The (new) Social Ecosystem

A few weeks ago I taught at the 2012 Young Advocates Institute on utilizing social media to speak out, speak up and impact change in local communities. The YAI crowd was comprised largely of 16 and 17 year old students from North Carolina.

As is often the case with these type of events I found that I learned as much from the students as they did from my presentation.

One key learning moment was when I asked the students what networks they were active on. Their answers were primarily the ones I expected — Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr. This tracked with students I taught at a local charter school earlier in the year.

Notice something?

Facebook wasn’t on the list.

When asked how many of them had accounts virtually all of the 60 students raised their hand, when asked how many were active on a given day less than 10 hands went up.

Does this mean Facebook is losing relevance? No, not yet. It doesn’t even mean that Facebook, as a platform and a company, will lose relevance in the long term.

Facebook, smartly, pioneered the Open Graph which through their API allows sites to utilize the Facebook interests of users to guide recommendations, Facebook profiles to create accounts and more.

Facebook describes the open graph as the following:

At Facebook’s core is the social graph: people and the connections they have to everything they care about. Historically, Facebook has managed this graph and has expanded it over time as we launch new products (ex: photos, places). In 2010, we introduced an early version of Open Graph, an extension of the social graph, via the Open Graph protocol, to include third-party websites and pages that people liked throughout the web.

In other words, the open graph includes Spotify, Netflix, the Washington Post Reader and the other apps that we interact with who publish information back to Facebook while also pulling in our Facebook friend list and interactions to the services.

Analysts are predicting that the next major move for Facebook will be to unveil a platform similar to Google’s AdSense that would power advertising across the web. This would allow advertisers to target ads based off of your Facebook interests, likes and activity wherever you go on the web.

This will strengthen the ties between Facebook and the remainder of the web, as well as underscore Facebook’s role as the social DNA of the web.

Two other major service launches recently showcased how Facebook’s DNA can provide the foundation for an entirely new product.

Airtime, a highly hyped video chat startup pioneered by the team behind Napster, allows you to create an account through your Facebook profile and creates a contact list for you based off of your Facebook friends. You can elect to video chat with a Facebook friend or use the core feature of the service which is to chat with a random user. The random user is targeted to individuals who match your interests, your location or are friends with your Facebook friends depending upon your checklist.

Further, they avoid becoming Chatroulette by allowing individuals to report lewd behavior. The person is then lifetime banned based off of their Facebook profile and username.

Another service which launched just weeks ago is At The Pool. The founders of At The Pool believe that few good sites exist for you to meet people with most social networking sites focused on allowing you to build a list of contacts based off of the people you have already met. At the Pool uses Facebook profiles and your interest graph to build out a profile and then match you to people that you ought to meet based off of the groupings that you select – i.e. my interest is startups, readers, runners, etc.

Both Airtime and Pool are, in the highest manifestation of themselves and their aspirations, trying to bring back “humanity to social media” as Shawn Fanning declared at the launch of Airtime. Both believe that social media can bring people together, allow people to meet and provide tools to build out your personal networks.

Both services are infinitely more useful because of the Facebook Open Graph. In fact, essential features of both would not be possible without Facebook providing the social DNA to bring our interests, friends and network into them from the beginning.

Services wax and wane. That is the history of the internet whether we are discussing web 1.0, 2.0 or 3.0. With that said, Facebook’s open graph (and I would argue that Google+ and Twitter are building similar ecosystems) will likely provide the backbone of countless new services and apps that will define our future.

Facebook, and the other major networks, were smart to build an ecosystem that will allow them to escape the fate of past networks.

For this reason, and others, we advise clients to avoid platform specific strategies — i.e. at New Kind we do not create “Facebook strategies” or “Twitter strategies”, rather we focus on creating a strategy based off of the dual pathways of community and contagious conversation because services change both in features and popularity. As an example, the first political campaign I worked on basically ignored Twitter while no campaign today would do the same. We were very active on Blogger, however, while most campaigns today build blogging features into their own site. All told, we had a presence on 48 social networks or socially oriented sites that are now out of business.

What has not changed since that campaign, and what will not change in my estimation, is that two way communication between organizations and regular folks and the community that flows from the conversation hasn’t weakened, if anything it has only grown stronger.

The social ecosystem that is being built now is an added layer of insurance that means we will only expect more social features, conversation and contagious content from the organizations that we follow in the future.

Your kids may not login to Facebook, or Twitter, each day but it is likely that one of the services will help power the social DNA of the site or community that they are using.

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