Social Media Quagmire

What happens when you build your business around a technology that disappears overnight? What happens when you build a client base, a pool of prospective clients or an otherwise niche demographic that is dependent on some other third party?

Many times it works out. Effective consultants have built their business on less than reliable third party access. However, there is an inherent risk that your way of life can change without any influence from you.

While Pownce has announced they are closing their doors (And we don’t really believe anyone outside of the Pownce four-some have built any kind of living around the microblogging service), I wonder what it would do to businesses built on the premise of Pownce availability?

The same goes for Twitter, where people have made an entire consultation around the use of Twitter. But what happens when Twitter goes away (and Twitter will go away at some point, undeniably without consultation with these consultants building their business on its existence)?

What happens when you as a consultant are hired to provide surefire, highly effective social media routines that will have a 95% possibility for 3-6 month positive effect on the growth and you recommend Twitter? And Twitter becomes 80% unreliable for an entire month, as it did in June and July?

What happens in a dying economy when companies want real returns and all you can give them is conversations with potential clients, and you have no solid way to convert those conversations into real customers?

Food for thought…

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

16 thoughts on “Social Media Quagmire

  1. I completely agree! That is why you should carve a niche out of social media and become an expert on an aspect of it. It is not a good idea to become an expert on a single network or application.

  2. Hey man,

    Your words may be wiser that you know.

    A simpler way to put it…although everybody would glaze over it…is: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”.

    Social media sites are tools. Use them in your business but make sure your business isn’t depending on it soley.

    I don’t think Pownce is going away…they just say that they are changing. But that change can be serious if you’ve built everything around their existing link structure. Imagine having hundreds of blogs all pointing to a domain that will not longer work. THATS building your house on a sand foundation.

    As a business, maybe you should consider linking to your OWN servers that redirect links. Make sure you have a system where it’s easy to change 3rd party links when they do change.

  3. I think there’s a more subtle problem in there too… Talk is great, but unless there’s a strong correlation – and ideally real causation – between those conversations and actual sales, it’s going to get even messier for those consultants.

  4. This is why you need to cover all your bases. Get in early and often on every new technology start-up. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve joined a service purely on the basis that it was mentioned sporadically…the risk is small. The reward can be great. Getting in on the ground floor of a service and riding it till it fails or succeeds is essential. Yes…some will obviously fail, but what most of us wouldn’t do for being on Digg in 2004 or Twitter at SXSW?

  5. A thought provoking post.

    You talk about needing more than conversations, etc. and showing ROI. Well, what if the Motrin folks had hired a Social Media expert, it’s a big leap, but you could suggest they might have avoided the debacle that has definitely hit them where it hurts, sales.

    As for services changing, etc. this is why I’m enjoying seeing tools that allow meta contributions like tarpipes come along. And I would suggest that any consultant/social media director that is not engaging with all new sm products is not doing 50% of their job.

  6. It’s definitely good food for thought and I think Jason’s right.
    They’re tools for use but no one should put all their eggs in one basket unless they only have 1 egg.
    Social networks for companies are about building (or augmenting) their brand. I don’t mean that in the skeptical marketing sense, it’s about interacting with customers (Jet Blue) and finding “real use” which in turn promotes the values of brand.
    You couldn’t be successful if you ignored emails and only responded to written post, or only answered hotmail.com addresses.

    Any consultant on social technologies should have “if then” contingencies and iterative levels of increasing participation. Maybe Twitter, or Pownce, is how you start but certainly not the laurels a successful participant would rest upon.

  7. That’s definitely a big concern for any developer, especially one who deals with “Web 2.0″ if we dare use that term here. We are more and more reliant on third parties – Amazon for our products, Google for our maps, Twitter for our conversations. The second they shut down, change, or have any slight technical issues, we’re out of luck. And as they are almost all free services, there’s nothing stopping them. Diversification is the only free lunch, and never becoming so dependent on any one service.

    If you would like to put on a tin foil hat, we could say that all net-reliant businesses are taking a risk. With all our IP invested on products and services that rely on a relatively free and uncontrolled medium, what happens if it all goes away? Or, more likely, what happens if Net Neutrality becomes a real concern for business owners?

  8. I’m not sure it is so significant of a problem. Look at it this way – if it is useful for you to be on, there will either be a large user base or a highly engaged user base.

    Tools are quickly becoming commoditized. Does it truly matter if the one you are working with is on Twitter or on Pownce? Where a community ends up is largely based on initial happenstance.

    The community is what matters, not the tool. One does business with people, not technology. A large community or a highly engaged community will not disapear with the tool – it will simply migrate to a new tool. As long as you can migrate with it, I think whatever business you’ve build up will largely migrate as well. Right now Pownce users are probably exchanging Twitter account information (or talking about the open source successor to Pownce… – more proof that communities sustain themselves).

    I for one use Twitter :) @mmayernick

  9. Pownce just sucked. It was good that they took it out back and put it down. Should have been done a while ago.

    Beside that, yes, this is a good lesson in diversification of your “product or service offerings”.

    Next topic.

    E

  10. Bingo. It’s not about the tools, it’s about the conversation and that takes place in a lot more places than one or two. You gotta be prepared to engage broadly (but not everywhere because you can’t keep quality high when you spread customer engagement too thin).

  11. I get value from Gmail, Facebook, Tumblr, Google Reader, FriendFeed, Linkedin, and more recently Disqus. Only one of those services I would pay for (gmail). Big firms buy up or invest in small firms for the talent, the customer base or the features of the code in hopes they can turn a profit offering solutions to their existing customer base – who PAY for things. VC’s invest in companies that they think they can flip to the same bigger players. It’s up to the individual how much they decide to invest in social media or any other online service. Fair play to anybody who can persuade you to do that. That’s their game.
    Without a palatable income base how can any business expect long term loyalty and how can we as users not expect at some point our efforts to build them up will have been wasted, The benefits of using a social service must outweigh the potential that you may be peppered with ads or lose your investment in the time you have spent there. If they let you export your data at the end of the experiment like Pownce did you pretty much have no real leg to stand on. Pownce was really just a Twitter clone whose business model was the resale of Amazon S3 space at a huge markup. Nobody fell for it so they shut up shop and got ‘real’ jobs.

  12. May I dare suggest that the internet and its advertiser based businesses are mirroring the early days of television?

    Eventually a few guys figured out a way to make people pay subscriptions for cable TV. My dad gladly signed up as soon as cable was available in our neighborhood. He said that he would gladly pay for TV that didn’t bombard you with commercials and showed a movie all the way through without commercial interruption.

    That is the challenge for the next generation of internet and social media. To become the next cable TV.

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