The common accepted mantra of the social media and digital platforms is “open”. Your ecosystem should be open and free to all. This is an effective strategy when your goal is to get mass numbers of users. It’s not a great way to drive real revenue. More and more of these social media platforms are now becoming a “closed” environment (is Steve Jobs right in believing that it takes a closed environment to offer the best customer experience?).
For example, Facebook has become increasingly more controlling of it’s environment. Their rules change almost weekly and they are constantly floating balloons to see what can they get away with in reducing or restricting user rights and options and getting more “liberal” with how they view your content as theirs. Many other social media sites are evolving to become closed environments. Twitter is the most recent to turn close their ecosystem. In late 2012, PeopleBrowser sued Twitter and won an initial judgement in court. Twitter had marketed their platform to third party developers as a “social utility”, opened up their ecosystem and granted access of their database of tweets to all, for a fee. PeopleBrowser spent millions of dollars and man hours in development based on the promise from Twitter of openness. The reason why Twitter would make this as part of their brand promise is to help ensure their survival by having as many third party developers to contribute and enlarge their ecosystem.
Here are two points I would like to make concerning the evolution of social media going closed:
1. Brands must spread out their bets – This is common sense, but too often, many get caught up in the flavor-of-the-month and dump most, or all, of their marketing budget into one or two channels. This is especially tempting since you only pay relatively a small amount to gain access to their data about users. Once that ecosystem is closed off, you’ve invested time and money into a marketing program that is now rendered useless. Use all of the channels that make sense and are available to you. No need to make an all or nothing bet just because it’s the newest thing to do.
2. Don’t build your business around a single ecosystem – If you create your brand or product based on a single platform, you’re asking to be put out of business. Zynga is a prime example. They built their empire solely on Facebook. Now, they are losing users and money and are scrambling to diversify onto other platforms and become more independent. It won’t be easy and it may be too late. You endanger your brand because you don’t own the platform and are dependent that they follow through on their promise to stay open and keep the data flowing. As in life, things change over time. It’s inevitable.
These lessons applies to all ecosystems, Twitter, Pintrest, Amazon, Ford, Starbucks. At any time, the platform owner can close the system and leave your business shut out in the cold. Avoid this by not putting all you bets onto a single system, but integrate your marketing approach and be constantly adapting and changing.