Social Media: Will Anybody Topple The Big 4?

You might answer yes simply due to the fact that if I’d written this just a few years ago I’d be asking “Will Anybody Topple The Big 3?”

I would of course have been talking about Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

But now there are 4: I think we can add Google+.

The reason I think it would be wrong to say “if Google can do it then so can others” is, well, it’s Google, isn’t it.

For anybody else to topple these social media giants would be quite a feat.

Friendster, MySpace and Friends Reunited were all big players in this industry at one point in time, but these sites don’t compare to the likes of Facebook.

These mega social media sites have carved out their place and identity.

Tendrils Everywhere

Because of the inter-connectedness of the web these days they have their tendrils everywhere and continue to proliferate through growth hacking via their API’s, social sharing buttons and other by-products.

It’s because of all of these tendrils, growth-hacking and user-driven nature of these platforms that I wonder whether any of these sites will be surpassed by a replacement.

Personally, I don’t think Facebook even treats it’s users very well and hasn’t done so for some time, though they have the size and capacity to change that and bury some of the poorly communicated changes, u-turns and downright bad decisions of the past.

The question is, does it need to? The platform is set up in such a way now that however mis-managed the core is, the value generated by it’s user base makes up for it.

Who Cares?

If you’re not so much into social media, you might well say “Who Cares?”

Back in 2009 – that’s 4 years ago – which is a LONG time in internet technology land time – Clay Shirky said that “the moment we’re living through is the largest increase in expressive capability in human history”.

Some interesting points in that talk – which I added particularly because of the date – remember, this is 4 years ago. A lot has happened in the online networking and collaboration space in those 4 years (aside from Google+ really establishing itself alongside the other three big social media sites).

In case you’d still rather ignore social media sites, I just wonder if we’re starting to reach a time when it’s becoming impossible to ignore social media.

We already know that if you’re a business and you ‘don’t do’ social media, you’re customers do.

Maybe individuals can still ignore social media then, but businesses can’t. Particularly not big B2C businesses.

There are actually thousands of platforms and applications that have a social media element or would even call themselves social media sites, but the thing that I find interesting about these really big sites is the extent to which they are actually changing the way we interact (network) with each other.

Back To The Question…

When MySpace was top dog it didn’t have Like buttons or anything similar all over the web, it didn’t have such user-driven content shared as widely as via the Facebook ‘Wall’ and it didn’t have a mature API for developers to extend the platform for free.

So it was toppled by a smarter model.

The good news is that there are plenty of opportunities for a new start-up to rocket to super-stardom by following similar principles. Look at the growth of Dropbox for an easy example.

I just wonder if in 5 years time the big 4 will still be the biggest 4 social media platforms and if so, how much further they will influence the way we interact (network) online.

What do you think?


Social Media: Will Anybody Topple The Big 4? — 25 Comments

  1. No one is safe, no one is too big to fail and vanish. Every forgets that MySpace was the in thing, now it is niche site for artist. As technology changes new opportunities arise. Facebook and Twitter barely work on the technology we have now, they would have been impossible ten years ago. Moores law means some lucky person can have startup which will leap frog twitter, Facebook and the rest. This is not the end, this is only the very start.

    • Wow Everton, now that is a really interesting comment.

      What about the fact that Facebook permeates everywhere with their opengraph, api’s, like buttons etc? Are you basically saying that with advances in technology, this kind of permeation is going to be increasingly easy even for small startups so not such a competitive advantage anymore?

      The other thing which becomes easier when we add a little networking and technological advances is JVs (joint ventures) – so for example a company with a bright idea could join together a company with reach and a company with big data to topple or at least compete with some of the giants.

      What do you think?

      • We think the primary purpose of all these socialmedia things is networking! This is of course like a trojan horse it is only the secondary thing, the investers in facebook, twitter, linkedin are not hippies. The primary purpose is to provide a method for businesses like retailers to identify the probablity that some one buy a certain product and to target that person. This what comes under the heading of big data. Companies are willing to pay alot of money for this information. This is like jobserver (and lately linkedin) charging huge amounts of money daily for desperate recruitment agents to access and search CV stored on jobserve, clients get to post for free, get alerts and all kind of services. Jobserve also allows companies to advertise to jobserve clients in a targeted way.
        This targeting is now the really purpose, and any company that can use technology in provable way to better provide information for better targeting will win.

        • I do think that some of them may have started out with that primary purpose, but you’re right – they have all cottoned on to the power of big data whether or not that was the idea in the first place.

          It’s hard to quantify the value of data – but one thing’s for sure, it does have value. Look at the fluctuations that happened when FB went public – that’s because it couldn’t be valued by traditional measures.

          I think twitter did well because they are simpler and clearer in what function they actually provide.

  2. Be interesting to see where Facebook go. Annoying pages right now with their algorithm and people are looking elsewhere and focusing on things like building their list to gain independence from the fickleness of social media.

    Instagram is where the kids go but it will be someone else pretty quick – it is a full-time to job to stay on top of it.

    • Yes, it amazes me – just a personal opinion, but I think for a company with that scale and such a popular idea from the start, Facebook have really terrible customer service.

