Connecting the dots is always easiest in hindsight, so let’s take a look at everything that shook out in Q1 of 2012 across the major social channels and between the relevant players in the space. Foursquare makes a fundamental shift in their value-prop, Facebook holds a marketing conference and changes everything for 850 million users, Pinterest continues its take-over, Google consolidates and rebrands a slew of services, and now everyone can take washed out photos right from their phone. Without further ado:
- Foursquare Launches Explore (1/12): The launch of Explore at the beginning of the year was actually a bigger deal than most sources made of it. Foursquare is actually making a large shift to Explore because of the potential value it delivers to users. Traditionally, the location-based service has been about points, badges, and gamifying the places you go and the content you share while there. Explore now offers a ton of useful, relevant information to the user – what around me is the best for drip coffee, which restaurant do my friends like the best in this neighborhood, show me places that I’ve never checked into before but are trending today, etc. – and, combined with Radar, offers a huge value-prop; functionality with far more of an upside after people get over points and badges.
- Facebook Launches Timeline Applications (1/18): This announcement was big and is a precursor to the fMC later in the quarter. The new type of applications that launched here are in relation to the user’s personal Timeline; applications like Nike+, which allow the user to track progress and allow the application to bubble up aggregations of activity, will change the way that users interact with Facebook, the web, and their increasing number of devices.
- YouTube Hits 4 Billion Views Per Day (1/23): Some quick math lands us at roughly 1.5 trillion views per year, assuming no further growth, and this really emphasizes the maturation of both the channel and the audience. YouTube revolutionized the way that people on the web consume video, and Facebook changed the method and rate that people share content online; this has led to a co-evolution of media publishing, consumption, and sharing, and we may not even be at leveling off point, as more and more users globally are transitioning to smart phones and other media consuming devices. Google, through the YouTube platform, has changed the way people consume TV, movies, music, educational clips, news, and the numbers show it.
- Pinterest Becomes Top Traffic Driver (1/29): Pinterest exploded onto the scene in Q4 of 2011, and became the darling of our space virtually over night. Cut to January, and we start to see tangible results from the new social platform, reportedly having a major impact on traffic and referral numbers to retail sites and other verticals. New numbers would come out right as the quarter ended that amazingly paints Pinterest as the number three social network on the web.
- Twitter Voting for NBA Slam Dunk Contest (2/23): During awards season, we saw the ubiquity of social channels, both as a consumption medium and an engagement method. The NBA All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest is probably the most anticipated and holy events in professional basketball since its inception in 1976. Every year, the fans in the arena are given score cards to hold up to ‘judge’ each dunk, but the panel of expert dunkers has always had the final say on who progresses and eventually who takes home the trophy. This year, fans on Twitter voted Jeremy Evans into the throne by tweeting over 4 million times with hashtags, and he was crowned in real time, with no expert judges needed. Dunking by the people, for the people.
- Promoted Tweets Go Mobile (2/28): Twitter is making a big push in the ad space in 2012, and they took a big step by introducing distribution of sponsored tweets into users’ mobile interfaces. This seems like a natural extension, and should allow the social network to gain additional traction in the ad media space with big brands. That said, price points seem to still be too high for businesses outside of the top tier.
- Facebook Marketing Conference (2/29): Mark Zuckerberg, in reference to the new Timeline, stated at f8 last year that “If the original Facebook was the first five minutes [of a conversation] and the stream was the next 15, what I want to show you today is the rest – the next few hours of a deep engaging conversation.” At fMC, this became the reality for brands as well, as the announcement came that all brand pages would be transitioning to the Timeline format…and quickly. Brands scrambled to transition and take advantage of some of the new functionality – cover photo, milestones, messages, pinned posts, new application widths, etc. – and a new age of Facebook dawned.
- Google Launches Play (3/6): Google pulled off a beautiful rebranding early in March when it launched Google Play, a new grouping of their Android Market, Google Books, Google Music, and a set of video services, and incorporated it into the ‘sandbar’ at the top of Google properties. The Android Market name was retired, and the services are now known as Google Play Apps, Play Books, Play Music, and Play Movies. The truth is that between search, Gmail, G+, and YouTube, Google is much closer to Facebook in engagement and time spent than most think, and the flexibility and breadth of devices make the (former) Android Market a real force in comparison to the iTunes Store, which means that the more Google can consolidate these services and properties, the greater share of mind they have with users in comparison to the other giants in the space.
- Instagram Announces Android Launch (3/11): Much was made of the launch of Instagram for Android – everything from the overjoyed ‘droid users to the nay sayers who instantly predicted the demise of Android because “look! if it takes Instagram this long to release an Android version, what does that say about the platform!” Essentially, yes it is easier to gain mass distribution by launching your new app in the iTunes Store, but using that statement as the sole guiding factor behind your go-to-market would be shortsighted. Also, some people were just being snobs. Let’s just mark March as the month when a wildly popular mobile application finally was made available to the other half.
- Twitter Acquires Posterous (3/21): The Posterous team migrated over to Twitter at the end of Q1; an interesting shift in the landscape, but Posterous is more widely considered to be a personal lifecasting socnet, rather than a channel for brands to connect with consumers. In the end, it means that Twitter acquires some fresh talent who may be able to help come up with creative solutions, present and future, at Twitter.
- Zynga Acquires OMGPOP (3/21): Another acquisition, this time in the gaming space, results in the hottest new game, Draw Something, now falling under the umbrella of the incumbent. Some question whether the acquisition was a smart move, as the Draw Something user activity seems to have peaked and leveled off. That said, Zynga is known for their brilliant cross-game user acquisition (i.e. using the current hot game interface to drive users to the next hot game), so there may be more to this story next quarter…