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February 11, 2013

Facebook – The Social Network King

It’s hard to dethrone the king. It’s not because the king is necessarily best, or even the most beloved. Sometimes the king was just the first on the scene, or maybe circumstances just fell that way.

Facebook is the current king of social networking and despite some faltering steps doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. It has many lessons to learn from its predecessor, MySpace. But so do its competitors.

A Noble Background

Facebook won’t last forever. MySpace certainly didn’t. But Facebook was designed to be a king of social networking. As was MySpace. And so will whatever comes next. All social networks are designed to be kings, provided they ever get the opportunity to rise to the top.

Other social networks took the more clever approach by filling a different niche, like Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest. But what about those that are trying to battle Facebook on its own turf? There’s Google+, Ning, Path, and countless others that the mainstream public haven’t even heard of.

What set Facebook apart from the others? Really, just circumstance and precedence. You see every social network, by virtue of its design, is meant to secure its own dominance. Just whichever has the most dominance, wins.

Built to Win

The heart of the matter is this: all social networks are designed to be mutually exclusive; or in other words to be used at the expense of others. By using one social network, you shun the others; unless they occupy different spheres of influence, of course. Using Facebook and Twitter? No problem. But Facebook and Google+? Now there’s some awkwardness.

The question is why?

There is no question that some people don’t like Facebook, and would even go so far as to stop using it altogether. But they like the networking afforded to them by a social network. So for them, the quest becomes to find another social network that has the features and policies they like. Nowadays there are some alternatives, chief among them being Google+.

But there’s just one little problem, or rather potentially hundreds of them. Friends.

Why do you chiefly use a social network? To stay in touch and communicate with friends and contacts. So not having all those friends and contacts would essentially defeat the purpose of a social network, wouldn’t it? And therein lies the problem.

Even if you decide to hop ship and use another social network, the exercise becomes moot once you discover that none of your friends have too. Though you’ve left behind the frustrations of the mainstream social network for the liberties of another one, trying to convince your fellows to follow suit is usually no easy task. Why? Typically it’s because they don’t want to leave their own friends behind.

The price of leaving behind the king, or of being an early-adopter of a new social network, is loneliness and frustration. And inexorably, the king draws you back in to his kingdom, and remains the largest in the land.

To Dethrone A King

But we do have one glaring instance where a king was dethroned. MySpace was the first massively popular social network. It had secured its audience first, and therefore should have been able to keep it. Again, why leave to another social network since everyone you knew was already on MySpace?

And yet, people left. And Facebook took over. So again, the question is why?

The former king fell victim to poor business decisions, technical inflexibility, and bad press. A perfect storm of bad luck combined with the worst crippling blow of all, a worthy competitor watching from the sidelines. The users on MySpace were becoming increasingly frustrated with the website, and the allure of a cleaner, more feature-packed, more focused alternative was definitely appealing.

People started to migrate over to Facebook. But what sealed MySpace’s fate was the fact that people’s friends migrated as well. Individuals weren’t just leaving, entire social circles were. Soon enough, staying on MySpace became its own liability as the majority of a person’s friends were now found on Facebook, leaving the MySpace loyalists the deprived and isolated ones.

Repeating History?

So can history ever repeat itself? Certainly. All it would take is another perfect storm to dethrone Facebook: technical inflexibility due to business demands, increasingly cluttered and unfriendly user interface, bad press to scare away new potential users, and a worthy competitor as an appealing alternative. This concoction isn’t as rare as it would seem.

With Facebook now publicly owned its direction is dictated by its shareholders, not by what is technically sound or appealing. Its interface is constantly undergoing redesigns, and while many complain but eventually adjust to it, more intrusive ads and privacy worries easily mirror what happened on MySpace. Bad press can come from any direction, from any source; all it takes is a big enough scandal.

And as for worthy competitors? There are several. Right now they seem insignificant because there’s little reason for the masses to migrate from Facebook. But if Facebook’s ship begins to sufficiently list to one side, like MySpace once did, then the users will flee.

Once the mainstream user base wants to abandon Facebook, they’ll follow the trails blazed by the early-adopters who first explored other competing social networks. Once people find something they like, the word will spread and everyone will converge on that one social channel, thus making it the new king.

Long Live The King

Now that social networking exists as an mainstay of the Web, it isn’t going away anytime soon. Possibly never. The cat’s out of the bag; Pandora’s Box has been opened. Now that people have experienced social networking, they must always have it.

Consequently, this means there will always be demand for it. And by its own nature, whomever happens to be most dominant in filling that demand will be king, to the detriment of all others. But should that king falter, everyone will just flock to another, and then make that one the new dominant kingdom.

There can only be one king. But there must always be a king.

