by Michael O'Neill
April 22nd, 2013

My astute colleague Greg Swan recently noted that, given the track record of social network migration (i.e. users emigrating from Compuserve to AOL, AOL to Friendster, Friendster to MySpace, more recently MySpace to Facebook), you would think we marketers would anticipate and embrace a trend of cyclical change. “But for some reason, it seems like our clients and peers are always surprised when online behavior changes, new destinations gain traction, and popular networks lose daily active users,” he says.

What prompted his musings was new research that teenagers are rejecting platforms like Facebook and Twitter in favor of newer and cooler social networks. In other words, social networks that their parents have yet to discover. The survey by Piper Jaffrey asked 5,000 teens to list their most important social networks. The top five were:

- Wangle
- Vine
- SnapChat
- Kik
- 4Chan

As you can see – not a Facebook post or an Instagram photo in the lot. As Buzzfeed observed about the survey: “It hints at what could be the beginning of an across-the-board teen rejection of traditional social networking as a whole.”

That’s because the services listed above, most notably SnapChat and Kik, are not even social networks in the way we think about them now. In fact, they are really just instant messaging services – but with more functionality (primarily imagery like photos and video) and personality.

There’s no big profiles on these services – so they are more private. There’s also the ability to be more selective in who you interact with. Less fear about mom, dad, grandma and Uncle Bert reading your posts and commenting on your photos and likes and dislikes. In other words, paradise – at least if you’re a teenager.

But anyone who has been working in digital and social communications for longer than a turnip truck ride will be able to tell you that platforms (i.e. specific social networks) really aren’t that important. Does it really matter if you need to shift platforms from MySpace to Facebook or perhaps later to Vine? Not really.

If you’re a brand and have a content strategy, understand your audience, and are developing multimedia and interactive content – that’s really all you need. You should be adding and subtracting channels all the time – or at least when they change. And change they will.

It’s one reason why having an online content hub – a home base if you will – is a crucial part of any digital and social strategy. That’s where your content can live and breathe (and provide amazing SEO). Social channels are just that: channels.  It’s where you broadcast your content and engage with your audiences.

If you find your audiences have moved – move with them.

That said there’s no panic yet. Facebook still has a billion people on it. Twitter is still growing like crazy. But change is always in the air…

George F. Snell III is senior vice-president, digital & social communications, at Weber Shandwick Boston. This article first appeared on his blog High Talk

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