Why social media platforms won’t be free forever

We’ve all come to love, mostly, social media. The first kid on the block, MySpace disappeared when Rupert tried to make back his then astonishing $580M purchase price, in a single day. The the upstart Facebook migrated from the domain of US college students to anyone with an email address, or 10. Blogging had been around and popular but was a siloed activity with feedback and comment coming only after an audience had been built. Then came Twitter’s micro blogging which we didn’t even know we needed until we couldn’t finish or start every breathe without telling our followers about the breathe we were about to, or had just taken.

Follow the money!

Rupert lost his cash on MySpace and even though it’s been reinvented, rebranded and relaunched, it’s a ghost town.

The most anticipated IPO of the past decade was Facebook. It heralded a return to the days when millionaires, even billionaires could be made overnight; if your were an advisor or merchant banker on the inside of the deal. Facebook stock has recovered half of what it lost since Zuckerberg asked his long time girl friend to marry him but it’s nowhere near its opening bell price. And with a revenue strategy that is as revolutionary as airships don’t expect it to recover. Ever. Hindenburg. It might be a great platform for companies selling their wares but it’s getting old and tired very quickly. With no new money coming and no longer being the cool kid at the party Facebook is becoming the slightly out of date uncle that is trying to be king of the kids. In reality, Facebook is fast becoming everything Mark hated about himself which was the catalyst for creating The Facebook. Circle of life, much?

Twitter hasn’t listed but must at some time. Soon. A couple of years back they took a $300M investment from a Saudi prince and gave him, I shit you not, a mere 3.75% of the company. This deal instantly valued Twitter, which had made not a single dollar, at $8,000,000,000. Look at all those zeros. Eight. Billion. Dollars!

Google+. Stop laughing. This is Google’s second or third attempt at a social platform. I’m a big fan and have a bad poker face. I love this platform and am not quite sure why. I think it’s because I can have long conversations with people I don’t know but share an interest. This makes it very different to Facebook (can only talk to friends and lets be honest, how interesting are they – no offense friends who read this) and Twitter (where pithy takes on a whole new meaning somewhere between art form and cryptography – that’s code breaking, dummy).

There’s one more thing that Google+ has over both Facebook and Twitter; bucket loads of money. Plus patience. Google is more than happy to play the waiting game. They invented the waiting game. They also invented the ‘oh, that looks fun, let’s buy that company’ game. They play both very well and win frequently.

Polish your crystal ball and look into the future. Facebook falls over because revenues remain stagnant, investors pull out and the company is purchased for pennies on the dollar by Rupert. Then it dies. Twitter continues on its trajectory of being an easier platform for spammers and with no revenue model is purchased by Rupert. Then it dies.

Google has a history of giving things away and then turning the taps off when they feel the time is right.

There are some notable exceptions like Gmail but in reality it is the perfect entry point for all of Google’s other services not to mention the constant visitors for AdWords advertisers. And lest us not forget the massive data mining exercise that Google embarks upon with every email sent and received through their ‘free email’ service. There are also add ons to the service like data storage for people who really need to keep every email they’ve ever received (ie are too lazy to cull their old emails).

Recently they turned off their free Google Apps service. This service is for SMEs and provides a host of brilliant collaboration platforms like Gmail, Docs, Messaging and easy management of all those services. Plus there are a host of third party widgets that can be installed to enhance your business operations.

If you already have an account you can add domains to your free account but you can’t create a new free account. Kills me that I merged all my free accounts into one master account about a year ago. Ho hum…. still, glad I have that one free account. New members will need to pay $5 per user per month. That’s $60 per employee per year. And that’s what I reakon they will do with Google+ sometime in the future when Facebook has been sold to Rupert.

Why I am no longer a Creative Director*

When I started in advertising the Creative Director of an advertising agency was the most senior person in the creative department. Depending on the size of the agency they may also be a partner in the business or even the agency owner. The most creative advertising professionals, the ones who won gold lions at Cannes year on year were Creative Directors.

On the creative ladder, CD was the top. It was an aspirational role for sure and unique to the advertising business. But something happened a couple of years ago. Perhaps with the popularity of The Gruen Transfer or just because it sounded ‘cool’, the title Creative Director started popping up all over the place. Suddenly magazines had Creative Directors. Then record labels had Creative Directors. Then startup businesses that loosely worked in the creative industry had Creative Directors. I think this is all Don Drapers‘ fault!

True Creative Directors were people with minds that worked differently to everyone else’s. Beyond the creative side of their remit was the business side. They were as familiar with marketing strategy as they were with managing client relationships. They also had a great sense of humour and presentation skills that could sell anything to anyone. I once saw the CD of one of the big agencies I worked for, fake a heart attack in the middle of a presentation to their bank client, then get up and continue on with the presentation, all to win a $100 bet with the agency MD. Inspired!

I was immensely fortunate to be taught by George Betsis and then train under four great CDs; Grahame Bond (at BondStrothfeldt), Bob Mitchell (at Clemenger), John Anstey (at SASS) and Jan O’Connell (at Grey). And when Tim Hunt promoted me to Creative Director at Capital I had 15 years experience under my belt working in some of the biggest, some of the best creative departments on some of the biggest brands in the world. When I founded my own agency I continued as Creative Director. And that’s when the real work started. Inside someone else’s agency there is a support system. Not so when you’re doing it for yourself. But the flip side is unprecedented freedom in every aspect of the business you are creating; in reality, a true Creative Director.

CDs in adland noted this devaluing trend in the title and started looking for alternatives; Creative Partner, Executive Creative Director or my personal favourite, CCO (Chief Creative Officer). WTF! IMHO none of these fit the bill. So they drew upon their creative minds and looked left field; Head of Ideas, Principal Thought Generator, Ideationist. I mean seriously, rather than defining what their roles and responsibilities, these titles sound at best confusing and at worst a joke.

I experimented with alternative titles when I was CD at Left FIeld. The company name deemed that we needed to be different and we wanted to portray that difference at every opportunity. Staff titles was the first place we started. I was Creative Director, Knower of Things and Chief Swashbuckler. The format was simple; real title from employment contract, a talent, a personality trait. We rolled this format out to all staff. They appreciated it and so did clients and other stakeholders. A great icebreaker as well as serious communication device.

But I will no longer call myself a Creative Director. The title has lost any true value and now is as useful as describing someone as a ‘consultant’.

* For the purposes of being pigeon holed and LinkedIn, I have to keep calling myself a Creative Director. At least my mum now understands what I do for a living.