Crossroads: 7 Questions that Twitter, Digg, and Others Must Answer in 2011
When I originally posted this article on Techi, I forgot to take one major thing into account. Most people who are passionate about their favorite social media sites are often blinded by their feelings. They understand the need for change and innovation but often do not take honest feedback very well.
That was the case with these questions as I received a barrage of emails, IMs, and even phone calls from people telling me that their favorite sites “are doing just fine, thank you very much.” In most cases, I replied with a terse but honest response.
If there’s one thing that we’ve learned from MySpace, it’s that no matter how big you are you can fall if you don’t adjust. Social media is mercurial with it’s rate of change and as a result many (most?) who have fallen over the years did so because they didn’t ask themselves the tough questions.
To say social media will be bigger in 2011 is like saying a 5-year-old will be bigger when she’s 6-years-old. It is still in its infancy and while many people are engulfed in some form of social media, there are still billions of people who haven’t been on Facebook or its kind before. As 2010 draws to a close, every website is faced with different questions that they need to answer next year.
For some, it’s a matter of turning a good profit. For others, it’s a matter of staying alive to see 2012. Nobody has the luxury of having only one major question to answer, but we’ve selected seven big ones that each must address.
Can Twitter Become “Serious Business” in 2011
The fun and games are over. Twitter made it clear that they know this when they promoted COO Dick Costolo to the top job in October. With $200 million freshly in the bank and a whopping $3.7 billion valuation, Costolo and the team must perform and deliver serious business results in 2011. It’s a far cry from where they were a year and a half ago when they declared they were in no rush to make money.
Costolo recently Tweeted that Twitter was going “to infinity & beyond.” He’ll need his Buzz Lightyear suit in 2011 to meet the ambitious goals of expanding physical operations to Europe and creating a faster revenue model than what is currently in place.
How Will Digg Rebound From a Disastrous V4 Launch?
Twitter is on their 3rd CEO in 3 years. Digg has their third CEO this year. Many have decided that Digg is out for the count after V4 was met with a less than mediocre reception from users. Traffic is down. Engagement is down. The staff numbers are down.
What is a once-mighty social news site to do in a situation like this? They’re reaching out to the users, collecting feedback and advice from people, many of whom spend more time on the site than employees.
As a few of the senior staff members including new CEO Matt Williams hit the road and trade excellent lunches for honest feedback, it’s clear that they are focused on turning the ship around. Several features from V3 that disappeared with the new version have returned. New features are rolled out or slated for future release. They have one ace in the hole that will likely be their saving grace…
If they can increase their traffic to former levels and set both staff and functionality to the right levels, they will succeed. While most social media sites are still trying to figure out the revenue angle, that’s the one part that a healthy Digg has nailed and likely why the former General Manager of Consumer Payments at Amazon took the job in the first place.
A healthy Digg is a profitable Digg. Can they make themselves healthy in 2011? Can they rebound?
Will Tumblr Stay Up Regularly Enough To Expand Their Adoption?
There are two things that we learned about Tumblr in 2010:
- It can be highly addicting, accounting for it’s boom to 3.5 monthly pageviews (more than doubling what it was 6 months ago) and rabid users who seem more passionate than anything WordPress, Twitter, or even Facebook have ever seen.
- The site goes down often. Sometimes, it goes down hard.
With $30 million in recent funding, the expectations will be high for them to fix whatever it is that takes the site down so often. It’s not necessarily for the current users’ sake (even though their loyalty has been tested recently) but rather the necessity for adoption in business and media circles.
CNN recently joined the growing list of large entities participating in Tumblr. It is imperative that they stay live. Patience was granted to Twitter during it’s on again, off again server struggles in 2009, but Tumblr requires a larger investment. Anyone who has written a long blog post, pushed “Publish”, and received the dreaded error screen knows. Business and media won’t stand for it the way average users.
Many would argue that Tumblr is not a venue that needs media or the business world to get involved (including some working for Tumblr). Investors and analysts know that the attention and potential revenue garnered from going beyond their current userbase are invaluable from a profit perspective.
If Tumblr gets more of a reputation for being down regularly, larger entities may look to the competition for their micro/macro/lite blogging needs.
Can Foursquare Grow Fast Enough To Fight Off Facebook Places?
CEO Dennis Crowley says right now he says he’s just focused on hiring and growing the user base as quickly as possible. This is standard socialmediaCEOtalk that has been uttered by everyone from Mark Zuckerberg to the CEO of every new Web 2.0 startup in existence. The difference is that for Foursqare, the “as quickly as possible” portion is the difference between life and death for the site.
Facebook Places represents about 600 million potential nails for a coffin that hasn’t been built yet. Foursquare is funded through the end of 2011, which means they have about 6 months to prove that they will be able to either expand quickly or innovate even more quickly or the wood to build their coffin will begin to be gathered.
With under 10 million users, the mobile check-in service is tiny compared to Facebook. Luckily, they are potent and so far the gaming aspect combined with discounts at local businesses and campaigns by large companies have made them a superior service.
If they don’t grow very, very quickly, their superiority will not save them. It will be like McDonald’s muscling out a local burger joint. It’s just tough to compete with name recognition and the convenience that comes with the most dreaded words that can come out of a future adopter’s mouth: “Well, I’m already on Facebook, so…”
Will Reddit Get The Attention They Deserve in 2011?
For a site that can send hundreds of thousands of visitors to a single piece of content, Reddit certainly has maintained an uncannily low-key profile over the years. Perhaps its the draconian design of the site that can be intimidating to new visitors. Maybe the clever cynicism that runs through the veins (i.e. comments) of the social news site scares away those who may not be worthy.
Regardless of the reasons, Reddit always seems to get the shaft when it comes to recognition as one of the most powerful social media sites in existence.
For their part, they don’t seem to care.
Whether it’s a snub by Jon Stewart, an understatement of their traffic, or flack from the owners, Reddit has a history of being the best kept secret in social media, letting Digg take the heat and letting Twitter take the criticism while competitors like Propeller and Yahoo! Buzz bite the dust.
For their part, they don’t seem to care.
Reddit as a community is often astounding, particularly with their random acts of kindness and ability to mobilize more quickly than any other. Theirs is the only question posed here that really doesn’t need to be answered. Perhaps it’s a sense of justice that makes me want it to be answered. Either way, one thing is certain: they don’t seem to care. They’re happy with just being and letting everyone else just be as well.
Facebook: “What’s the Next Step Towards World Domination?”
Believe it or not, it’s not that far-fetched of a question. The wording might not come out exactly like that when Mark Zuckerberg asks it, but there’s no doubt that most in the organization are thinking it in some fashion.
Facebook is growing and seems to be bulletproof. Whether it’s privacy concerns, security concerns, attacks from Google, or attacks from Canada, everything thrown at them seems to drip right off their skin without leaving a dent.
They want to get every business involved. They want to be the hub for, well, everything. They have the attention of most of the world, and they are (to their credit) doing very well at leveraging the attention. Whether they have succeeded thus far because of Mark Zuckerberg or in spite of Mark Zuckerberg is a whole other question, but the youngest billionaire in the world will likely not be going anywhere but up in 2011.
So, the question remains: what’s next? They have a tremendous amount of room for error in most of their dealings, but they won’t be complacent. It’s really a question of how much are they going to be able to accomplish and who will they have to muscle out of the way to meet their goals?
How Do We Get More Into The Social Media Game?
(Asked by Google, Apple, Microsoft, and every other major tech company in the world)
This is the question for the rest of them. Every company in or out of technology is either asking this question or decided that “social media just ain’t our thing” (see Yahoo!).
Unlike just about every other facet of the Internet, social media success does not seem to be directly tied into company size. MySpace was huge and by conventional wisdom should have squashed Facebook in the early days. AOL and Yahoo! were mammoths compared to Digg when they launched their social news sites. Google has failed more times than we can list here (other than with YouTube) when it comes to social media creations and acquisitions.
If it were a matter of “throw a bunch of money at it” than the Web 2.0 world would look a lot different from what it does today. Money can’t buy their (the users’) happiness and social media is all about making the masses happy. It gives them a voice, a place online, and the ability to spread ideas or engage in dialogues that big tech companies would love to dominate.
So far, nobody has. Nearly all of the powerhouses in social media today started from scratch. Who is going to break that trend? Should they even try? Should Google buy Foursquare despite their differences and past dealings? Will the talented crew at Apple be able to spread their hardware and software pixie dust on a social media property? Will Microsoft ever take a step (or 5) beyond integrating more updates from other sites into their search listings on Bing?
Somebody will make a bold move or two in 2011. They’ve all tried. They’ve all been stung. Most importantly, none of them should give up.
Sooner or later, everyone’s going to realize that carving their piece of the social media pie in 2011 will be the only way of avoiding irrelevancy in the future.
Yes, even Google.