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  • Josh Graham

Social Media Obituaries: How the platforms of the past can help your social strategy today


Headstone for Vine the defunct social media platform

Do you ever stop to think about the last time you did something? Not in a New Years' Resolution ‘I can’t remember the last time I went to the gym’ sort of way, but something much more permanent, much quieter than that. Like when you picked up and played with a childhood teddy for the very last time before discarding it for the rest of your life, unaware that this was goodbye. You head toward an exciting and uncertain future, while the teddy remains behind, frozen in time in the attic of your family home, and indeed, the recesses of your subconscious. All the while holding in its paws a tiny part of you that you didn’t know you’d lost, a part of you that represented youth, innocence, and happiness.


Or like the last time you watched a Vine in-app. Or the last time you gave someone Bebo Luv. Or the last time you updated the song that plays when someone visits your MySpace page. There are all sorts of reasons why we log out for the last time, and it’s common to wonder why long after the fact. After all, we had so much fun on these platforms - so many good times intrinsically tied to them. So why did they have to stop? Why do some social media platforms simply cease to exist? Join me, the ghost of social media past, as we look back at the dearly departed to see what we can learn to equip us for the future of social media.


MySpace


Why do we remember it?

There are a number of reasons why people of a certain age hold MySpace so dearly in their hearts. Beyond a dismissive ‘you had to be there’, it was often held so closely because of how heavily you could invest yourself into it, primarily through personalisation features in the form of coding. A skill that has now become defunct in today’s crop of platforms, perhaps because there’s no monetary merit to having people visit a profile page in the way there is with endless scrolling, its inclusion is a relic of a time where the weaponisation of social media wasn’t as sharp as it is today. It’s mindblowing now to think just how important it was: people were known for their coding prowess, and it wasn’t unheard of to have people pay to make your profile look the business.



Another important factor that keeps MySpace in our good graces is its ties to the music of the era. MySpace presented artists with a marketing tool the likes of which hadn’t been accessible to many. Giving artists the opportunity to communicate directly with fans, debut new tracks and sell merchandise, MySpace gave niche genres a new level of exposure that simply wouldn’t have been available to artists from decades past. It’s also pretty crazy to think that MySpace actually had more daily users than Google and Yahoo in its 2006 glory days


Where did it all go wrong?


Ironically, music played a big part in what eventually felled this goliath. Having spent a whopping $120 million to launch the buggy and ill-conceived MySpace Music, the platform was plagued with internal issues before a mass cull of staff thew it off balance for good. The platform actually still exists today as a music-focused platform, but telling people to check your band out on MySpace in 2023 is a bit like going up to someone in a bar and asking for their MSN.


Is there anything quite like it now?


Many of its social characteristics can be found in the platforms of today, (although you’ll still hear people decrying the inability to have their favourite song play when you visit their profile), but its contribution to today's musical landscape is perhaps the most interesting factor here. With Soundcloud, and eventually, Spotify going on to revolutionise the music industry further, the latter feels like the instant access aspect of the MySpace service taken to its logical conclusion. Whether this is a good thing or not is a separate discussion.


Bebo


Why do we remember it?

The demise of Bebo in the year of our Lord 2013 had a lot of us questioning: where is the Luv? The answer, sadly, was filing for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. Bebo might not hold quite the same reverence giant-of-the-era MySpace did, but it was undeniably a staple for many youngsters during that time. It also had many of the same features as the aforementioned, including top friends, and a healthy amount of profile customisation. The addition of quirky features such as adding your ‘other half’, sending ‘Luv’ and view counts further contributed to the bizarre social commoditisation of the era. Vanity metrics are still a prevalent issue in social media culture, but it’s hard to tell what’s more harmful; the more brazen examples mentioned here or the slightly less egregious ones of today’s platforms.


Where did it all go wrong?


