Sacrificing Individuality in Business For The Sake of Competition

Whenever a business idea comes about one of the main questions that the people the idea came to ask is, “What will separate this business from those that already exist?”. The answer to this question not only helps them define the business’s unique selling point (USP) but also fully arms them with the knowledge on how to begin carving out their business’s niche in the market. It’s during that carving process where decisions are made on what specific offerings the product or service must encompass to make sure the ideal customer understands the unique benefits that they receive from doing utilize whatever it is that the business offers. 

When we take a look at the Big Five of the tech industry (Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, & Microsoft), it’s very easy to identify what initially set them apart from everything that existed prior to their inception. Each filled a void in the market or enhanced an existing offering, by building on a somewhat already existent framework. Although the uniqueness of each business was easy to see at their respective start if we take a look today a lot of their offerings coincide with each other than ever before. Each of them has their core strength which is still prominent, but in some form or fashion, they are all competing with each other more now than have ever in the past. 

This dilution of individuality for the reason of increasing competition has carried over and become most visible to most frequent internet users in the social media ecosystem.

Since 2012 there have been 5 major players in that sphere: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, & LinkedIn. Similar to the Tech Five, each platform’s unique offering was easily identifiable in those days. Facebook was for sharing status updates and staying current with the life events of your family/friends, Instagram was for photo-sharing, Twitter was for sharing your most random-thoughts and conversing in real-time, Snapchat was for sending pictures and messages that expired immediately after being viewed (later expanded into Stories w/ 24-hour lifespan), and LinkedIn was for connecting with friends & acquaintances from the business world. These waters of individuality have, however, become much more muddied in today’s day in age.

The year is 2020 and now Facebook Inc., which now also owns Instagram, has elevated themselves to a level above each of its competitors. During that rise and elevation, they haven’t been shy about pushing competitors out of the market by mimicking their unique offering and allowing users to do more while utilizing their ever going platform. Facebook now not only allows you to share statuses and life events, but you can also communicate and connect through Facebook Messenger, explore videos from content creators with Facebook Watch, by and sell used/new items using Facebook Marketplace, catch up on local and nationwide happenings with Facebook News, play games online with Facebook Gameroom, and video chat with friends/family via Facebook Portal hardware.

Instagram has also added additional services/features to its initial photo sharing purposes. Users can now post videos and pictures that expire 24-hours after posting with Instagram Stories, create/share short video clips with Instagram Reels, buy directly from a business’ online store via Instagram Shops, and post-full-length video content via IGTV. All of these changes have served the purpose of increasing market share while also increasing revenue with monetization. 

When taking a look at Twitter and LinkedIn, each of them has stayed closer to its initial intentions; however, each has added a Stories offering (initially Snapchat’s 24-hour lifespan videos). This is not a huge difference or seen as a big shift for the companies, but I’ll explain where this could become a problem.

These new offerings and updates have all been made for the purpose of increasing market share and revenue generation. Increasing those two things are almost always universally seen as a great reason for any company to make changes/adjustments. The issue, however, arises from the consumer side of these interactions. 

In the days of each platform’s inception users were allowed to have a different personality on each and knew exactly what part of them each serviced, but with so much crossover in today’s social ecosystem, it has left some users confused. What is envisioned in the companies’ minds is that they are simplifying things for the user, but in all actuality, they are just further muddying the waters and complicating things. The reality is that in search of increasing their own bottom line, each company has given users that in most cases they never asked for.

Don’t get me wrong, each update the platform has made does have benefits and simplifies life for some users. It’s my belief however that the majority of users are in the group that isn’t really benefiting from any of these things. Other than Facebook, who has really created a shift in the existing market share? Users that were using all 5, in the beginning, are probably still using 4, with the exception of Snapchat, if not all 5. No one has truly been pushed out of the market, and the only one that has suffered, on any level is Snapchat. All they have truly done is crowd the market and frustrate users

One main change that has frustrated most users is Instagram’s latest updates.

The platform has now shifted and become heavily focused on monetization and selling. Daily users complain of the initial intent being lost. The majority of the feed or timeline is now filled with ads, promoted content, and other content that users never asked to see. Whereas the dash navigation at the bottom once focused on picture sharing and interaction, it shifted to viewing content and selling/being sold. In the marketing world, we know that no one enjoys knowing they’re being sold, but Instagram does more of that each and every day. I am sure that over time they will begin to see statistics that show the negative effect this has on user behaviors and overall usage.

The flip side of this coin shows what could be perceived as a flaw by staying too tied into your individuality and not seeking to compete at all. Snapchat is essentially the same app that it has been since 2013/2014. There have been small changes made along the way from then until now, but users know what they’re going to get each time they log in to the app. The company has suffered in some ways from every other social media platform coming out with their own rendition of what it is that they do. It’s true that they may not be as big as they could be if they were the only ones to do Stories & Snaps, but it still hasn’t been done to the point that they’ve been forced to sell or shut down. 

With all of this being said I guess the overarching question would be: What’s more important to you and your company?

The user’s experience or the companies bottom line? If the answer is the user’s experience then the companies individuality should come first. But if it’s the companies’ bottom line then the company can do whatever they see fit regardless of how it affects users on their side. In my opinion, the sweet spot lies in the middle. Companies should never get to the point where they lose sight of their original intentions solely for the sake of competition. With growth comes change, but that change should ultimately be for the benefit of the user as well as the company.

OJ Montgomery
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