This is an opinionated blog post based on some observations we’ve made within the consumer social market. After some small initial promotion for the current version of Maintain, we have discovered a few “barriers to entry” within this space. When we mention “barriers to entry,” we are referring to challenges we face in communicating our vision directly to consumers.
The two major challenges at play here come down to pricing and framing. We will use this post to explore why these barriers exist and look at some potential strategies that might assist in maneuvering through these obstacles.
Pricing & Framing
The ongoing data privacy clash between Facebook and Apple sparked headlines on Monday the 3rd of May stating, “Facebook and Instagram threaten to charge for access on iOS 14.5 unless you give them your data.” The headline is a bit of a misinterpretation of what is actually happening. Apple, a company that seemingly cares about user protection and privacy, is requiring third-party apps to prompt users before tracking their data. Facebook, whose core business model revolves around collecting data for ad optimization, knows that a noteworthy amount of their Apple-based users will potentially disallow access, which threatens the profitability of their core business model.
This news quickly blew up on the subreddit r/Technology in a post with over 40k upvotes. The top comment with over 11k upvotes simply prompts a question, “Would anyone actually pay to use Facebook or Instagram?” The thread of replies following is a fascinating back and forth “discussion” around the viability of consumers paying for social media. Now, we would be delusional to conclude that the replies were ones in support of alternative business models, which undoubtedly makes sense. Users have never paid a penny for any of the traditional major social media platforms (ie. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), and with their current state, we don’t foresee users ever making that change within those platforms.
That said, some of the replies were more willing to pay for products like Facebook and Instagram if they existed in a different state than they do now. One comment with around 4k upvotes states the following...
“5 years ago? Before all this Cambridge Analytica and genocidal support nonsense? I would have been the first to sign up. It could have been a very different service that was actually focused on keeping you connected to your friends wherever they are. Now? Sorry - no dice.”
This comment and the support it received highlight two main takeaways for us. First, it shows us that some users are acutely aware of the fact that social media companies are not primarily focused on keeping you connected to your friends. This fact was made even more publicly acknowledged with Dr. Joan Donovan's recent statement before the US Senate regarding social media and algorithms.
“Over the last decade, social networking (connecting people to people) morphed into social media (connecting people to people and to content), which resulted in exponential profits and growth. Most people don’t know the difference between social networking and social media, but this transition was the key to products like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube dominating global markets in mass communication.”
Our second key takeaway is that this “barrier to entry” regarding utilizing an alternative business model ultimately boils down to an issue of framing. Consumers are willing to pay for a product that keeps them reliably connected to their friends, but social media, connecting people to people and to content, has become such an overwhelming and destructive place that some would rather leave altogether than use platforms like Facebook and Instagram to stay connected. This perception that consumers have formed poses a big hurdle for Maintain or any other new social networking type applications entering this market. This is something that we have already started to run into. Some consumers easily grasp what a service like Maintain is offering to them and are quite supportive, while others misconstrue Maintain as just another social media app. With the way consumers currently perceive social media, there is no way they would consider using a new application, let alone pay for one.
We’re not going to pretend that we know the perfect solution for this framing issue. Lots of variables are at play here and it’s tough to judge exactly where general consumers are currently at (regarding their relationship to social media). However, we think the most obvious potential workaround comes in the implementation of effective marketing.
What that marketing exactly looks like is a bit of an unknown, but it’s pretty much what we are currently putting all our efforts into working towards. We need to communicate to consumers the uniqueness of what Maintain offers within this market space, and we need to do it in a way that feels surprising yet familiar. It’s likely we won’t get things spot on the first time around, but after a few attempts we’ll be another inch closer to bringing Maintain to life.