Rush To Judgment -- Or, No One Has Figured Out Mobile Social (Unless They Have)

Let’s not get too excited, ladies and gentlemen, but maybe, just maybe, the term “mobile-social advertising” isn’t an oxymoron, along with, say, “display ad click-through rate.”

I say this because two stories about mobile social ads recently caught my eye:

1.  That Twitter -- at least some days -- derives more revenue from mobile ads than it does from ads for desktop.

2.  That Facebook’s early returns on mobile Sponsored Stories (which, like their desktop counterparts, appear in the newsfeed) are nothing to sneeze at, thank you very much, garnering click-through rates that are as much as 13 times higher than on the desktop version.

There are many follow-up questions to be asked -- and answered -- but I find these two developments to be interesting not only in and of themselves, but also because of the larger issue they pose: Are we too quick to judge the efficacy of social platforms?



It’s a big question, and one that has taken on particular urgency as some major social platforms -- like Facebook, and its partner, Zynga -- have gone public. As popular as both are now, the stock market seems to be saying that some kind of digitally delivered meteor could conceivably come and wipe them out -- so could they please figure out whether or not that will happen in time for next quarter’s earnings?

While it’s possible that Zynga and Facebook will be knocked off the face of the earth within the blink of an eye -- just like the dinosaurs -- I’d caution that even as many people, including me, have concerns about the long-term viability of individual social platforms, we almost invariably forget one thing: In the vast majority of cases, the struggles of individual properties as technology changes are seldom unique to them. I don’t know the staying power of either of the two optimistic factoids about mobile advertising listed above, but I have noticed a certain lack of perspective in analyzing the ability of certain platforms to roll with the times.


Protagonist #1: “Do you think Facebook will figure out mobile?

Protagonist #2: “If it doesn’t, it is screwed!”

Protagonist #1: “Yeah, it’s screwed!”

Now, what Protagonist #1 should do is step back and realize that, with the exception of hardware makers and telecommunications carriers, no one has really figured out mobile. (Alert: I may have just gone all Jonah Lehrer on you and repeated a thought from an earlier column.) Even Foursquare, whose entire business is based on mobile, hasn’t gotten its business model completely together.

Of course, if it’s my job to analyze these properties’ stocks, I might look at them entirely differently. The problem with hot Internet properties is that the rules for them change constantly -- which doesn’t always dovetail nicely with the short-term demands of stockholders.

The rules may change for public companies in myriad other industries from time to time, but not with the rapidity and randomness that they change in digital. McDonald’s may be gradually forced into offering salads and smaller sodas, but the basic people-like-fries, people-eat-fries dynamic isn’t very susceptible to radical changes in distribution or consumption (even if it should be).

Which is to say, watch yourself next time you’re judging a newer property on a newer device. Things may not be as they seem


(Just posted: the agenda for August’s Social Media Insider Summit in Lake Tahoe. Be there, or be behind!)

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