50th St. Gallen Symposium "Freedom Revisited": 7–8 May 2020


Burst of the social bubble: A marketing lesson for businesses

When talking about the theory of disruption across various sectors, one cannot help but agree that the technology sector is the most susceptible to the management theory propounded by Clayton Christensen. In a field where innovation is the name of the game, disruption is the norm; rather than the exception.

Consider the smartphone market, where products run the risk of being disrupted even before they seep into the mainstream consumer market. Mobile companies have barely been able to bring out fingerprint sensors (pioneered by Apple) across all their latest offerings; but now have to contend with wireless charging / no analogue headphone jack (also an Apple innovation).

Given these characteristics, the cause behind the disruption in the (technology-oriented) social media sector becomes all the more peculiar; in that the disruption has been behaviour-oriented, rather than innovation driven.

Social media, as we know it, is fading into obscurity. The general tendency to share and have a ubiquitous presence has been ousted by the need for a direct and more personalised experience.

The disruption has been behaviour-oriented, rather than innovation driven

Messaging is the new social media. Families now use WhatsApp instead of Facebook. Millennials and teenagers, eye-candy of the “social media” companies, have shunned Facebook for more conversational platforms like Snapchat and Instagram (especially its Direct Messaging feature). Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp was the coming-of-age moment of this trend.

It’s no coincidence, then, that the very companies that proclaimed themselves within the social media bracket are now eager to shed that tag.

Snapchat (now Snap Inc) has been striving to shed its image of ‘just another social network’ that failed to mature beyond its core use. Rather than being labelled a platform, Snapchat is projecting itself as a camera company.

Mission statements across Snap inc’s job listings now read as follows: “We believe that reinventing the camera represents our greatest opportunity to improve the way people live and communicate”.

Twitter is changing the way it acknowledges itself before the public; now marketing itself as a news service. In a memo sent to Twitter staff (October, 2016), CEO Jack Dorsey called the service the “People’s News Network.”

These reforms have also offset parallel changes as to how businesses now perceive social media for building their brands; shifting from publishing to conversations as they look to engage both potential and existing consumers.Companies need to consider how they talk ‘with’ customers, and not ‘to’ them.

Facebook, having anticipated this paradigm shift, has stayed ahead of the curve by integrating business elements across its leading product, Messenger. With over 900 million people using the product globally (by company estimates), Facebook has launched Messenger Platform, where companies can provide services integrated in the product (Messenger), enhancing the conversation experience of their customers.

Additionally, Messenger Platform gives businesses as well as developers liberty to embed additional UI elements inside the consumer and user threads; be it intent capture or even receipts, shipping notifications and flight updates. But even then, the most important takeaway is that businesses can initiate post-transaction conversations with their customers.

Social for business: going forward

While Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages will continue to be a concern for businesses; it stands to reason that businesses seeking ROI (read: every single company) will need to plan their marketing strategy around conversational platforms.

Concluding with what forms the crux of the theory of disruption, the process of new entrants challenging the dominance of incumbents is evident none more so than in the world of social media.

As Mark S. Luckie (former manager of news and journalism, Twitter) put it: