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As We See It

Does brand loyalty have a place in the social media mess?

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Social media is great, but with so many options splintering our attention, can we really connect or stay loyal to any of them?
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I can’t keep up. Myspace all but croaked, then rose from the ashes as a music hub fronted by investor Justin Timberlake. Facebook dominated, then lost a big chunk of teenagers while their moms (and grandmas!) flocked. Twitter ascended as a bastion of cool, then watched its stock tumble last week—initially about 12 percent, according to the Wall Street Journal—due to slowing user growth.

Apparently, there just aren’t enough cool people.

Or maybe it’s Vine and Pinterest, Flickr and Tumblr, Snapchat and Wanelo, Keek and Kik. In the realm of social media, shiny new playthings drop so often that our natural fickleness has blossomed into full-blown ADD. We barely learn a brand before it’s scrambling to stay relevant. And the pressure to stay relevant ourselves makes us much less likely to be loyal.

I’ve been running in the same brand of shoe for seven years because I know exactly what I’m getting. In the digital world, that kind of familiarity feels stale. Social networks, games and apps seem only as viable (read: valuable) as their ability to attract new users, but attracting them doesn’t mean much if they don’t hang around. Since my first tweet in January of 2012, I’ve tweeted 42 times. And I rarely check my timeline, another Twitter metric that reportedly didn’t meet Wall Street’s expectations.

Facebook, however, is a daily habit. I may be part of the old-n-crusty demographic, but our loyalty is one reason FB celebrated its 10th birthday last week remaining “the No. 1 social network,” according to a recent study by GlobalWebIndex. And it isn’t just holding steady. TheStreet called Twitter’s latest growth stats especially “anemic” in comparison to FB, which took on 170 million new users over the past year. Bloomberg Businessweek's Brad Stone put it in context like this: "Facebook added the equivalent of 73 percent of Twitter’s user base to its membership rolls in 2013."

Both services are popular, fiercely loved by faithful users and finding ways to make money in a volatile landscape, but it's hard to say if either brand will endure for generations like Coca-Cola or Ford. Maybe the ethereal nature of our online lives doesn't lend itself to that. On the other hand, a decade in Internet years is more like a century. Facebook has pissed me off with privacy policies and redesigns, but I still know what I’m getting. And I still like it.

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Erin Ryan

Erin got her first newspaper job in 2002 thanks to a campfire story about Bigfoot. In her award-winning work for ...

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