Social Media And The Dragon

The slavemaster, Kraznys, cannot believe his luck. Daenerys, of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons, has just offered to sell him one of those dragons in exchange for 8,000 Unsullied slaves. The Unsullied are enormously valuable, but a dragon is invaluable. Kraznys jumps at the offer.

But as soon as the deal is done, the dragon turns on him. Confused, Kraznys tries to complain to Daenerys. She explains what he ought to have known all along: You can’t buy a dragon. A dragon is not a slave.

And then she tells the dragon to burn him alive.

If Kraznys were here today, he would probably have some advice for social media platforms.

According to Statista, the future of social media ad spend is bright: the company expect a compound annual growth rate of 11.24% through 2027, resulting in a projected global market volume of U.S. $385 billion.



I find those numbers curious, as I do all market research reports. The forecasts essentially continue the trends from the past few years. This year, social media ad spend grew at a slower rate than last year, so the forecast shows it growing at a slower rate again the following year, then slower again, and slower again… It never goes negative.

The analysis of reach by individual platforms follows a similar pattern: Each platform simply continues on its current trajectory. If you grew over the past two years, Statista ‘s got you growing for the next five; if you shrank over the past two years, you keep shrinking for the next five.

It’s remarkable in that nothing remarkable happens. And yet we know that in the social media world, remarkable things happen all the time. MySpace went from 22 million users in 2005 to 115 million in 3 years. That was also the year Facebook surpassed it in unique visitors -- and the rest is history. MySpace plummeted back to 60 million just three years after that.

With MySpace, two things happened simultaneously to hasten the platform’s demise. The first was that people became frustrated with the platform; the second, that with Facebook, users had a viable alternative.

Facebook’s parallel demise, which has been predicted ever since, has remained elusive, largely due to anticompetitive acquisitions removing any threats from the landscape -- no viable alternative. As a result, it has remained the largest social media network, with roughly 3 billion monthly unique users. And yet…

In the fourth quarter of last year, for the first time ever, daily active users declined. In the second quarter of this year, for the first time ever, monthly active users declined. The platform is not unassailable.

And for the first time ever, there may well be a viable alternative, in the form of TikTok. TikTok reached a billion users in half the time Facebook did. It is eminently possible for TikTok to surpass Facebook and for the latter to simply… implode, a la MySpace.

It’s possible for this to happen because, for all the acquisitions and the high switching costs and the deep moats, Facebook has never owned us, and never will.

Likewise, Elon Musk is finding out that he doesn’t own the Twitter staff, who are leaving en masse. Twitter may well be inoperable by the time you read this.

It’s easy to assume that past behavior is predictive of future behavior, and that therefore we can count on it.. It’s a hard asset, one we can own and sell.

But we never own each other’s behavior. Elon’s realizing it now, and Mark Zuckerberg may discover it far more quickly than Statista imagines.

All of them could have just asked Kraznys. He would have told them you can’t buy a dragon. It comes of its own free will -- or it burns you alive.

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