Do You Remember Friendster?

When I was starting out in digital marketing, Friendster was the social network of the time. With exponential growth rates and a new format for interaction, it was the buzz of the industry. Now go to Friendster.com. Take a minute. Do it. It’s a little different from what we remember from yesteryears. The business model has obviously changed. Friendster is more focused on casual/social gaming, having clearly stepped away from the social network of the past.

Change continues to happen around us, yet we as developers, marketers, and digital practitioners are wed to current models. The truth, however, remains that the word “current” is one of the most fleeting and transient terms of today. What will remain “current” will only do so for a short period of time. Technology lifecycles change so quickly that it’s often hard for us to remember what was common just a few years ago.

One thing I do remember: A few years ago people were obsessed with Second Life. It was a platform that allowed consumers to create and customize the world of an online avatar. Even Dwight from The Office had an avatar, Dwight Shelford. American Apparel built a Second Life store. Intel had a massive Second Life command center. We as marketers reacted to the current platform of the day and built on top of it without any clear rationale. To this day, I still don’t understand the return on investment (ROI) of building on Second Life (other than the potential PR value). Yet we did it – we entered the fray because that was what was common. That was the platform of the day.

Life and the way we interact with technology in our lives can change overnight. TV, radio, and traditional media outlets took years, often decades, to receive significant audience or reader traction. Facebook took only nine months. The human capacity to flourish has never before encountered the amount of acceleration that we see today. Yet it is conditioned in human interactions to only react to what’s “current.” Human nature tends toward tunnel vision. We react to current conditions because that is all we know.

So what do we do in this world of constant change?

Within this sea of change, there is a constant force. Though platforms change and modes of interaction iterate, themes around human behavior and sentiment shift at a slower rate. People will always aim to find love, we will seek unbiased information, we will yearn for community and create stages for self-expression. The platforms in which we perform these functions may shift, the speeds at which we deliver this information may shift, but the basic human need is not shifting at the rates dictated by Moore’s Law.

When engaging, we need to look at the root of our digital strategy. Are we planning against a fleeting platform or are we planning against the human need? Many of the brands I interact with every day start their planning process against platforms: What is our plan for Twitter strategy? What is our Facebook strategy? What is our app strategy for Apple? What we should be doing is planning against need states. The questions should be: What is our plan for helping consumers find the information they are looking for? How are we helping people build interpersonal relationships around our brands?

Planning around need-states and not platforms seems simple and obvious, yet very few brands actually do it because they are so focused on the current means and not the reason. If more brands planned around need states it would shift focus from current condition. It would force brands to explore new mediums of interaction. Brands should experiment with how human behavior and sentiment may be expressed in the future.

What we must come to terms with moving forward is the practice of predicting and planning against needs not platforms – more so now than ever. We need to build on behavior and use this knowledge to plan for what’s possible vs. constantly reacting to what is directly in front of us.

Image via Shutterstock.

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