Battle for the Social Network Championship2/4/2015
The Super Bowl is hands down the biggest television event in the country. For six years straight, the National Football League’s season-capping game has broken the record for largest television viewing audience. While the Super Bowl is the ratings champion, it seems sitcoms, award shows, live broadcasts and other sporting events are forever trapped in the race for second place. The obvious tech equivalent to the Super Bowl is Facebook.
In the world of social networking, Facebook rules. Try as they might, Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus, LinkedIn and startup Ello are locked in an eternal struggle for second place. Google Plus technically has more users, Pinterest refers more traffic to online businesses, and Ello has that new car smell, but Facebook is king. Facebook has 1.35 billion active monthly users, 4.5 billion user “likes” daily, 300 million daily photo uploads, the largest population of 25-34 users anywhere online (the demographic advertisers crave) and far and away the most popular mobile application.
Back in the world of television, the only annual event with cultural cache close to the Super Bowl is the Academy Awards. In fact, looking at global viewer ratings, the Academy Awards dwarfs the Super Bowl’s viewership. Once again, social networking has a similar parallel. Twitter is the Academy Awards. Not only does Twitter have the global reach and cultural pull, but just like the low U.S. viewership for the Academy Awards, Twitter’s American userbase is pathetic compared to Facebook.
What makes tech different is Twitter may one day have a shot of besting its rival. How? Oddly enough, to beat Facebook, Twitter must assimilate some of its best features. Over the years, Twitter has followed Facebook by including photo albums, embedded links, user profiles and banner images. But Twitter isn’t alone in feature theft. As is generally the case in all industries, as soon as one company jumps ahead of the pack with a cool new feature, everyone else must follow suit. In today’s mobile environment, the hottest attributes are private messaging and the ability to film and share video from your mobile device. Snapchat and WhatsApp blew the door off the private messaging arena, whereas Vine and Instagram made short mobile videos the hot mobile trend.
Both of these trends caught Facebook and Twitter off guard, but in true tech tradition, each made good on these sins by throwing money at the problem. Facebook acquired both WhatsApp and Instagram, while Twitter purchased Vine. Still, acquisitions don’t make the main service any cooler. Hoping to recruit more users, Twitter unveiled a new mobile video feature and private group message service.
Twitter’s mobile video tool mirrors Facebook’s recent efforts to turn its network into a more visual service. Cannibalistic as it sounds, Pinterest — the third place social network — is growing leaps and bounds based off its nearly 100 percent visual interface. With no status updates or GPS check-ins, Pinterest has accrued nearly 100 million avid users who not only love the site but also use it to make online purchases. Twitter and Facebook want their users to be spend-happy consumers as well, and if cluttering their sites with videos and pictures is how to get there, that’s what they’ll do.
Sadly, Facebook’s had private messaging and mobile video creation features for months now, meaning Twitter is even farther from first place than ever. So just as the Super Bowl set another ratings record and Facebook closes in on 1.3 billion users, Twitter and the Academy Awards will once again be stuck wondering if they’ll ever be on top. CV
Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.