facebook faces from start-up Snapchat.
The Snapchat app permits the sending of photos and messages that "self-destruct" in a few seconds, rather than leaving a permanent online record. Snapchat has spread virally among mostly young users, especially teenagers. "Virally," in this case, largely means spreading via friend connections on Facebook.
Snapchat's rapid growth points to a conundrum for Facebook. The company often promotes itself as a platform rather than a product. As Manjoo observes, "Facebook keeps the 'social graph' of all of our connections, and it leaves it to other companies to build interesting products using that data."
Indeed, companies including many midsize firms now rely heavily on Facebook to spread their social message. Yet the experience of Snapchat and its Facebook clone, Poke, points to the challenges posed by this model. Snapchat is not simply another popular app: It directly rejects the "public, permanent interactions" that are central to Facebook's social model.
Death of the Party
Social media, indeed, are built on a sort of contradiction. Young users are the early adopters and primary drivers of social media. As a social media network grows, however, these young users' parents (and bosses) also join. This is good for the company, since the new users represent added spending power for targeted advertising.
For the young early adopters, however, their parents are likely the last "friends" they want to see in their personal social network. Snapchat, and Facebook's own Poke, are essentially ways to prevent these unwanted social connections.
All of which is to say that the social media environment is inherently turbulent. Facebook, so far, has navigated these waters well enough to avoid the fate of Friendster and MySpace. It can move very quickly in an effort to head off specific challenges.
For IT managers midsize firms, however, the turbulence of the social media environment is something to keep in mind when evaluating social media and social business tools. Agility is crucial, or firms risk being left behind.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.