When trying to spot the “next big thing” in digital, you can use a variety of indicators. One of these is scale. A billion actions once meant a platform had truly arrived and was worth your attention. Now, like the unicorns producing them, this is less meaningful.
Mobile is another indicator that you can use as a guide. It’s easy to forget now, but less than three years ago Facebook generated less than a quarter of its revenue from mobile. Now? 73 percent of the social network’s Q1 2015 revenue was generated from mobile advertising.
One of my personal guides to long-term success is a continuous comparison of the initial expectation a company establishes in the market against the current pattern of usage. For example, when Google began, it was “organizing the world’s information” through a search engine. And for the longest time, Google was a one-trick pony. Mind you, it was an American Pharoah-esque pony printing money as it ran away from the field, but Google equaled search. To some extent, that’s still true as it equates to revenue. However, you cannot deny that the original perception of Google as a search engine has finally been laid to rest.
When looking at today’s market, three different digital media companies stand out – with varying degrees of success – as breaking beyond initial expectations of their platforms’ trajectory:
Anybody who reads my columns knows I am infinitely fascinated by the potential of Snapchat. It checks the box on scale, mobile, and in my opinion, also on exceeding the natural expectations of what the platform could be. For some, Snapchat will forever be the teen sexting app. At best, it is seen as a youth-driven messaging app designed to erase memories from public record, as soon as friends consumed them.
However, it’s clear that ambitions have grown. Whether or not the Discover feature finds a dedicated audience and establishes itself as a new storytelling platform for brands, remains to be seen. What is certain is the trajectory of expectations has changed and bears consideration.
I don’t think a platform has emerged in the last few years that has done more to reset expectations of its potential trajectory than Pinterest: a female-focused, digital version of pushpin-filled corkboards – or at least, that’s where it started. But audience influence in conjunction with the new ability to drive social commerce has given birth to a new sales tool for brands and a discovery engine for all – not just women. With mobile usage driving a new one-click economy, Pinterest appears well positioned to dramatically outpace its original trajectory with a new revenue model.
This brings us to Twitter. Twitter began as a micro-messaging platform enabling discovery and discussion. And today? Twitter is a micro-messaging platform enabling discovery and discussion. This is what makes the platform both brilliant and maddening. The reason a couple hundred million people love the platform is the same reason all the other people who use Facebook but not Twitter have no apparent interest in joining in. Twitter’s strategy for solving this problem appears to not be focused on actually solving it, but rather to use the data from the platform to deliver audience engagement across the Internet. That may prove to be the right monetization play, but the trajectory – no matter how good – remains the same.
Why Should This Matter to You?
There is no shortage of companies that can be viewed through this lens: Instagram, Oculus, Flipboard, any number of video platforms, and a host of messaging companies. As you understand your own company objectives, it becomes easier to apply this lens to the consideration process. Platforms that evolve become more appealing. Those remaining static to original perceptions or that fail to exceed the trajectory test, get left behind.
Homepage image via Shutterstock.
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