Now that the major social media players are well established, with billions of active users, building an alternative platform is difficult, even for the tech giants with their infinite resources.
Google found out the hard way through the protracted demise of Google+. Google had hoped that by providing a technically better social experience, through ‘Circles’ and aligned groups and machine learning, it could beat out Facebook – or at least, fend off competition for search traffic by meeting Zuck and Co. where they lived.
It could not, and now, Amazon has found largely the same, with its eCommerce focused social platform Spark being shut down just two years after its initial launch.
Spark aimed to tap into the popularity of social networks and influencer marketing, and maximize them for eCommerce. Amazon signed up a team of Spark influencers, with the platform giving them the means to post images and stories, with direct links for products to purchase.
The idea, evidently, was to get ahead of Facebook-owned Instagram, which is in the process of adding its own on-platform purchasing options. Like Google, Amazon can see that this will likely be a problem for its own ambitions to some degree, and while Instagram’s buying options aren’t likely to unseat Amazon as the online commerce leader, it’s a challenge they’d obviously prefer not to have.
So, like Google, they sought to meet them head-on. And it hasn’t worked out.
The difficulty in creating a new social network is that it has to be just that – a network. If I start using Amazon Spark and none of my friends are on it, then no one cares about my product recommendations and posts, no one’s there to ‘Like’ my updates – I’m basically posting to the void. Which is boring – and all the while, I’m missing out on what my friends are posting in established networks, which, eventually will pull me back in, and leave the alternative as just another ignored icon on my device.
Gaining mass adoption is key, and without a strong lure to get people opening your app, they won’t, simple as that. Snapchat was able to gain momentum by taking an alternative view on privacy with disappearing content, which came just at the right time, as people were getting more wary about posting everything for their friends and family to see on Facebook. But more than that, Snap also had its face-altering digital Lenses, which got users downloading the app and showing others. Those hooks are what made Snap sticky, and eventually helped it to build its own following. But even then, Snapchat hasn’t been able to maintain that growth momentum over time – but that is what new challengers need, to find their unique angle and hook to get users talking.
Google+ never had that. Sure, it was functional and it had some great, dedicated communities. But there was nothing particularly different or stand out about it – people aren’t looking for another place to engage, but they may be interested in those which offer something new.
The same goes for Spark. Yes, it had a different angle in its direct integration with Amazon’s ‘one-click purchasing’ process. But clearly, that wasn’t enough – users can already do all the same things on other platforms, where they’ve already got established networks, where they’ve built usage habits.
Even with the power of the major players, building an alternative plaform is hard.
“Spark is not gone entirely, we’ve pivoted and narrowed the experience based on what resonated with customers.”
“We’ve changed the name to #FoundItOnAmazon to reflect the tag that influencers are using on social media to share their great finds with others.”
In other words, Amazon has conceded that people are going to engage on other platforms, and it’s better off aligning with established behavior than trying to change it. Even if that means conceding that the rising eCommerce challenge from Instagram and Pinterest is something it’ll simply have to deal with.