There was once a time when my iPhone was riddled with social networking apps, when it took forever and a day to complete a single phone update.  

Today, my phone accommodates the usual social app suspects e.g. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but in the not too distant past my thumb was habitually drawn toward networks such as Vine, Google+ and Meerkat, all now assigned to the vaults of social networking history, to be studied by digital historians.

A ‘long long’ time ago…

Back in 2014, a lifetime ago in digital years, Headstream was commissioned by the BBC Marketing & Audiences team to produce a report on emerging social networking platforms. To our astonishment we found in excess of 120 networks spanning many different genres. This probably explains why at the time my phone was infested with apps, and became a pseudo test laboratory for networking platforms.

Snapchat and Messenger were the hero apps of that report, both experiencing considerable debate and discussion amongst the venture capitalist community, widespread coverage from the media, not to mention swathes of new users adopting the platform. Brands and agencies played with the platforms, but also watched attentively from the sidelines for the right time to invest in building audiences and capitalising on their large user base.  

Today Snapchat and Messenger have joined the ‘big network’ league. Both have developed products from bots to stories as a way to further monetize their platform, provide a return for their investors, and of course create new content experiences for users to enjoy enabling brands to get in front of their audiences.  

As an industry we now have our set of go-to social networks that we advise clients on, and where we know positive results can be achieved. But, the burning question on my mind is, when will a new challenger network enter the fold, or is that it for the foreseeable future?  

What does the future hold?

Up until March 2017 social networks dominated the media with the hotly anticipated IPO of Snapchat. That IPO has since proved to be a bit of a damp squib with any subsequent first mover advantage from Snapchat being countered (read: copied) by the behemoth that is Instagram. The stark reality is that social networking is essentially a tech cartel where Facebook and Google dwarf the likes of Twitter, Snapchat and Pinterest both in terms of engineering resource and cash reserves. Nowadays, most media coverage of social networks is new updates to existing platforms or measurability scandals.

The subject line of this post is really a rhetorical question. It would take a bold startup with very deep pockets to even think about creating a new social network that could turn the heads or indeed the thumbs of a large number of users disasistfied with their current social experiences on offer from the big guns. I’m not saying it is an impossible task, but definitely a challenge.  One would assume that venture capitalists have already adopted this same point of view a while ago; I for one would question any budding entrepreneur saying they have a created a Facebook slayer.  

As someone who has followed social networking for over 10 years, I must admit that my professional life is definitely easier with the big networks such as Facebook and Instagram which can demonstrate a return on investment for our clients content activity and drive measurable sales.

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