Facebook isn’t about brand loyalty, it is about crowd loyalty. This is a phenomenon that people need to take into account when they predict the big end to social media staples like Twitter or Facebook. Sure, according to a recent poll, a majority of Americans find these sites a passing fad. But did we ask only Facebook users?
Let me share a little story to explain: When I was in college, I began working for a bar and dance club on campus. The club had a steady, if mediocre sized clientele. Day in, day out, we recorded about the same numbers, profits, sales, etc. We called this brand loyalty. Soon a new nightclub opened up about 10 blocks down the road. We braced for a loss of business, and we saw it. The first few weekends were sparse, as our regular clientele checked out the new hot spot. Then they returned, saying they thought both clubs were pretty much the same. In fact, the appearance of the new club did not cost any of the existing businesses clientele long term, not from anywhere. The new joint just seemed to attract new customers who did not go anywhere previously. They made something from nothing. We decided to try to lure these new customers.
In the next 6 months we built a powerful campaign to lure the customers of the new place to ours. We adjusted our music to be more similar to them, we undercut food and drink prices. And they came. They liked. But then they left. We tried to survey some of the ones who loved the club but returned nevertheless to the new place. here is a paraphrase of the kind of response we heard over and over:
“We love the place, but we don’t know anyone there. We tried to get our friends to come there too, and they did, but we still felt like we were missing out on people we knew.”
You see, what we had chalked up as brand loyalty, that is, our customers loved our place, was incorrect. Their behavior suggested that the place was irrelevant. Truly, both clubs were more or less the same, accounting for basic layout differences. What we found was that they were loyal to a crowd, not a place.
Facebook users seem to agree. When Google+ launched, hundreds of thousands of Facebook users opened accounts and began interacting. They soon found that Google+ functioned in much the same way as Facebook, perhaps even better. But Facebook usership remained steady. Why? because that’s where the people are. Google+ was seen as a very viable alternative to Facebook, and they attracted some folks who swore never to open a Facebook account, but the real traction, the stealing of clientele who were willing to close FB accounts hasn’t happened. People are finding that although they may find Google+ more appealing, they cannot transplant 500 people with whom they interact with on Facebook. They can only move one person.
For a social media coup to happen, it must allow for whole crowds to move, not just pockets of individuals. Will Google+ offer this? Eventually, I assume they will. until then, Facebook users will gripe and complain about Facebook, and yet return regularly because that where the people are.