Shifting Sands: The Fall of Facebook and Twitter?

Facebook and Twitter – the twin Goliaths of social media. In the past few years, any talk of social media marketing has been dominated by the two online brands – especially in the Southeast Asian region where these properties have dominated traffic. However, this will change in the coming years.

Why So Dominating?

Of course, any savvy digital marketer would know that Facebook and Twitter are not the sum total of the social media universe. However, due to the sheer gravity of the traffic to these two sites, most marketers have been focused on building a presence and media on these two properties and efforts on other smaller social media sites have at best been explored by the brave few brands and marketers that are adventurous.

And it’s hard to argue with the numbers. According to Quantcast, Facebook has 143 million monthly visitors, Twitter has 91 million – compared with Pinterest (the next nearest competitor) at 56 million. You can see Zipf’s Law at work here, where the number one far outstrips the competitors by a long shot. Google+ logs in at an estimated 61 million visitors in March 2012, according to Mashable (caveat is that Google+ traffic is hard to estimate due to its rollup into

Subsequent reasoning becomes straightforward – simple marketing prioritization. Budgets are limited, marketers have to choose, and the clearest way forward is to go with the publisher with the widest audiences. This of course works in the old mode of marketer philosophy of mass “push” communication hearkening back to the days of TV and print advertising. In that world, the audience numbers make the biggest difference.

However, I believe in the next two years, we will see a seismic shift in brands’ usage of social media, driven by factors including the following that I will be exploring:

  1. Cost
  2. Engagement needs

The Price Isn’t Right

If there is one thing that is fueling the shift to digital marketing, it is cost effectiveness. Digital marketing has long used the mantra of cost effectiveness to get itself into the marketing budgets. This in turn has fueled ever more complex advertising technology such as real-time bidding and ad retargeting to name but a few.

And this factor I believe will also fuel the shift in social media marketing behavior. Simply put, the costs of engagement are getting ever higher on Facebook and Twitter. CPCs on Facebook are increasing simply as a factor of demand for one thing (as more competition gets onto Facebook, this drives up prices across the board). In fact, a TBG Digital study indicated that Facebook CPCs increased by 58 percent over the second quarter of 2012.

Another reason feeding the increase in costs is the maturing audience. Consumers, to generalize a little bit, don’t really appreciate force-fed advertising, and you don’t need any data beyond the existence of the AdBlock application to see that holds some truth. As demonstrated by the Banner Blindness phenomenon, users consciously or sub-consciously learn to ignore ad formats in any form, and this includes the sifting out of any information (tweets, status updates) that reeks of brand-related, selling information.

This in turn means that marketers will have to spend more on creating specialized campaigns and applications just to maintain the attention of the already information overloaded consumer.

Ultimately, this will cause marketers to explore new avenues of reaching out to consumers as they try to optimize cost effectiveness in terms of the number of consumers they actually reach. The result will be the shift to cheaper ad formats and more specialized social media channels (such as Google+, which seems to have a more niche audience currently, and Pinterest).

Engagement Needs

Which leads us neatly to the next factor – different verticals have rather different dynamics when it comes to engagement with their audience. Where their audiences hang out is different. The way they need to showcase their products is different as well.

For example, a retail brand would probably find it more effective to showcase their product visually where a B2B brand might find greater effectiveness in trying to present complicated abstract information (e.g., financial instruments) in a compelling manner – content vs. visuals, if you will allow me to over-simplify it.

This will mean that, sooner or later, a one-solution-fits-all mentality will fail. Facebook has long recognized that judging from the plethora of new ad formats and opportunities that pop up every few months. What this means for the future is that brands will start exploring and taking advantage of newer platforms that are currently nascent, or will appear from the horizon in the future – especially when audiences start exploring new ways of sharing and connecting with their friends.

In fact, it has already started to happen with Pinterest, Foursquare, Facebook check-ins, etc. – all platforms that address very specific needs of both the audience and brands on top of a social graph.

Where Will We Go?

The upshot of this is that now is the perfect time to start investing marketing budgets in alternative platforms that suit your needs, both in the search for greater cost effectiveness and engagement effectiveness.

Facebook and Twitter aren’t going away (although admittedly the title might have been a bit of a hyperbole) and are still vital in the digital mix. However, for effectively engaging the digital audience, they are no longer enough. The audiences knows this sub-consciously as evidenced by the increase in usage of alternatives, and next year I believe that we will see the tipping point where a majority of brand marketers will start to realize this consciously.

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