Will New, ‘Private’ Networks Threaten the Social Media Establishment?

social keyboard

The big story in social right now concerns privacy…or the lack thereof. As Twitter sues the U.S. government over data collection and Facebook announces plans to release an “anonymity” app, other networks have attempted to use the controversy to get attention.

Ello is the obvious one; brands, “influencers” and bored users making fun of the same have already begun joining the “ad-free” network. Snapchat still says it’s more private than its competitors despite admitting that those initial claims weren’t quite accurate and agreeing to “start a wide-ranging privacy program that will be independently monitored for 20 years.”

Then there’s Netropolitan, “the online country club for people with more money than time” (yes, that is a real tagline).

So: coveted headlines aside, can these upstarts really threaten the Twitter/Facebook monopoly?

We reached out to Saving America CCO Eric Yaverbaum, who said:

Twitter and Facebook may be both defined as social networks, but in many ways they’re not really competing. This is the result of how each service is used, how they’re monetized, and how their users are rewarded.

For all its merits (and there are many), Facebook has built an empire of hundreds of millions by progressively coaxing users to give away more personal data in exchange for convenient connectivity. Though the tech has brought us closer than ever, we’re already seeing signs of a backlash against Facebook. The more ubiquitous it is, the more incompatible Facebook becomes for serious group conversations. Research and anecdotal observation agree that the juxtaposition of semi-trivial posts (like cat pictures) prevent a thorough debate on more pressing, complex topics.

On the other hand, Twitter has always been a wonderful place to talk about big ideas – though with very few words. Although Twitter has become a true vehicle of liberty, spreading ideas over oceans and across borders, it’s impossible to articulate a complicated viewpoint in 140 characters. Clearly, there’s space for competition.

Nevertheless, I don’t see Facebook and Twitter dying off anytime soon – they’ve both learned their lessons from Myspace, and they’re both very good at what they do. But there’s plenty of room for alternate social networks to emerge, especially those which better reward their userbases.

For instance, we’re beginning to see a wave of new social networks, like Saving America, that directly pay users for their contributions. The very best of these – the most valuable in practice and for one’s wallet – will have the best chance of success.

For example, Reddit’s CEO recently introduced plans to create their own digital currency, which may be tied to the company’s stock prices. Further details are unclear. Bubblews.com, launched earlier this year, already gives users micropayments (in USD) for site interactions. Gems aims to do something similar (with another cryptocurrency) over a mobile network.

And as mentioned before, SavingAmerica.com rewards users for sharing photos, videos, and stories with SA Coin, a new digital currency. The best contributions are rewarded with higher payouts of SA Coins, incentivizing healthy discussion and creating an economy of ideas. In the future, among its other goals, Saving America plans to provide users the opportunity to pool their digital assets to make a difference, combining the promise of Kickstarter with the power of the blockchain.

Facebook and Twitter shouldn’t feel threatened by these social networks – not yet, anyway.

What do we think? Will networks like Yaverbaum’s succeed by “rewarding” their members with money or privacy? Is the social establishment safe? And can the answer to both questions be “yes?”

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.