As with many platforms, the power of Facebook proved too much. Having been bought by AOL in its 2008 heyday for $850 million, the platform was bought back by its original founders just five years later for just $1 million following its declaration of bankruptcy. Despite a number of stirrings in the time since that a comeback was imminent, Bebo 2.0 has never passed beta testing.


Is there anything quite like it now?


There’s a running theme here, but Facebook. Instagram to an extent? Twitter for the blogging aspect? Maybe? That said, drawing on other people’s walls, giving away your love, and indeed, arranging your friends by favourites are now strictly IRL pursuits.



Vine


Why do we remember it?


Perhaps the suddenness of Vine’s exit caused it to sting the most. And sting it did. The fondness with which millennials talk about the Vine era brings to mind the way in which the elderly recall post-war Britain. Both were good times, unified times. Such is the strength of TikTok’s algorithm that each user can have a completely unique experience in a way Vine merely hinted at. Coupled with the limitations of the format (namely the second time-limit), the likelihood of a catchphrase sticking was a whole lot likelier i.e. ‘Look at all those chickens’ ‘Chipotle is my life’ ‘freeshavocadoo’. Say any of these to your 26-35 year old, more-out-of-touch-than-they-think-they-are, cousin and you’re guaranteed at least a chuckle, if not a dewey-eyed, faraway look.


Where did it all go wrong?


A myriad of stumbling blocks precipitated Vine’s demise. While it’s true that there were no true like-for-like competitors to Vine, compilations on platforms like YouTube undeniably played a role in taking traffic away from the app itself, while in-app incentives and monetisation opportunities were non-existent, causing stagnation in content as prominent creators flocked to platforms like YouTube where they could actually make money. Basically, a great idea that didn’t move with the times.


I think this sentence needs simplified a bit to be understood by the masses. Something like "Today the strength of the TikTok algorithm means that each FYP offers a tailored experience to the individual user. Whilst this occurred to an extent on Vine, the effects weren't quite so potent."

Is there anything quite like it now?


Well, there’s TikTok of course. Unbridled by the six-second limit, creators have many more options to express themselves, and with unique trending audios creating endless springboards for conversation, TikTok feels, in many ways, like Vine’s final evolution.


Google Plus


Why do we remember it?

Well, we don’t really. Did you have a Google Plus account? No? Did anyone you know have it? You’re not sure? Exactly. Didn’t think so. But it bears mentioning because it goes to show, you can be the world’s most popular website, your search engine’s name can literally be the word people use when they mean searching for something online, but it won’t matter for much if your idea doesn’t bring something new to the table/improve on a pre-existing service.


Where did it all go wrong?


Its aforementioned lack of a USP. While it could do many of the things that Facebook did, that was exactly the problem. There was no real motivation for having both, and with Facebook’s still-burgeoning popularity, 2011 wasn’t a great time to launch. This combined with a less-than-friendly user experience led to Google doing the decent thing and taking the L. The lesson? If you’re going after the world’s biggest social media platform, you better make it good.


Is there anything quite like it now?


Facebook. But that was the problem then too.


So what you’re saying is, no one is safe?


Kinda, yeah! From what we’ve seen from these social media obituaries, it’s clear that innovation and adaption on social are essential – applying not just to the platforms themselves, but how we approach them as digital marketers. Having a great idea once is one thing, but consistent, replicable quality is ultimately what drives success. So, if you’re wanting to know which platform to put your business’s weight behind, a platform that has no qualms about evolving its product regularly is a definite green flag. Instagram is a pretty good case study for this: it’s constantly testing new features parroted from newer platforms and is timely enough about it so as to maintain its core user base. Doing this while maintaining a relatively consistent core product feels like a sign of a healthy platform.


All of that said, entropy is sadly inevitable, and like our childhood teddies, there comes a time to let go because it’s simply time to do so. Does it mean we can’t reminisce fondly from time to time? Of course not. Just so long as we’ve got an eye on the horizon at the same time.

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