Every wise investor knows you should never over-commit to building property on land you do not own. It’s a simple, understandable concept, yet each year companies spend billions of Dollars building branded properties on social platforms they do not own without even considering the risks.
You would think that betting on Facebook is a safe move. It’s the biggest social network by numbers and usage, and definitely attracts the vast majority of ‘social’ conversation. Facebook is a thing of wonder – hardly past it’s seventh birthday it has every global brand investing billions of dollars to create brand pages in the hope of capturing the attention of it’s 1.1 billion users.
That’s a massive potential audience that can’t be ignored, but going after those users has its risks. The biggest of which is the future of Facebook itself.
Few marketers dare to face the question of whether Facebook will be around in the near future, or if it is still around, whether it will still hold such influence. By not asking these questions, marketers are taking on the risk that their ever-increasing investments in building their Facebook properties will deliver diminishing returns.
What happens to all those fans you earned / bought if Facebook is no more? All that content you created and shared? You can’t be so naïve as to think that Facebook will be around forever. Think MySpace, twice.
The cracks are beginning to show – reports of users leaving and Facebook ‘fatigue’ setting in among teens are worrying enough before you consider the increasing rise in popularity of a host of other networks. It may not be enough to make you panic, but it’s enough to make you think.
Regardless of your or my opinion on the future of Facebook, you have to start considering a future without it. Social networking is here to stay, but it doesn’t mean that Facebook is. Or Twitter or Instagram for that matter. All these networks are businesses and, as such, are susceptible to user and market changes. And when the users and markets change, what will you do with your multi-billion Dollar skyscraper that you’ve build on land owned by another business?
It is old knowledge that answers this new question – own the land upon which you build. In practical terms, businesses should be exploring and investing in their own online properties, building their own communities and, instead of over investing, start using the likes of Facebook as a marketing opportunity designed to share content you’ve already published and to attract audience back to your own property.
As the social networks fight it out for share of attention, as young upstarts dethrone 7 year old stalwarts, and as users jump from one cool thing to the next, you get to separate yourself from all of this change, focus on building your own(ed) communities, and use the dominant social networks as harvesting grounds for your content. Let them take the risk, you take the reward.