Do you think Facebook will ever lose the crown, and if so, how? Who do you think is likely to replace them, an existing competitor, or something we have yet to see? Let us know in the comments.

Vince Ginsburg is a web designer and blogger for Corsair Media Services, which specializes in online marketing strategies and development. He doesn’t just look at the current state of the Web to figure out what’s going on, but tries to understand why it’s happening. Always eager for discussion, you can find him at his company blog or Facebook.

21 Responses to “Facebook – The Social Network King

    Facebook is definitely a king social networking the amount of features you get here in order to publicize and gain some traffic are countless. So, one should make a definite use of this service for excellent results.

    avatar Chris Alphen says:

    Thought provoking article Vince, well done.
    It wasn’t that long ago GM had over 50% market share worldwide
    Can you say newspaper?
    Did AT&T and then successors in land lines ever foresee the day that model would be irrelevant?
    It’s certainly possible and I think likely that social will go vertical which more than opens the door for Google +.
    I don’t have a dog in this fight but if semi-active and non-active FB users combine with a new wave of adopters then you could have a sudden shift to a platform such as Google +.
    Ya think?

    avatar Vince Ginsburg says:

    It’s very telling that GM pulled its advertisements from Facebook, citing that weren’t profitable. But that’s another article….

    Like these:

    avatar Gerhard Joubert says:

    I vote for Google+ 🙂 Really nice article, I enjoyed reading it. Thanks.

    avatar Theresa Wild says:

    I do not this Facebook will lose the Crown of social media king anytime soon – in October 2012 it recorded it’s 1 billionth user! The interface is really easy to use and it is a really effective platform for people to connect, share, communicate and search for friends/pages (especially now it has launched the graph search). It is the top referring website for my site – which provided a fantastic relevant traffic 🙂

    avatar Vince Ginsburg says:

    Facebook won’t get dethroned soon, barring any suddenly disastrous turn of events. So far, it remains technological nimble enough to meet today’s increasing demands, and it has a team willing and able to continue innovating. It’s living, breathing, evolving.

    MySpace hit a wall. Strictly profit-driven decisions stalled its progress, and as the former giant came to a halt all its users became dissatisfied with the lost momentum and carried onwards to whatever came next: Facebook.

    So long as FB doesn’t lose its momentum, it’ll be fine. But everyone hits speed-bumps every so often. Generally for Facebook, those have been site redesigns. But there hasn’t been anything unsettling enough to knock off its users; Facebook is keeping decent pace. But if it wants to avoid becoming the next MySpace, it must always be wary of grinding to that same standstill.

    Possibly. But what if it introduced a search engine or better still partnered with an existing smaller engine like Bing. FB Graph has the data to deliver more directed SERPS than G can based on likes alone. Provided users of FB Have been liking what they actually like, then FB can taker on Google in search. Why haven’t they? Because they need to be careful of exactly what you mention here. Bad press. If FB Search doesn’t work and doesn’t work as well as Google search, from the outset, then it will be a white elephant and will battle to rebound. But watch this space carefully, it is inevitable. Better to partner with Bing though then try and re-create the wheel.

    avatar Vince Ginsburg says:

    An interesting notion, Facebook and Microsoft definitely have a mutual “enemy” in Google.

    And that could’ve happened more easily in the past, when it was just Zuckerberg. But now that Facebook is a public company the only cooperation we’re likely to see between these two behemoths is if one consumes the other. Which…could happen.

    avatar Anil Pandey says:

    I agree with Vince. What goes up, must come down. It would be hard to find something which was the best, is the best, and will be the best. Earlier, Yahoo was THE search engine, now see where it is. Off late there have been reports that a Russian search engine has over taken Bing+Yahoo. Social networking term revolved around MySpace. I doubt now many even know such a thing existed. Sure, Facebook is the king now. But is it the end of the world now? No. Someday, a better, leaner, and more attractive site may come up. And as rightly brought out, all you need is just the initial lot of people to migrate. Rest all just follow suit. The primary reason of any social networking site is to stay connected to friends and family. If they go, you follow. Simple. It is just a matter of time. Even now, there have been many reports of people quitting Facebook.

    avatar Vince Ginsburg says:

    There are always people getting mad at Facebook for some number of reasons (usually privacy or redesign-related) but these dissenters usually aren’t worth much notice.

    As I wrote in the article, it’s not about people quitting Facebook, it’s about social circles quitting Facebook. Mini-cultures and microcosm societies. If Facebook suddenly became “uncool” then every popular high-schooler would stop using it, and consequently soon enough EVERY high-schooler would stop using it. That’s a huge blow (coincidentally, it was the surge of pre-college use that put Facebook on the map).

    avatar Nene says:

    I think Pheed will do well. Have you checked it out? It’s like a cooler FB with the feel of Twitter. I’m ready for something new, and have a idea.

    avatar Vince Ginsburg says:

    Pheed is one of many. And some of these alternatives will stick, and others won’t.

