I know it is tough to look at things from a truly long term perspective, but you need to try.
I’ve now been directly managing online communities for 12 years. I’ve been involved with moderation of communities for probably 14. And I’ve been on the web for 17 years. A long term perspective doesn’t mean 3 years. It means more than that. Ideally, we’re talking decades.
Long term perspective doesn’t just mean looking backwards, either. It means looking back and looking forward. Not forward 6 months, not forward 2 years, but forward 10 years.
When someone says that a platform has died, most of the time, this just means that they lack the perspective. They are chasing the wrong things. Once in a long while, this statement is actually true, but in those cases, it is generally a particular website that is coming to an end, that has announced it’s closure, and not the idea of the tool in general.
The longer that this internet thing goes, the more tools and platforms we will have that we can build community on and that we can engage through. It becomes more fractured and more spread out. We have more options, more shiny things. In some cases, we flock to something because it is new, not because it is all that different.
When you have fewer options, it makes sense that the activity would be more concentrated. Forums are an easy example of this. Some people think forums are dying. I get tired of talking about it. Someone even said it during the panel I was at at Virtual Community Summit.
That’s totally bogus. Forums aren’t dying. Social and community efforts are just growing more diversified and they have more options to meet their needs. Forums are fine, both in the sense of standalone forums and in the forum-like functionality that you see everywhere that you care to look. They are a tool.
Tools are different from platforms owned by companies. Like, for example, MySpace. How many times have you heard someone say MySpace is dead? MySpace gets more traffic than your website (most likely). They caught a wave of positive press yesterday and today, as with the announcement that they are averaging 40,000+ new signups per day.
Chris Vanderhook, one of the investors that bought the company, told Ben Sisario of The New York Times that the growth was due to the company embracing integration with Facebook and Twitter and focusing on music. They want to be an entertainment destination.
MySpace’s traffic drops can be tied to different things. But, among them were competition and diversification. People wanted their spot and they were vulnerable. They have refocused. Should you be on MySpace? Like any platform, it depends. But, if you are a music artist or band, it seems like it’d be silly to ignore them.
Do you think that Facebook and Twitter are insulated from this? They aren’t. Consider Facebook Timeline and the tight integration with many meaningful, buzz worthy companies and social platforms. They want to be the hub. One of the keys to staying relevant over long periods of time, in many different areas, is to work with or, at least, put your support behind these hot platforms. Throw them a kind word, share your audience with them.
This is one thing I’ve picked up from Sean “Diddy” Combs. He’s been in the music industry as a producer, performer and general tastemaker for around two decades. Year after year, no matter what anyone tells you, he maintains relevance where many others fade. One of his secrets, I’ve realized, is how he embraces the young guns.
Even if he has no business with them. Even if he’ll never have business with them. He gives them respect, he praises them, collaborates with them, offers them advice. He doesn’t try to downplay their success, for fear of them taking his spot. In turn, they respect his experience and his place in the game and recognize him as a (relatively) early supporter of their career.
As far as Twitter, they continue to try to pull people into their platform and keep them there, by embedding content shared elsewhere and buying up popular applications. If Twitter.com isn’t relevant, Twitter itself is in trouble.
Whatever the tool and platform, you are likely to see a similar story, just spun in different ways. Platforms and tools rarely die. Instead, what you really see is that usage of them just becomes more diversified and specialized. It’s all about perspective.