In a CMSWire article today entitled The Social Networking Phenomena is Coming Apart at the Seams, Virginia Backaitis discussed a recent Forbes.com article in which the health of several social technology-based companies are examined.
In my opinion, Virginia’s comments are misdirected, to some extent. It’s not that these failing (or downward trending) social technology-centered websites are following the wrong business model, but that the maturity of the segment is changing.
Semantically, this sounds like the same thing, but what I mean is that the business model for Pinterest or Kayak, for example, may be fine for the category they’re going after, but no amount of planning changes can save the evolving and fickle interests of consumers. What had been considered (by you) a great website, or a cool new feature, may lose its sheen after a while, and something else catches your attention. Or another site provides that same feature, but with something new on top of it.
At the end of the day, a buggy whip is still a buggy whip. Back in the horse and carriage era, the best buggy whip provider in the world could have dynamically updated their business model over and over again, but they still would have died when the automobile become the primary mode of transportation.
Traditional marketing focuses on managing the “marketing mix” – the balance between product, price, promotion, and placement. In the buggy whip analogy, you can readily see that no amount of product redesign, price reduction, special 90% off fire sale promotions, or shelf positioning would save a product that people just don’t want.
One thing I will agree with in both articles is that the “leaders” in social networking-related companies need to ensure they are focused on what customers need -- but that's not necessarily something as simple as a business model change. Creating yet another content destination driven by advertising, no matter what bells and whistles you offer, will find success fleeting. A fundamental understanding of what customers want and need, and coming up with a novel idea for delivering value, is harder. There will always be a need to adjust the marketing mix no matter what you bring to market, but at the end of the day the product or service you provide must also be of value to the customer. When you stop showing value, your business will most undoubtedly come apart at the seams.