      In an age wher companies like Amazon and Zappos are showing that it’s all about the customer.

      Is it the fickleness of social media or the fickleness of Facebook – i.e. technically I suppose all social media is fickle and could change the rules at any time, but I don’t see any of the other social media companies really punishing their users in this way – e.g. algorithm changes which aim to get more people paying for reach but have the obvious result of stopping people from seeing what they’ve requested to be part of (seeing updates from a page they’ve ‘Liked’).

      Maybe Facebook just made it really obvious that you don’t own their platform (time and time again) so they did us all a favor really 🙂

  3. Good point about maybe they have done us a favor. I have really got the message that building an email list is the way of independence and control over my own destiny and have started to make plans to really focus on it next year.

    • Good idea – looking after & growing your client list (which is basically what an email list is, even if they are clients of your free content) is always going to be a good move.

      I suppose technically that is still not your platform assuming that you use something like Mailchimp or Aweber, but at least you could re-use your list elsewhere if you needed to. It’s your list of contacts.

      Facebook schmacebook.

  4. In the next five years, we might have big 5 or perhaps it might go back to big 3, who knows?

    But, changes will be happening a lot faster.

    Ah, yes, about Facebook, they are not really doing a good job of treating their users (I understand their greed to make more money, but not caring about users, well, that’s just going to end up as a disaster).

    I am planning to reduce my efforts on FB, particularly since Facebook has made it clear that they don’t care about small businesses (I am going to spend that time on Twitter and Google Plus :D).

    Interesting post, Alan 🙂 Thanks for the share!

    • This is nothing new from Facebook – they started doing this quite some time ago and back then I had this idea that one day Mark Zuckerberg should wake up to a completely empty Facebook and say “Where did everybody go?”

      Now that would be really funny.

      People are fickle though – with so many users and so much data they have plenty of time to turn it around and people will forget (sadly).

      • Yeah, people just get used to it (I think that’s the biggest problem with our world. We just get used to everything, instead of taking action).

        Take for instance: we are very eager to discuss about the shortcomings of our governments. But, how many of us are willing to take real action (how many of us do?)

        • I just recently learned that Facebook (and also Google and Microsoft) are now buying up the actual infrastructure which delivers our internet ( – go figure.

          There is something scary about the way we get used to ‘Terms & Conditions’ and blindly click ‘Agree’ without reading any of it. That’s not even the tip of the iceberg in terms of the actual problem – the actual problem is in the secondary use of the data collected by firms such as Facebook which is often very different to what you originally consented to.

          Lots of data being shared, harvested and collected these days – lots of firms realizing it’s valuable but lots of them too not knowing exactly the full extent of what it will be used for. That’s the difference in the digital age – the difference between digital and analogue – digital data can be used again and again and again (and be merged, filtered, sorted and cross-referenced with other data sets).

          Now don’t get me started talking about politics Jeevan 😉

          • Oh, boy.

            Pretty soon, these companies will ‘actually’ be controlling the internet (hopefully that won’t happen as the world governments might decide to put some restrictions on them. Hopefully! Or how easy would it be for a company to control this world?Internet is the backbone of 21st century..control that, and you may very well be controlling the whole world).

            Of course, we could live without internet (but, how many people are going to try?). It’s hard to live without it, especially for the younger generations, because a lot of them have been relying on it since their childhood.

            Yes, indeed. I understand the problem of not reading TOS and accepting it blindly…but, still I don’t read it.

            Who has time anyways? They could try and shorten it down to basics, but then there might be other problems.

            I don’t want to go there, either 😉

          • I just noticed that your name is now clickable.

            Awesome. Subtle. Change.


            I’m on my way over… 😉

          • Well, let’s hope that they don’t get to ‘actually’ control the internet & that there are still agencies that can do something about that – perhaps dept of justice, mergers & monopolies commission etc – i.e. looking at antitrust issues etc.

            Also perhaps it only feels like the internet is the backbone of the 21st century, it is certainly very empowering but we must remember that we can live without it too (as you say).

  5. Hey Alan,

    I finally made it by.

    The only thing I know for sure is that everything is constantly changing. It’s evolving, growing, never standing still. Some things are getting bigger and better while others aren’t able to keep up and they fall by the wayside.

    I say never say never. I’ve seen huge corporations that have been around for years fall on their face and close their doors. I use to work for a very very very successful company that specialized in a specific field. The owner wanted to do more though, he didn’t want to just stay in that same area so he branched out.

    He feel flat on his face and took the company down with him. It’s no more and I have no idea what happened to him. No, he was not the size of Google but my point is look at what’s happening to Facebook.

    They went public and now they’re all about the money. They were doing pretty darn good already but they always want more. How will they go about doing that? Well the changes continue to take place and time will tell whether it will be for the best or the worst.

    I think these companies will always have someone wanting to come give them a run for their money as they should. If they hang around long enough they just might get a piece of the pie too, you just never know.

    Thanks for sharing your views and great to see you again. Have a fabulous week.


    • Hi Adrienne,

      I have 5 words to say to you:

      Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry!

