Amazon’s Spark that Fizzled …

Amazon Spark: Less like a sizzle … more like a fizzle.

It’s now been more than nine months since Amazon launched its social media platform Spark … and so far, it’s hardly sizzled.

In fact, it’s made barely a ripple in the market.

There are plenty of people who contend that the last thing the world needs is yet another social network. But others would like to see new alternatives to the recently beleaguered Facebook platform.

As for its trajectory, it looks as if Spark is following the former rather than the latter path. The question is, “Why?”

Very likely, the answer lies in Spark’s questionable underlying raison d’etre.  Essentially, Spark is a social feed of photos and other images. That makes it similar to Instagram … sort of.

One difference between the two platforms is that Spark is open to exclusively to Amazon Prime members.  That limits the potential number of Spark users pretty severely, right from the get-go.  [It’s true that non-members can view Spark feeds — but they can’t post their own content. And what’s a social platform if you cannot interact with it?  It isn’t one.]

Another difference with Instagram may be even more of a fundamental problem. The rationale for Spark is to focus on products that Amazon sells.  Spark is directly “shoppable,” which differentiates it from Instagram and other social networks.  It also makes it less like a true social network and more like a garden-variety e-commerce site.

In other words, rather than being an interesting and engaging social platform, Spark is boring. Informative – but boring.

It isn’t that Amazon/Spark allows brands themselves to post content there; posting privileges are granted only to people it dubs “enthusiasts” or “onsite associates.” Brands must seek out “regular people” [sic] who are members of Amazon Prime to post content on their behalf about their products.

And I’m sure that’s happening – along with varying levels and forms of compensation flowing to these supposed “enthusiasts” in return for the product plugs. But can anyone imagine less compelling content than what results from this kind of commercialized “AstroTurfing”?  No wonder people are ignoring this social media platform.

Andrew Sandoval, a group director for media planning agency The Media Kitchen, summarizes Spark’s predicament by noting that lifestyle-focused people tend congregate on Instagram — a place that shows people living their lives through products. By contrast, “Amazon Spark is mostly just talking about your products, which is the hard-sell.  Ultimately, the e-commerce social experience is a little too far from the social experience,” Sandoval opines.

Have you interfaced with Spark since its July 2017 launch? If so, do you see redeeming qualities about the platform that the rest of us might be missing?  Please share your comments with other readers.

“Dying on the Vine”: Why the video sharing service is now history.

vineRemember back in 2012 when Twitter introduced its Vine video sharing service?

Back then, observers were positively breathless in their accolades for the service, with some positing that Vine represented some sort of tipping point in the world of instant communications.

A little more than four years later … and as of November 1, Vine has just been shuttered. How is it that such a vaunted social media platform went from de rigeur to rigor mortis in such a short time?

There are several key reasons why.

Time and place: The year 2012 was a perfect time to launch Vine, as it coincided with when many companies and brands were shifting their focus towards video communications.  At the time, short-form video was a novelty, making it a kind of dog whistle in the market.  But Instagram, newly acquired by Facebook, swooped in and made a big splash, too, while Snapchat attracted younger audiences.  What was Vine’s response to these competitor moves?  If there was much of any, no one seems to have noticed.

Competing … with yourself: Strange as it may seem, Twitter itself ended up competing with Vine in 2015, launching its own branded video playback capabilities.  When something like that happens, what’s the purpose of the older brand that’s doing the same thing?  Twitter’s simultaneous foray into live-streaming was a further blow to a brand that simply couldn’t compete with these newer video services introduced by Vine’s very own parent company.

Commercial viability? — What commercial viability? In all its time on the scene, Vine never figured out a way to sell advertising on its network.  It had a good germ of an idea in sponsored content, but never seemed to capitalize on the opportunities that presented, either.

Knowing your audience: From the outset, Vine attracted a fairly unique and crowd of users, such as people involved in the hip-hop music scene.  It was vastly different from the typical user base in social media – and yet Vine never did all that much to support these users.  As a result, there was little brand affinity to keep them close when the next “bright, shiny object” came their way.

In the social media space, the rise and fall of platforms can happen with amazing speed. Unlike some other platforms, Vine was a big hit from the get-go … but perhaps that turned out to be a double-edged sword.  Vine never did figure out a way to “mature” with its audiences – which eventually left it behind.

In the end, Vine went out not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Bird dropping: Instagram overtakes Twitter in the social media derby.

Instagram logo

It seems like the jockeying for position among social networks is never-ending.

The latest case in point:  Instagram, which is presently the fastest growing social media network in the United States.

According to the latest figures released by digital market research company eMarketer, as of February 2015 Instagram now has over 64 million users in America.

That’s a ~60% increase in just one year, and it puts Instagram in third place among all social networks, surpassing Twitter for the first time.

