A Possible Facebook & Twitter Bubble?

Girl Blowing BubblesIn business, when is too much of a good thing just that: too much? More precisely, when it comes to online marketing for small businesses, when does too much reliance on the powers of Facebook and Twitter start to become a detriment to the long-term success of your business? Or even a bubble you should watch out for?

I’ve been giving this some considerable thought over the past few weeks. It always starts with a brief realization that despite the numerous marketing benefits of both platforms, each seems to be a bit overleveraged and oversaturated in terms of their true marketing benefits for small-business owners. In a world of 50 millions tweets per day and 100-plus million global users (only a fraction of whom are actually active), are we, as marketers, overemphasizing the benefits of Facebook and Twitter to the detriment of small businesses we represent?

I was reminded of this thought the other day by a comment from Eric Goldstein, CEO of the social commentary platform Almplify, when he randomly posed the question: “I wonder if we’ll look back on these days and realize there was a Facebook and Twitter bubble.”

Goldstein continued:

“I’m thinking of it from the user perspective. I can’t help but think that both Twitter and Facebook are services that started as ways for individuals to communicate with each other and now they are rapidly becoming platforms for marketers to reach customers. While this has thus far seemed to cause little friction, I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point, people look for other places to hang out. Not necessarily predicting they will, just saying I wouldn’t be surprised.”

From someone who runs a social network himself, that’s a pretty powerful question, as one commenter mused. But it also speaks volumes about the state of social marketing now that Facebook has nearly 500 million global users, Twitter’s seen as a savior for the cash- and time-strapped small business owner and some pundits are even calling for businesses to literally dump their company’s websites in favor of an all-Facebook and all-Twitter platform for their company.

All that begs the question: What happens if these platforms fail? Or, perhaps just as worse, what if they are subject to a massive virus attack?

Don’t laugh quite yet. Nothing truly lasts forever, and the digital age has already proven itself to be quite fleeting. If a small business wouldn’t put all of its marketing dollars and resources into a single offline strategy (say, direct mail), instead, opting to diversify its efforts with multiple offline marketing strategies and tools in case one doesn’t quite pan out, then why would it make sense to do so with your online and social marketing efforts?

It’s becoming fairly clear to those of us who work in the tech and and media industries that Facebook and Twitter are locked in a massive battle for the world’s social media and online advertising/marketing attention, and while Facebook has the upper-hand at the moment, who’s to say this competitive battle won’t leave both social networks on life support? And if that happens, do you really want to have all of your online/social marketing efforts tied to just those two platforms?

I’m certainly not saying Facebook or Twitter don’t have a place in a small business’ marketing plans. They absolutely do, as each offers tremendous resources and a vast audience to build a brand digitally, but at the end of the day, I would simply advise against thinking either can be a one-stop marketing shop for your brand. Truly great marketing, whether offline or online, requires a unique mix of several different channels tailored to your company’s individual audiences and business goals.

And that right mix may or may not need to include a sole reliance on Facebook and/or Twitter.

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  • And if I might add- if anyone uses Twitter regularly, they'll know how unreliable it is with it's over capacity “whale fails” all the time. Maybe once it becomes more consistent, then it can be considered in becoming a major part of businesses' marketing.

  • keithtrivitt

    Lauren – Excellent point, and one that I frankly can't believe I left out of this post! Caroline McCarthy at CNET wrote about Twitter's big capacity issues at the moment, noting that Twitter insiders are saying this month has been the worst for functionality and capacity since the middle of last year http://ht.ly/1ZcPo

    The big issue with that is that the middle of last year is right when Twitter was experiencing its massive consumer and business growth, so those capacity issues were understandable. Now, as it tries to implement mainstream sponsored tweets, an ad platform, etc., it's having the exact same capacity issues, and while its user numbers are still growing at a pretty robust rate, it's certainly not seeing the same massive month-over-month growth it was seeing during 2009 when the Fail Whale was a common occurrence. So, what's causing all of these issues, and again, it goes back to the main point of my post: If Twitter can go down almost daily due to capacity issues, why would any business want to place a significant amount of its resources into a marketing channel so unreliable?

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  • jeffespo

    One of the things that I preach when talking to folks about the power of social media is that it will not replace traditional marketing channels. Instead it is a support channel.

    All of the reasons that you state above and Lauren added are valid. The space is not 100% reliable, therefore putting all of your eggs in the basket because it is cheap is a very flawed model.

    I see SM as I do PR a support the business model rather than something to blow it out and save some Benjamins.

  • Keith, another great post that caught my eye bright and early this morning, and sorry I'm just now commenting. I completely agree with Jeff and Lauren – and not just because Jeff is a Sox fan and Lauren is my real-life best friend 🙂 – but the important thing for companies, especially small businesses, to understand is that Twitter and Facebook are just tactics that can be used as part of an overarching strategy. New social networks and tools pop up daily and no one can predict what will be here in 10 years and which of those will be completely reliable, but social media is most likely here to stay so it's important for business owners and PR pros to understand the concept behind these platforms – what exactly makes sites like Twitter and Facebook so popular, and are those concepts important to my target audiences? If so, then these tools are at least worth pursuing.

    The biggest thing I always tell clients is that they shouldn't be on Facebook or Twitter just to be there – but that they need to understand how these tools fit into the big picture, and whether the time and financial investment is worth it.

    Great convo, everyone!

  • keithtrivitt

    Jeff – Damn, I could not have said any of this better myself. Fantastic perspective in your comment, and thank you very much for that. You're very right that social media, PR and other communications channels are just that – channels of a much broader business and marketing strategy, and they should be seen as such.

    The big problems arise when companies see certain channels – such as Twitter and Facebook – as a cheap and fast cure-all for their marketing plans, failing to realize that in the offline world, they rarely – if ever – rely on one or two marketing platforms, so why would you do the same with your online marketing?

  • jeffespo

    No clue, but there are suckers born every minute too.

    I think the big picture that companies need to realize is that slow and steady wins the race in communications and community building.