Geoffrey James wrote last year in his Sales Source column on Inc.com, that he believes that Linkedin will outlive Facebook, essentially because Facebook has lost its cool, while LinkedIn doesn’t care about being cool, and never has.
“More importantly, nobody seems to love Facebook any more. People seem mostly tolerate it, because it’s convenient. And that’s why Facebook remains vulnerable
Consumer-oriented social networking sites [like facebook] are like television networks: People will switch when there’s something better on another channel.”
He thinks that because Facebook has lost its cool, its users will eventually move on to the next big thing in social networking sites. LinkedIn however, has from the start been all about business and peoples resumes, and that makes LinkedIn dull but functionall – like email and the telephone, according to Geoffrey James.
He goes on to conclude that this is a perfect example of one company trying to be everything to everyone, while another focuses on a niche, and therefore wins out in the long run, due to a more loyal customer base.
Facebook is a perfect example of a company trying to be all things to all people, while LinkedIn is a perfect example of a company that focused on a niche.
I completely agree that businesses should focus their efforts, and that trying to be everything to everyone usually results being nothing to anyone. But I also completely reject one central premise in James’ argument; that Facebook it vunerable, because it’s no longer cool.
Actually I think that James has gotten things reversed when he states that LinkedIn is like email, and the telephone, and Facebook is like a television channel. While he may be right about Facebook not being cool anymore, that’s not really relevant when it comes to why people use Facebook. It be have been true in the early days, but it’s not any more. The reason people still use Facebook, and will continue to do so, for a long time, is because not only is it a convenient way to keep tabs on your friends and family, it’s a convenient way to communicate with ALL your friends and family. Because the thing about Facebooks success, is that it means that everyone is on Facebook, and while that may not be cool, it certainly is convenient for communicating with the people in your life, just like email and the telephone.
And I don’t believe that Facebook should try to be everything for everyone, I believe that it’s already there, doing that. At least the “for everyone part”. Whether or not facebook is also trying to be everything is debatable in my opinion. I use Facebook to communicate with all the groups of people in my (personal) life; my closest relatives and friends, my not-so-close-friends and even people I otherwise might only see once every 5 years or longer. If I were to stop using Facebook completely, in order to move on to something cooler, it would require that not only my cool friends sign up, but also my mum, my older sisters and my technophobic friend from long ago, and clearly that’s not going to happen.
Google+ is a perfect example of why Facebook will endure, whether we like it or not. While Google may have made some wrong moves in handling the launch of G+, at the time it was arguably “cooler” than Facebook, but while only an amputated handfull of my facebook friends remain active on G+ today, everyone I know still uses Facebook. The sheer number of people on Facebook, making it as ubiquitous as e-mail, makes it insanely hard to launch a successful competitor. Maybe if it’s done right, some day, someone will succeed in launching something that could replace Facebook, but it will be a steep uphill journey.
In order for a competitor to beat Facebook, taking its place in all our lives, it has to attract not only the first movers, the early adopters and the techies among us, but also their mothers, cousins and technophobic friends. Of course Facebook itself could help this process along, by screwing things up for itself, but looking at how people react, in real life, to the many privacy issues that have spun negative stories about Facebook in the media, and how little those stories have affected usernumbers, I really don’t see what major leauge disaster would drive any significant number of users away. So my conclusion is, that Facebook is here to stay, at least for a long long time, whether we like it or not.
Which leads me to LinkedIn. Comparing Facebook and LinkedIn, is in my book like comparing the old apples and oranges. Yes, they can both be labelled ‘social networks’, but isn’t that too broad a label to justify a direct comparison? I think so.
Facebook functions, for most people, as a communications platform, but if we look past that we can also view Facebook as a place to build and maintain our personal brands. LinkedIn is all about building and maintaining ones personal brand, so in that regard, they’re similar, but for one crucial difference. The target groups for each service are very different.
Most people just Facebook to communicate with friends and family, and so, in a personal branding sense, they’re building an image of themselves for the people in their personal life. This is what we do, consciously or subconsciously, when we’re carefully selecting which images to post, and what clever things to write in our status updates. Sure, some people may publish everything to the public, but given the personal nature of most of the content on Facebook, that is a bad idea.
We also do this on LinkedIn, but here, the target audience is much more limited, and the average user is more consciously aware that what he/she is doing, is branding him/herself to potential employers.
So, while I agree with James that LinkedIn is a company that focuses on a niche, I don’t believe that it naturally follows that LinkedIn is less vunerable as a result. In fact, because of the limited, or focused, nature (in terms of both use and number of users) of LinkedIn, I believe that it is actually more vunerable to the next cool thing. When it comes down to it, the users will use the service with the most, and most relevant, userbase.
And after all, replacing your pager (for which you use to communicate with work) is much easier than replacing your telephone (for which you use to communicate with everyone else). Not a perfect metaphor I know, but you see my point.