In my post about Facebook embedding, I wondered how long it might be until we can tell social media networks apart only by their user base and not by their feature set.
That time, I think, is now.
Sure, the main networks do have distinguishing factors (Twitter is all about brevity, LinkedIn is marketed towards professionals, etc.), but in some ways, they’re so similar that you wouldn’t miss out on much by switching from one network to the other.
I’ll admit that my last statement there is a bit of a generalization. Obviously, you’d miss out on recruiting, for example, if you switched exclusively from LinkedIn to Twitter. But in terms of raw features, I still maintain that they’re not that much different at the current time.
It seems to me, then, that every network is guided by who it was originally marketed towards (professionals for LinkedIn, as an example), and not necessarily by the features it has now.
To continue with the LinkedIn example, let’s look a bit at the features it has:
- A contact network built up of direct connections, 2nd-degree connections and 3rd-degree connections
- The ability to upload a resume
- The ability to browse job openings from companies on the network
- The ability to upload photos, and recently, portfolios
- The ability to follow other companies, join groups and send messages
The most distinct feature that LinkedIn has and others don’t is the ability to upload a resume—but even that’s not too unique. Users on Facebook and Google+ can list job history and interests, which, while not necessarily as professional as a resume, do still give an idea of who an individual is.
The rest of the features are so common amongst social networks these days that it’s hard to call them unique. Every major platform has photos, companies have profiles across all platforms, from Google+ to Pinterest, and the idea of 2nd or 3rd-degree connections isn’t too different from the way most platforms work after privacy settings and friend networks (or circles, in Google+) are configured.
And yet, despite this overwhelming similarity of features, each network is still unique.
What I’m trying to show here is that, especially in this constantly-evolving platform era where no network has anything really special and separate from another network, it’s the users that you should care about and focus on. Not the features or platforms themselves.
If you were to ask the average user why they use Facebook over Twitter, or Vine over Instagram Video, or LinkedIn over Google+, I’d be willing to bet that you’d be hard-pressed to find a substantive answer. So much of the network focus is rooted in user history. White-collar workers use LinkedIn because “it’s just, you know, the only professional network that everybody uses,” and choosing Instagram over Pinterest is a matter of brand allegiance more than anything else.
This shrinking gap between networks means that you need to be more attentive than ever to the way your followers and customers are acting.
It’s no longer acceptable to just say, “Facebook is meant to be for posting cute stuff, so I’ll just post cute stuff.” Even if that is the case, you need to ground your actions and daily operations in response to the way that people are acting—not in some deep-rooted assumption that you have about the way the network operates. Because now, the way that this network works isn’t much different from the way that this other platform works.
You can post a picture on Facebook, you can post a picture on Twitter, you can post a picture on Pinterest and you can post a picture on LinkedIn. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should.
It’s follow-the-leader these days when it comes to social media. And if you don’t know the user, we guarantee that you’ll fall behind.