Sometimes the brands that are the first to go when a new type of challenger or technology (normally the two go hand in hand) enters the arena are the ones you least expect – the most seemingly stable and ubiquitous businesses of all. But as the saying goes, the bigger they are, the harder they fall – and this is often no less true in business than anywhere else.
Did anyone predict that a British mainstay like Woolworths would succumb to an economic downturn? Logically, we’d expect smaller shops to be the first to fall victim from the Amazombification of the high street, but in reality, plenty of major players came crashing down too – and if you take a walk along any high street in the country, you can still see the wreckage – the proliferation of sprayed shutters and pawn shops – that Bezos’ behemoth hath wrought on the world of consumer goods.
With that in mind, this week we ask, what would happen if a new challenger were to take on one of the Big Four themselves – Facebook?
Facebook is just as ubiquitous – in fact, far more – than any of Britain’s big high street shops, even if you won’t see its branding on your Saturday stroll through town. When it comes to the digital space, Facebook is the sheriff of social media, at once omnipresent, scary, corrupt, but undeniably useful (as long as you’re on its good side). And it is precisely this monopoly that makes it susceptible to the sidewinder, the mosquito, of a smaller, nimbler business.
Of course, many have tried already – but they haven’t been mosquitos. They’ve been Mastodon, who were extinct before they even started, and Peach, to name but two unsuccessful debutantes. They failed because they offered too little to challenge Facebook’s monopoly – they simply offered similar services with tiny tweaks. The foundations of Facebook went unchallenged, and what allows any challenger to succeed is by being truly new – by being what the giant, by definition, struggles to become.
We are now seeing some new challengers, like Vero, begin to make steady inroads into the social space. Vero is a new ad-free, algorithm-free platform that had an explosive moment in 2018, and is taking on the likes of Facebook and Instagram. It won’t be an easy journey, as these sites’ very nature has allowed them to claw their way into the very loam of social media – particularly Facebook. But the fact that Vero is still standing where many have been swatted away is testament to the fact that there is a new consumer need that is becoming more and more apparent.
It has to do with data privacy. We can almost divide the world into a pre and post-Cambridge Analytics world; people now are increasingly cautious when it comes to online security. This growing awareness is a snowball, not a nuclear bomb; and it will keep growing and growing, until Facebook is forced to address it even more directly that it has already had to do.
Which leaves new social brands free to offer radical new solutions to the problems of the social media orthodoxy. It won’t succeed by tiny tweaks but by radical rebellion – like, for instance, offering a subscription-based ad free experience, chronological posts instead of constricting algorithms – and, for the sake of painting Zuckerberg’s Ultimate Nemesis, let’s say the ability for users to delete their data instantly, own and even monetise their content, communicate transparently with moderators over trolling and online abuse, and far greater online freedom and ownership. By removing the broken ad model that plagues social and the wider internet, Facebook’s Ultimate Nemesis will remove the consumer problems that Facebook is too big, too complacent, too established, and too rigid to address now.
What makes the Ultimate Nemesis so fearsome to a business like FB is this it is completely unpredictable. New technologies and business models can be charted and forecast, but what can’t be itinerated is the shifts in thinking that accompany them. Just as Amazon morphed both the way we mentally relate to shopping, reading and music, and to the geographical landscape of the high street itself, so Facebook’s Ultimate Nemesis will be the platform that finally allows users to break out of the feedback loop of the platforms they grew up with and embrace a new way of communicating online.
It can only be a matter of time before new models begin to take hold – and unless Facebook takes drastic action to remodel itself (which any business CAN do, even if most are too rigid and reluctant to try), then it may find itself under serious threat of going the way of the high street, thanks to a bold new offering that makes it feel cumbersome and obsolete. Oh, and one more thing that Facebook’s Ultimate Nemesis will give its users, right from the start? A dislike button.