Rabbbit Spottting: Social is Composting
And other trends I'm watching like: data handling, crumbling cookies, and splintering search.
As I put together Rabbbits Weeekly each, er, weeek, I notice what feels like overarching themes or trends connecting various pieces and headlines. Here are the connective threads I’m paying attention to at the moment.
Social is Composting
Composting turns something once ripe into good dirt for the next crop to grow from. The process of composting is basically rot, so it smells and doesn’t always look so great and generally gets hidden from polite company in a container or at a dedicated location (shout out Atlas Organics).
And…what does this have to do with marketing and technology and stuff?
I think “social media” is in the composting phase (it’s not the only thing, but this isn’t a politics newsletter).
The era of The Wall™ is over. The era of The Feed™ is ending, at least Feed 1.0 (and maybe 2.0, I honestly don’t know what iteration we’re on right now). Connections got maxed out, so now everything is about discovery via curation. Taste matching instead of connection checking.
It’s a bit surprising that it took this long, since this shift signifies moving from who you know and what you claim to care about to what you actually spend your time doing. Behavior over facade.
There are five main networks (that I know of) that either haven’t capitulated to Meta, grew despite not being Meta, or terrify Meta: Snapchat, Pinterest, TikTok, YouTube, and LinkedIn.
None of them are a “social network” in the stereotypical sense.
Snapchat focuses on private messaging and AR. It’s social, but in a close friends way. (just like iMessage is Apple’s killer social app)
TikTok focuses on entertainment, and does not consider itself a social media app (as they will tell you every chance they get). Social mechanisms are wrapped around the content focus.
Pinterest focuses on search. The index is filled with content via social mechanisms.
YouTube focuses on videos and hosting. The social aspects are bolted onto video.
LinkedIn focuses on “professionals” and “work.” Both used loosely here as they are imperfect descriptors, but the niche is what’s powering the platform's recent success. It is the most similar to Facebook, but it has an audience to focus on (and that audience isn’t “everyone”).
At various times, all of these apps were considered social media. Likely because they are all built on user generated content (UGC) and network effects. They scale via social mechanisms, but they aren’t social media as Facebook popularized it.
A lot of words are spilled on the internet related to the rot and the composting process. But what will grow out of this digital soil?
If Tim O’Reilly was right and data is the new sand, then we’re all at the beach.
As mentioned in Rabbbits Weeekly this weeek, TikTok knows basically everything about your device when you’re using the app and uses that in some vague way to determine what content you see.
According to TikTok, the information they receive about your device is anything from user agent, mobile carrier, time zone settings, model and operating system,and network type to screen resolution, battery state, or audio settings.
I haven’t mapped this out, but Facebook’s revenue struggles feel like they’re on the same timeline as the continual eroding of the app’s data collection and usage abilities. Losing all the behavioral targeting options post-Cambridge Analytica started the scramble they’re currently at the peak of (this has to be the peak, right?). The app tracking opt-in that rolled out with Apple iOS 14.5 last April (2021) sent them reeling. Then Mozilla started stripping their URL tracking IDs and Apple started sending fake IP info to some services (I don’t know if Meta was impacted but I could easily see them making the list). Plus ad blockers and other privacy features being built into browsers, Zuck’s Bucks Machine is taking a beating (thus Meta). And recently, just anecdotally, it seems like there is a growing chasm between the traffic numbers Facebook Ads Manager reports and what I see in Google Analytics. We’re talking 85%+ different in some cases (is anyone else seeing stuff like this?).
Cookies Continue Crumbling
It no longer matters that cookies still exist (from a marketer’s perspective), you need to act like they don’t.
Plus the above mentioned Facebook traffic weirdness. And we’ve seen some clients have mismatches in ecomm reporting between Shopify and Google Analytics lately (Green Bag has rolled out a new checkout experience that can mess with analytics, just fyi).
Server-side tagging is being touted as the answer of the moment, we’ll see how long that lasts.
Search Still Splintering
I’ve wondered why Google seems to be getting increasingly opinionated about Search. Partly it’s because that’s where most of their money comes from, so it’s kind of important to them. But the other part must be because search is no longer a platform or an engine, it’s a feature. Google replaced AOL as the gateway to the internet for a while and became the verb for searching the internet. Now, it’s just one tool among many, one you use for specific use cases.
The youths TikTok for lunch spots.
You YouTube if you want to learn something.
You Amazon or Etsy or eBay or Shopify (soon, maybe) if you’re shopping.
You Pinterest if you’re planning a project or looking for ideas.
You LinkedIn or Indeed or ZipRecruiter if you’re looking for a job.
Depending on your phone, you might Apple Maps if you’re looking for directions or nearby spots.
All of these things used to start on Google, now Google might just be the fastest way to get to them. Big G does not want to be the transportation service between users and competitors.
Rant: This is why it can get tricky when companies like Yelp or shopping aggregators complain when Google adds a similar feature or changes the algorithm so they drop out of the top 5, Google is not a utility company. As with social media, plenty of politicians and lobbying interests want these companies to behave like public services without actually regulating and requiring that they do so. Twitter is not the public square, it’s just where a lot of news-inclined people hang out so the loud voices confused it with the public square.