      You left this comment ages ago and I haven’t responded until now. First of all sorry (as above) – I have been struggling to find ‘online’ time since the beginning of the year and was also out for most of Feb (skiing in the Alps). Secondly – many thanks for stopping by and for this comment.

      Secondly, thanks for the comment – I agree that no-one is too big to fail but I still do think that companies such as these who have made it a point to be hyper-connected & everywhere with APIs and such. Despite this, I think Facebook are having a pretty good run at spoiling things for themselves. Of course there are business reasons for these changes and it will be interesting to see whether a kind of course-correction happens, whether they lose business because of it or whether people just get used to it and live with it with little to no impact in the end.

      (that’s what interests me on this point anyway…)

      Also, like it or not, social media companies have changed the way lots of people live. Yes, networking is age-old and we can always communicate via other means, but social media has become a very real category of communication on it’s own and along the way influenced and shaped our culture to a certain degree.

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  7. In my Attention Theory of 2004, attention is proposed to replace money as the primary currency for the 21st century networking economy.

    I agree with the TED speaker, that only when technology is taken for granted, i.e. has become mainstream, will it have the impact that creates opportunities for number five to topple the big four.

    In my opinion, not only are 2 billion people starving from physical food, but in the western world are billions of people starving from lack of attention.

    I believe the number Five will be the one who understands this need for attention, and finds a way to address this need.

    My attention theory states that there are three ways to create attention:
    (1) Thought creates friction energy;
    (2) Imagination unlocks source energy;
    (3) Alignment creates group energy.

    For those who are looking to become number Five, seek to create an application that facilitates alignment.

    My 2 cents,

    • This is a great comment Ronald & thanks for sharing your views on this.

      I agree 100% that attention is a currency though not sure if it really ‘replaces’ money. The question I’d ask is why do people want attention? Could it be that many marketers seek this as a kind of short term currency (i.e. attention) but that the long term currency they’re after is still money?

      Or do a large enough number of people just want attention for attention’s sake?

      Does attention have the same attributes as money, i.e. can it be traded in the same way etc? Does it need to have? I believe Seth Godin has written a lot also on the ‘attention economy’ and that traditional methods of marketing (‘interruption marketing’) won’t work in today’s information rich world.

      Could reputation also be considered a kind of currency?

      • hi Alan,

        thanks much for your questions.

        may i begin with your first question?
        >> The question I’d ask is why do people want attention?

        i propose that attention is to the mind what food is to the body.
        the terms mind and body are taken from Spinoza’s book Ethics.

        mind and body are – in my theory – bilocality, which means: two apparently opposites that are in fact one and the same area of attention.
        Spinoza understood this phenomenon as “mind and body are two extensions of one and the same essence”.

        so to answer your question, people die unless they digest attention.

        does this make sense?

        best regards, Ron

        • Perfect sense, though surely there are degrees of attention.

          The attention we crave naturally is not the same thing as change in the way people are seeking attention online – there are other drivers at play such as the low barriers to entry for people having an online presence, changes in culture brought about by the emergence of social media which has affected people’s behaviors and perhaps led them to question or re-evaluate how much of ‘them’ they are willing to share publicly, the fact that with significantly more demands on our time (or perceived demands on our time) and more information available generally, attention is harder to get therefore customers are harder to reach, therefore attention becomes a currency perhaps because that’s the only ‘in’ or the most marketers can hope for as they can no longer interrupt people with instant sales messages but have to use the currency of attention first to get their potential customers to know, like and trust them first…

          So yes, ‘people die unless they get attention’ is one way of putting this, but that wasn’t the basis of my question, maybe I should have asked something more like ‘Why do people increassingly want attention (particularly online) over and above the level of attention they need at a basic human level’ (i.e. to such an extent that we can increasingly consider it a currency in our modern world)?’

          – a bit long-winded but hopefully you get my point.

  8. hi Alan,

    thank your for your rephrase of the original question.

    >> Why do people increassingly want attention (particularly online) over and above the level of attention they need at a basic human level

    i am a bit confused now, whether ‘people’ refers to marketers or to customers?

    (1) why do marketers want attention?
    (2) why do customers want attention?

    or perhaps it is the business that wants attention, inviting marketers to get the thing done and collect the attention, and customers or prospects to pay the attention requested?

    can you please rephrase again?


    • Hi Ronald,

      my point was more that there’s more to it. I’m sure there are many reasons people want attention beyond the basic human need for it and depending upon the context of the particular situation.

      It’s a fascinating idea – not just about attention but about how our hyper-connected world is leading to an evolution of our behaviors and how we use those interactions.

  9. hi Alan,

    >> people want attention

    my proposition is that it is not a question of want, it is a life and death situation.

    the customer has 5 coins, and in come 50 or 500 or 5,000 businesses all wanting one or more coins.

    none of these businesses are interested in a revolving attention fund

    after giving one coin away, the customer is left with 4 coins, the business is gone off with the fifth coin, and nobody cares about them

    as if businesses are looking for milk from a cow, and have no clue that the cow needs food in order to produce milk.

    then you get these social media guru’s telling the business that they should feed the cow milk so the cow produces more milk.

    my question is : are we confident that we ask the right question?

    best regards,

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