In the last week the app Vero has blown up, surging to over 3 million members in a matter of days. Will this platform become a genuine competitor for the big three--Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram? Or is the mammoth response more indicative of a need-and-demand for change?
People are hungry for a new, more authentic way to connect online. And that could be a huge opportunity for the right entrepreneur.
Social media has undergone huge changes. What started as an optimistic vision of bringing the world closer and creating opportunities to share ideas without barriers has shifted, as platforms have swung towards commercialization. Platforms have been corrupted by advertising and other corporate interests, diluting the appeal that arguably brought consumers to sign-up in the first place. It took 20 years or so, but we're finally at a place where companies have stripped these formerly beneficial concepts of most of their value.
A year ago, you could use Instagram and avoid advertising entirely. Now you can't avoid advertising at all--you are pushed feeds beyond your circle, and many of the people you are following are now subsidized by marketers. Consider the overnight-success-fashion influencer now plugging washing detergent or the happily-coupled TV star critiquing the latest dating app. It's all become a bit, well, shallow.
Over time, the delight of technology can get buried and rendered less of a priority. Social media platforms succeeded thanks to the simplest of promises--connections facilitated effortlessly through the digital world. Consumers flocked, brands followed, and we've never looked back--until now. The freedom that tech brought has been tainted by monetization. Part of Vero's promise is to make online sharing more like real life, which is, rich in organic connections and a more authentic network--minus the revenue generating content. In the long-term Vero will be funded through a subscription based model, but for now users are being offered 'free for life' as an incentive to register. The platform isn't new, but perhaps we've reached that critical mass required for a shake-up of what we know. I'd argue that its boom isn't so much the sign of a new kid on the block but a change in climate that will impact the phenomenon of social media as we know it. Users' needs are changing.
Most of us joined Facebook to catch up with friends, track down lost acquaintances, and share the minutiae of our lives in a way that felt natural. Over time, ideals and images skewed our perception of what was OK to share. Now, the pendulum swings between painfully curated versions of life, cat memes, and branded content. Indeed, our expectations and needs from social interactions have changed with time as well. Now that we're in an era of activism, perhaps the role of social media is to mobilize action, as opposed to persuade engagement. As entrepreneurs, we should be thinking of platforms that captivate this new sense of social awareness and moral duty, while helping our consumers rebuild their online communities based on shared values and genuine interest rather than likes and followers.
Considering the frustration of existing social media platforms--Facebook in particular--there is clearly an increasing demand for a new medium to connect with content. Vero isn't alone; other platforms such as Ello and Peach have tried to break into the market, but Vero potentially has the edge because the time feels right. Innovation can only happen at this juncture. We call it Optimus Time: the window when forces are aligned for the ideal introduction of a new behavior, product, or idea. It's the reason why incredible products fly or fail. A framework for us to build stories against and to test within our gut whether an innovation feels like it is right or not. And, in this instance, a way to ask if the realities of a new era for social media "click with life" as we see it.
So, potentially the time is right--the masses certainly seem to be adopting. The need has evolved; social connections are crying out for authenticity and honest content. Ironically, social networks are looking like they need to become more human. Between pushy commercial content, faceless trolls perpetuating cyber bullying, and unrealistic ideals triggering insecurities and isolation, the main players are facing a crisis and leaving an opening for a new solution. Social media is not going to go away, but how we use it--and from where we use it--is on the cusp of a revolution. The time is now for a new offering.