Not only that, eMarketer forecasts that Instagram will add more than 10 million additional users in the United States this year:

  • Facebook: ~157 million U.S. users forecast in 2015
  • LinkedIn: ~115 million
  • Instagram: ~78 million
  • Twitter: ~53 million
  • Pinterest: ~47 million
  • Tumblr: ~20 million

       (Source:  eMarketer and LinkedIn, February 2015.)

eMarketer also forecasts that Twitter will continue to fall further behind Instagram in the upcoming years, since Twitter’s annual growth is expected to be in only the single digits throughout the rest of the decade.

Based on the overall American population, Instagram has now a market penetration of nearly 25%.  Of course, that’s well behind Facebook, which has nearly 50% penetration.

Untitled-1But Instagram’s user base is skewed heavily towards teens and millennials – people between the ages of 12 and 34.  This makes Instagram a bit more of a threat to LinkedIn and even Facebook than you might think at first.

Facebook’s user base has been skewing older in recent years.  If those trends continue, we could see a measurable drop-off in Facebook’s share of users, with a corresponding rise in Instagram’s penetration.

Of course, we mustn’t forget that Facebook was the social media network of choice for younger people at one time, too.  After all, it got its start on college campuses.  But now that Facebook has solid adoption among older Americans (age 40 and over), no longer does it seem like a “cool” network for some millennials and teens.

So it would be foolish to assume that Instagram is a slam-dunk to continue to be the “network of choice” for younger people in the years hence.  One never knows what new network might suddenly appear on the horizon and capture their hearts.

Still, Instagram’s rise has been noteworthy.  And it certainly puts the lie to the notion that there wasn’t room for a new network to enter the increasingly crowded social media space and make a big splash.

Personally as an “aging boomer,” I don’t have an Instagram account, and neither do most of my acquaintances.  What about your own personal experience or professional experiences with this network?

Living Life in Pictures

PhotographyYou know the old adage:  A picture is worth a thousand words.

Well, with the plethora of images being uploaded these days … we’re talking billions and billions of images and words.

Recently, Yahoo estimated that the number of images uploaded to the web is nearing 900 billion, which translates to nearly 125 photos for every person on the planet.

Facebook reports that it’s seeing more than 6 billion photos uploaded each month, on average.

And Instagram?  It’s reporting that nearly 28,000 photos are uploaded every minute.

Clearly, we love our photos.  And since digital technology makes it so easy to take good-quality photos and post them instantly, it seems people can’t get enough of doing so.

It’s an interesting twist — in a sense, taking us back to the cavemen days and illustrations on the walls.

Over the centuries, words and language have made it faster and easier to communicate, even as drawing, painting or developing photos using analog (film) technology was difficult and/or time-consuming.

In more recent times, Polaroid® photos gave us a more “instant” experience with images … but sharing them was no easlier than before.  (Plus, let’s be honest:  Most Polaroid shots were pretty lame in the quality department.)

Now that digital photography is as effortless as it is … it seems everyone is rushing back to pictures.

We’re even seeing it in the world of books.  Take Amity Shlaes’ book The Forgotten Man, about the Great Depression.  It came out in conventional form in 2008.

The Forgotten Man (Graphic Edition)But now, it’s being released in a picture book version:  The entire book has been re-imagined as an elaborate comic book, replete with illustrations by veteran graphic artist Paul Rivoche.

And based on the early indications, it looks like the new graphic version is going to outsell the original.

Is all of this some kind of regression to an earlier stage — a return to a sort of “collective adolescence writ large”?

I think not.  It’s more a function of “doing what’s possible.”

I think human beings have always gravitated to pictorial portrayals — which explains the immediate embrace of movies and television when those innovations came on the scene.

So when photography becomes so easy to produce and to share, it’s only natural that we’re going to have billions and billions of images swirling around as a result.

And why not?  Life’s all the richer because of it.

It’s Official: Instagram is in the Big Leagues Now

Thanksgiving Day 2012 on Instagram
Thanksgiving Day 2012 broke all records for Instagram’s photo sharing volume, with over 10 million photos shared and more than 225 per second at its peak.

Instagram, the mobile photo sharing service that came on the scene about two years ago, has been quietly building a following among many people who are attracted to its simplicity and ease of use, along with the enhanced image quality it offers. 

This past Thanksgiving proves how important Instagram has become within the social media fabric.  On Thanksgiving Day, fully 10 million photos were shared on Instagram.

At its peak time at 3:40 pm (Eastern Standard Time), photos were being shared at a rate of ~225 per second.  and throughout the the peak dinner hours from 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm EST, more than 200 photos per second were being shared.

According to Instagram’s statistics, Thanksgiving Day was the busiest in the service’s history, which normally has about 5 million photos uploaded per day.

Facebook, which acquired Instagram in September, sees far more photo uploads on its flagship social platform – around 300 million images per day – which makes Instagram a relative babe in the woods. 

But Facebook looks to have big plans for Instagram, including a goal of doubling the number of app users from ~100 million to ~200 million.

Clearly, Instagram is one social platform that merits following in the months ahead.  Now that it’s joined the rarified ranks of the other platforms that have broken through to the “big leagues,” it’ll be interesting to see where Instagram goes from here and how it monetizes itself.