The other day I was attacked by a commercial for 5-hour energy drink. They claim to be a purer version of every other energy drink on the market. It dawned on me that 5-Hour had entered an established market with entrenched leaders – and with effective positioning and distribution, had managed to take a leadership position. “Where the hell did these guys come from?” I asked myself. Ironically, this isn’t all too different from the question one might ask about new social media platforms. By tomorrow, today’s dominant player may be yesterday’s news. And yesterday’s unknown startup may be sucking up countless hours of your time by year’s end.
In an incredibly short period of time, social media has seen massive shifts in dominance. I got to wondering: if social media were an energy drink, which platform would be 5-Hour. Then my OCD took over and here’s how it all turned out…
Phase 1: Soda is Friendster
The earliest days of social media was all about Friendster, which began the revolution of a whole new way to communicate with your peers. It was fun and different and with all the early-friending going on, made you feel like a million bucks. But like soda (which is linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes, not to mention cavities), what felt-good going down, didn’t always meet up with expectations. Friendster’s caffeine buzz wore off pretty quickly, and all that was left was the sugar crash. A whole slew of new flavors were tried, like Orkut and Xanga, but they all left you with the same jittery feeling. There had to be something better…
Phase 2: Gatorade is LinkedIn
LinkedIn took all the refined sugar and colored water of early social networks and turned it into something real. While early networks were really just a place to hang out and connect with your friends, LinkedIn gave social networking the purpose of connecting for business. And while Gatorade’s neon glow clearly isn’t a naturally occurring organic element, they also had a purpose: electrolytes intended to fuel athletes and sports junkies. Both LinkedIn and Gatorade resisted the urge to achieve trendiness; they weren’t meant to be mixed with booze for fun downtime. You didn’t take Gatorade if you weren’t serious about thinking touchdown. LinkedIn proved it was time to take social media seriously.
Phase 3: Monster is My Space
Then along comes My Space. They were big and bad and after 3 minutes on their site, you started feeling crazy all over. A My Space page was straight out of the web circa ‘95: flashy banners and crazy multi-colored fonts surrounded by blinking marching ants. But those nutty kids got it and Rupert snapped it up for gobs of millions, so it seemed like there might be some real magic there. Monster Energy Drink comes in an oversized can, the logo is fluorescent green and its tag line is “unleash the beast.” If you wanted to slam something that would make you dizzy, Monster was it. But then oversized wasn’t so cool anymore, and that was that. As for MySpace, their meteoric rise to stardom was only matched by the G-force inducing rate of its fall. Out of the ashes, they have become a go-to destination for talking about the latest teen boy band or undiscovered gal creating acoustic rock tunes in her dorm room. In what can only be described as an incredible coincidence, Monster was unseated by Rock Star, whose URL is rockstar69.com – go figure…
Phase 4: Red Bull is Facebook
In 1997, Red Bull was introduced in the US and made a slow, plodding path toward dominance. By 2009 they dominated with nearly half the market share of all energy drinks in the US. Sounds a lot like Facebook’s rise to power and their current stranglehold on the social media economy. Red Bull’s brand was masterfully developed through fly-in-the-face-of-normalcy sporting events and the mystery surrounding their bull-testicle ingredient, Taurine. Facebook has had its own fair share of fly-in-the-face-of-normalcy moments, which can best be documented by any network-tv interview with CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. There’s no doubt Red Bull has proven their staying power, and best guess is Facebook is going to do the same.
Phase 5: 5-Hour Energy Drink is Twitter
Smart marketers are a dime a dozen, but you have to hand it to the 5-Hour energy guys. They realized that people were sick of energy drinks with frightening-sounding ingredients like inositol, carnitine, creatine, or glucuronolactone; that drinking from a can the size of your bicep was too intimidating; and that mixing your energy drink was way too trendy. Enter 5-Hour energy, the Twitter of energy drinks. It’s small. It’s simple. It’s everything the rest of the drinks say they are but aren’t. Twitter similarly is the straight-to-the-jugular of social media. 140 characters keeps it small and tidy, without all of the other social-connectivity blather.
Phase 6: A tiny pill or something you can snort is likely Social Media’s Next Big Thing
If we’ve learned anything about social media, it’s that nothing stays the same forever. While it’s hard to imagine a world without Facebook and Twitter’s headline-stealing dominance, it hasn’t been that long since we thought AOL was the ruler of the universe, Altavista had solved search and my Razor phone was the best mobile could provide.
Don’t look now, but something else is coming. It’s probably right under our noses and it’s another way entirely to connect socially. If this were an energy drink it may not even be a liquid; it would have to be gummy or powdery, or maybe furry and Tribble-like and you’ll just rub it on your forehead for a burst of adrenaline.
Speaking of which, have you seen Formspring.me yet?
Addendum: Josta is Bebo
This point would be irrelevant, save for the fact that Bebo is about to become AOL’s $850 million dollar mistake. Sometime around 1995, Pepsi launched itself into the energy drink market with Josta. With Pepsi’s marketing muscle and enormous budget, it seemed this new entrant might give others a run for their money, but 1999, Pepsi discontinued the product. AOL tried the same sleight of hand, with the same result. Truth is, I know a few people who tried Josta, but I can’t name a single soul who will admit to using Bebo.