Can brands be bothered getting set up on yet another social channel?
James Hacking, founder and chief playmaker at Socially Powerful, explains the social fatigue in the agency world as part of The Drum’s media convergence deep dive. Are we ready for another Meta product?
As Elon Musk casually reveals that he might charge users a monthly fee for access to X or Twitter if you prefer, brands are again faced with the need to consider alternative social media platforms seriously. While Musk claims the idea of a fee is to combat bots, it feels likely that this could be a step too far for users, many of whom are increasingly bored and frustrated by the changes put in place during the first year of Musk’s ownership.
Interestingly, this latest Musk diktat comes as Meta-owned WhatsApp begins the global roll-out of its new Channels feature, initially launched in June. Unashamedly similar to X, in that users can follow celebs, sports teams and brands for updates directly to their phone, Channels sees WhatsApp take another step away from its traditional role as a communications app towards becoming a social media platform.
The content available on Channels is quite limited; of course, Mark Zuckerberg is there, and celebrities including Olivia Rodrigo and DJ David Guetta, football teams like Manchester City and Liverpool and collecting fans and organizations like the World Health Organisation. But it is still early days, and whether it can gain user traction remains a big question mark.
WhatsApp parent company Meta has made no secret of its intention to make the comms platform its next big money spinner. In an interview with CNBC last June, Zuckerberg said WhatsApp represented the “next chapter” for Meta. But for Channels to work, it will need buy-in from brands, celebs and public figures to generate continual interest and engagement and the kind of content that people want to see.
WhatsApp has an unbelievable amount of people’s attention, even without being considered a social media channel. However, Musk has outlined his intentions to transform X into a super, everything app, just like WeChat. At the same time, the other big social media platforms are fast evolving into social entertainment channels that are increasingly less about authentic interactions between friends. There is a clear opportunity here for WhatsApp to move into that space.
Changing the user experience to improve engagement is a typical pattern across social media platforms; borrowing from other platforms is not new. There have been endless copycats, the most obvious example being TikTok’s ‘For You’ feature, where users can endlessly scroll short-form videos, which has resulted in Instagram Reels, Facebook Reels, YouTube Shorts, a For You tab on X and new features on Snapchat and Spotify.
So, will Channels fare better?
It has more potential than status updates and is more easily integrated, but getting audiences to adopt something new can be tricky. The most obvious example is Threads, another Meta product. It broke records by racking up 1 million users in an hour when it launched in July and 100 million in just five days - by importing accounts from Instagram. However, it is reported to have already lost 80% of its active users.
That brings us back to Musk and X. While his ownership of the platform causes widespread unease and continual changes, causing a frequent uproar, there was no real need for Threads as an X competitor.
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Does anyone want another platform to follow, and do brands need another one to navigate? I do not doubt that at Socially Powerful, we will find ways to use it to distribute content and seed out messages to people on Channels, especially if we know it won’t be behind a paywall or require additional paid budgets to do so.
What isn’t clear just yet is how Channels will keep people engaged without the genuine interaction they have become accustomed to. It’s great to react to content and not just flood people’s channels with mindless stuff, but how long will audiences be happy just giving a thumbs up before it becomes stale?