Warning: opinions ahead.
Remember when we all knew Tom? For several years, Myspace was the place to be online. Then, 2008 happened, and Facebook took over. Over the last nine years, Facebook has only gained users, popularity, utility, and power. Though there have been other hopefuls that pop up from time to time (shoutout to those who remember the short-lived hype of Peach), those networks either fail to gain traction or see success and are purchased by Facebook.
The social platform’s “if you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em” motto has served it well to date. In 2012, critics scoffed at the idea of shelling out $1 billion for the photo-sharing app known as Instagram. Since then, Instagram has risen to the #3 spot (behind Google-owned YouTube and top-spot parent company, Facebook) in popularity. Even the Instagram Stories feature, which launched not so long ago in August 2016, now has 150 million daily users.
Another platform in the Facebook crosshairs was WhatsApp. So, in 2014, Mark Zuckerberg closed the largest purchase to date by buying the app for $19 billion.
Why would Facebook buy platforms that have features similar to what it already offers? You could already share photos, so why Instagram? Facebook was vocal about the desire to push Messenger as a required component to users, so WhatsApp might seem redundant. Except, from the beginning, Zuckerberg has been about the people connection. Engage with the audience in the way they want to communicate & then build the business. So, if people love using WhatsApp, let them use it, but make sure it ultimately benefits Facebook.
When you look at the platform’s growth from this perspective, it’s easy to conclude that Snapchat’s refusal to sell to Facebook fueled the fires of competition and the drive to bring the social network into Facebook--one way or the other.
The new motto after 2014 became “if you can’t buy ‘em, build ‘em.” Since Snapchat refused to join the ranks, Facebook went about finding another way to accomplish the goal. In 2016, Instagram rather unexpectedly introduced Stories--an update that felt like Snapchat lite but became available to a huge daily user base.
Recently, Facebook rolled out its own version of Stories. And, if Instagram Stories is Snapchat lite, Facebook Stories is Snapchat. The features and abilities are eerily similar, yet somehow maybe even a bit better.
Why is it better? Snapchat initially fought a stigma of being an app that was only used by the super young or those who needed messages to delete after sending (implying sketchiness). As more people grew past that idea and started using Snapchat, it still lagged (rather severly) in popularity and use against Instagram and Facebook. Stories (on both platforms) have the instant advantage of large followings for individual users. For those who don't want everything available to everyone, they've built in functionality to restrict content. So, all the features of Snapchat...with a larger audience for users and a more readily understood platform like Facebook or Instagram.
Recently, this post from Buffer put all of these ideas succicntly by sharing two thoughts:
- The News Feed was designed for the desktop user experience.
- Stories in Facebook & Instagram are not apps-they content options.
These shifts to mobile and new posting options encourage "imperfect moments" as well as an influx of user-generated content and new advertising options for brands.
Time will tell how Facebook users adopt the new functionality and how popular it will be, but, at the very least, the company has finally unveiled its full retaliation for the 2014 refusal to sell. (Side note, I’m guessing this article is a sore spot.)
Regardless of how you may feel about the artistry of Facebook, they know their audience, and they work very hard to know/own/copy the competition.
The takeaway here isn’t that all business owners should try to buy their competition - rather, know your audience and make your business around them. It seems to be paying off for Mark.