This article was written for AdExchanger, where it was published on July 24, 2013 (see here). It appeared as part of the AdExchanger series, “Data Driven Thinking.”
The accelerating monetization initiatives of the social media “Big Three” – Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – have received a fair share of headlines recently. But what does the rest of the pack of social media players have up their sleeves?
The monetization plans for these second-tier social sites, including Pinterest, Tumblr, SnapChat and Foursquare, have received scant to no discussion in the press, which isn’t surprising. The new kids on the block tend to get a free pass from the digerati monetization hawks for a honeymoon period.
With the inevitable sell-by date imposed by the industry arbiters of success to hold these ventures financially accountable, how will these four sites elevate themselves from nifty idea to sustainable revenue generator?
Pinterest In The Pole Position
Pinterest holds the pole position to join the ranks of the Big Three, and not just because of its phenomenal user growth. Social media platforms are built around core behavioral affinities, and because Pinterest’s fundamental proposition is image-centric, it is arguably best positioned to capture big advertiser budgets. Engaging images are of keen interest to brands, which is something both Facebook and Twitter clearly understand. There is growing marketer awareness that Pinterest may have the right eyeballs and a dynamic forum with which to engage those eyeballs. They clearly intend to take earnings to another level with the hiring of two key Facebook veterans: Tim Kendall, who spearheaded Facebook’s monetization program, and John Yi, who ran the PMD program.
The entire industry is gravitating towards bigger and more visual ad units to boost consumer engagement. While every ad-supported site struggles to strike the right balance between big and engaging versus interruptive, Pinterest’s strong advantage is that it has less native conflict on this front.
Will Yahoo Take Tumblr To The Next Level?
Naysayers snarkily await Yahoo’s watering down of the distinctness and vibrancy that fueled Tumblr’s rise. I, however, remain sanguine and hopeful that Marissa Mayer and her team will ensure that the rush to monetization doesn’t alter the user experience that made Tumblr popular.
While nothing has materially changed in their offering to brands, I suspect big plans are afoot. In the spirit of working hard to avoid alienating the core users, I expect Yahoo to monetize Tumblr by emphasizing non-intrusive ads and sponsorships.
Whither Go Snapchat And Vine
Snapchat’s quick-strike consumer platform has generated substantial buzz among teens and millennials, but not all of its consumer impressions are appropriate to a brand marketer, to put it mildly (think “sexting”). Having said that, platforms and audiences evolve. As the perception that shorter ads can still achieve effectiveness takes hold — just look at the ad spot compression in video and television — Snapchat may be on to something. I know many agency people who are buzzing about creating compelling 10-second ads à la Twitter’s Vine. For now, however, Snapchat still has some way to go to achieve genuine marketer acceptance.
And Then There’s Foursquare
Sometimes it’s better to slide out of the digerati limelight to build a real business. This is the route Foursquare is taking. The company initially took a beating in the media for not living up to lofty, over-hyped expectations, but Dennis Crowley and his team have doggedly worked to build the company ever since. I believe Foursquare has a chance to establish itself as a powerful local e-commerce vehicle, perhaps more so than any other social player, because of its connections to the retail and service industries and its location-based data.
Fragmentation Of Social Media?
The immutable truth about the social graph is that it is generated, demanded and influenced by people who are constantly changing, growing and as fickle as ever. Trying to control or even predict where social media will go next is like holding water in your fist.
The sobering truth for the upstarts is that Facebook holds a formidable lead on constructing a global social infrastructure. There will always be a “next hot thing,” but most won’t grow up to be the next Facebook. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t opportunity and value in serving a niche, which in some cases can be quite big.
In the next 12 months, expect to see which upstarts are on track to become the next Twitter and which will be relegated to the same dustbin holding the remains of the old MySpace.
Don Mathis is the CEO and Co-Founder of Kinetic Social, a company launched in 2011 with a core mission of making sense of the world’s ‘social signal’ on behalf of large brand advertisers. He also serves in the active reserve of the US Navy, where he is the Commanding Officer of a highly deployable, selectively staffed, joint-service combat logistics unit that supports forward deployed war-fighters.