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Facebook’s greatest enemy

3 min read

Marketing Strategy

Is Facebook so dominant that no other social network can touch it?

Dan Whitcomb compares the company to the QWERTY keyboard and other enduring technologies that persisted long after better ideas came and went. I appreciate the analogy, but I don’t think likening Facebook to QWERTY is an apple-to-apple comparison. QWERTY isn’t tied to a company. It survived the rise of typewriters, mainframes, PCs, laptops and smartphones precisely because anyone could use it. In that sense, QWERTY is more like social media as a concept.

Facebook is just a technology company. Companies fail all the time. Facebook’s size is unquestionably a competitive advantage. But does Facebook’s market share make it invulnerable?

I think the answer to that question is ultimately up to Facebook. Its size will protect it from me-too competitors and minor improvements — no one is going to dislodge it by just building a slightly better mousetrap. As I see it, there three things that can threaten it:

  • The company does something so boneheaded that users’ outrage overcomes their inertia. We’re not talking about a privacy-settings change or an ill-advised comment by the CEO. We’re talking about a New Coke-level gaffe.
  • There’s a fundamental culture shift that makes its product less relevant. For an example of this, look at the video game market in the early 1980s. When gaming became less popular, it weakened Atari, the reigning market champ, and opened the door to innovative competitors.
  • There’s a technological innovation that completely changes the marketplace. Think about what broadband did to AOL or what the rise of the easy-to-share MP3 format did to the music industry.

Those first two scenarios aren’t incredibly likely, but they are always possible. The third one is guaranteed to happen — but it might take a year or it could take a century. There’s no way of really knowing. In any case, it’s important to remember that none of these scenarios destroys Facebook. Each one just takes it down a peg or two and makes room for competitors.

It’s also important to understand that how Facebook reacts to these scenarios will determine their eventual impact. The company’s ability to maintain its advantage is tied to its ability to roll with the punches. As consumers, we shouldn’t be looking for the next Facebook. We should be looking for the next incarnation of social media.

Is Facebook “locked in” to our lives? What kind of innovation would it take to dislodge it? Is that kind of stability good or bad?

Image credit, tacojim, via iStock