    The situation is honestly very fickle; what may be objectively a great social network site just fizzles for any number of reasons. Sometimes people get into it, sometimes they don’t.

    At this point, all Facebook-competitors are best off waiting. And if they’re start-ups, they should hope their innovative ideas and technologies warrant a buyout from one of the existing big dogs. Hard to swallow, but that’s the present reality.

    The only other thing to wait for is, really, the next game changer.

    avatar Local Builders says:

    Agree with Anil. What goes up must come down. History says that there are no empires that last forever. Facebook is without a doubt the roman empire of social media sites at the moment. The question is has it enjoyed the hey days already? Probably not but the crumblings of a revolt are certainly being heard. As more changes are added to drive investor profits and less focus is put on the end user there is a Risk FB will fall fast. Who will be the up and comer? only time will tell I think

    avatar Vince Ginsburg says:

    Zuckerberg didn’t get to where he is by being an idiot. While he no longer has full control over his company, so long as he remains influential within it he’ll push for keeping Facebook on the edge of development. The man is a geek and a computer engineer; he personally wouldn’t settle for less. He lives to push the envelope.

    So long as Facebook carries that ethos it’ll remain adaptable. The minute its flexibility becomes rigid due to business interests is the moment it starts down the same road as MySpace.

    avatar JP Vanir says:

    I am waiting for the death of lame FB because it is so simple and annoying but I guess that’s what people like. I have always referred to FB as the myspace for dummies, lol. Sigh, I guess lameness rules, people want stupid crap and I stick around cause I want to stay connected to my friends ect…

    avatar Vince Ginsburg says:

    There exists a careful line between “so simple my grandparents can use it” and “so simplistic I can’t do what I want with it.”

    Granted, true power-users will never be satisfied, and some luddites just will never get it.

    Where Facebook runs the danger of becoming the next MySpace is if they lose focus of why people use their site. Should the FB interface becomes too burdened with ads, basic functionality gets buried or removed, etc. these are all “increasing levels of resistance” to a user trying to use Facebook. After awhile, the returns diminish and using Facebook becomes more trouble than its worth. That’s what happened to MySpace.

    The most frustrating thing for me and many others is that Facebook (and Linkedin) have never allowed users to drag and drop or reorder employment. It becomes a problem when a user has more than one position such as a volunteer position. I have 3 current paid positions and 2 volunteer positions and I want to choose the order in which they are displayed. I’m waiting for a competitor to do that since Facebook and Linkedin never have.

    avatar Vince Ginsburg says:

    Actually LinkedIn updated their profile functionality to allow you to re-order your career experience. Unfortunately that ability has yet to reach Facebook.

    Frankly though, for a detail as important as that, you’re better off relying on LinkedIn rather than Facebook in order to best convey your professional background and status. Remember, Facebook is your (professionally presented) personal life; LinkedIn is your professional history and resume.

    LinkedIn is an excellent example of a competitor that found its own niche, and can therefore successfully coexist alongside Facebook. Both have distinct dominant spheres of influence, so there’s little awkwardness or conflict in using both.

    avatar VizFact says:

    Facebook isn’t going anywhere. Its a public utility and a birthright.

    G+ is cumbersome and nowhere near as fun, plugged in, or friendly as Facebook. Plus, Google almost forces you to use it.

    I always thought that Google should have packed more social networking features into YouTube, which is the only social networking platform that has a chance of competing with Facebook.

    avatar Vince Ginsburg says:

    Unfortunately, while Facebook may be “owned” by the “public” it’s far from a public utility. It’s on the stock market, it’s subject to the whims of the profit-hungry now. If anything, Twitter is more of a public utility; world governments insisted it delay its own maintenance schedule just to keep the Arab Spring going.

    While I agree that Google+ is far from as good or as integrated as it ought to be, and that it definitely isn’t the “Facebook killer” that it was so touted as being, Facebook is far from bulletproof. MySpace certainly wasn’t. Microsoft wasn’t. Enron wasn’t.

    “Too big to fail” is a lie. The only instance of something being too big to fail is when it absolutely MUST be artificially kept afloat in order to potential stave off a worse fallout, like the auto manufacturer bail-outs. But is that a compliment to the foundation of a company and how it runs itself? Hardly.

    Facebook is presently king, and may have a lengthy and vibrant reign. But no king rules forever.

    avatar humayun says:

    this is 100% true i like Facebook and Facebook is the top social media used by every one every one.

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