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Fields of dreams: Why self-contained cross-media platforms are doomed to fail

By Mike Raysor | Paid Media Director

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September 26, 2023 | 8 min read

Hungry media platforms can’t help dreaming of the holy grail: the everything-platform that devours all competitors. For The Drum’s media convergence deep dive, Mike Raysor says it’s an impossible dream.

Lego figures acting out a dangerous tree-trunk-bridge crossing by a jeep

Platforms are trying to build the perfect 'everything-platform' - but is it a doomed dream? / Claus Jensen via Unsplash

The rise of digital and social media has fragmented the media landscape. With more channels and platforms available, users are able and willing to consume content, ubiquitously.

For advertisers, reaching and engaging consumers is well past the age of one-directional broadcasting. Users expect to be ‘pulled in’, be it through content, social values or brands being accessible when they are ready to engage. This can mean costly and time-consuming initiatives, with the need to continuously build a presence on new channels while leveraging current channel audiences as the foundation for the nascent channel’s growth.

In response, however, we are seeing attempts at cohesive, self-contained ecosystems across communications, content, and culture. Major players continue with expansion plans for consolidated cross-media experiences.

They’re building it, but who will come?

Everything-platforms: what’s in the way?

What’s preventing social media homogeneity? The roadblocks range from the specific (individual preference) to the expansive (major cultural factors). ‘Do I think this is cool? Have my cohorts moved on? Would my circle approve?’

Google’s foray into social media with the short-lived, at least in my circles (pun intended?), Google+ saw firsthand that just having all the data and tools doesn’t guarantee interest or engagement in a singular platform.

Meta, meanwhile, has consistently created carbon copies of seemingly every competitor app with longevity potential. In other cases, they’ve outright bought these upstarts in an effort to maximize profits in this attention economy. However, it hasn’t exactly translated into more interest into their specific offerings.

Even the initially meteoric, then stagnating, ‘success’ of Threads was largely due to the forced migration of current Instagram followers in addition to the very public flailing of its singular inspiration (Twitter, or ‘X’).

Then there’s Meta’s ‘metaverse’, Horizon Worlds. It sought to become a hub for countless forms of virtual interaction, play, and daily life (for anime fans, think Summer Wars). So far it’s been a lot of slow starts, often accompanied by the pillorying of its head, Mark Zuckerberg – so much so that whether it is successful in the future is likely as tied to how ‘cool’ it seems as what it can offer.

There’s no social in a vacuum

Good or bad, social media is a complex phenomenon with political, practical, and personal implications.

Forums, niche communities, live streaming, shopping: where individuals go for these outlets can be as meaningful as the outlet itself. How users view each social entity changes across its lifecycle as well as where they are in their own life cycle. At maturity, there’s more scrutiny of the value each entity brings, the environment it fosters, and the impact it has on the real world.

For example, ‘X’ has now become so synonymous with dysfunction and the personal whims of a single person that being verified on the platform has become such a scarlet letter that the platform offers the option to hide the verification.

Response to X’s downfall has been multiple new apps trying to replace it. Whether they evolve to find success or not, motivations for joining and leaving a platform will remain tied to aspects of the individual and cultural identity. Those values and mores keep shifting.

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Going all-in

Still, there’s significant momentum in the direction of an all-in platform. We’ll continue to see consolidation of tech by a few players until one entity has created a workable Frankenstein facsimile of other apps’ offerings.

There is one entity that may be poised to create an omni-channel, omnipresent experience: Amazon. From a bookseller to barreling down the medicine space and everything in between, the behemoth has been collecting data on every trackable interaction all along. Of course, such convenience comes with trade-offs – Bezos’ politics, investigations over anti-competitive practices, persistent working condition concerns, privacy violation payouts – but they might be less concerning for most.

Amazon seems highly suited to creating a homogeneous ecosystem that anticipates needs, encourages discussions, facilitates sales, and prompts social engagement and re-engagement. In short, everything an advertiser would love to spend against.

Nevertheless, there’s no indication or guarantee these comprehensive ecosystems will realistically be more than just a field of dreams.

Even if, somehow, anti-trust laws were more lax than they are, culturally, you’ll always have people who will challenge the status quo or look to offer an alternative to the behemoth. Unlike Wall Street or American Banking Institutions, social media isn’t too big to fail, and I doubt it ever will be.

Marketers should seek to foster communities in real and authentic ways, find users where they are, and be accessible enough to engage with. Fragmentation is the path of more resistance, but staying power as a brand means being at the forefront of wherever social transformation takes us.

For more smart thinking on media's big moment, head over to The Drum's media convergence deep dive hub.
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