When Vine cofounder Dom Hofmann launched social media app Peach in January, it seemed destined for greatness. Drew Olanoff at TechCrunch wrote that it was "catching fire quickly." The Huffington Post called it "the hottest new social media app" and "your new obsession" – the article’s URL is even bolder: "peach-is-the-best-app-ever." The Guardian wrote that Peach was "taking the tech world by storm."
"Not already addicted to Peach?" asked CNET. "Read this."
Less than a week later, Peach was declared dead. Tero Kuittinen, MD at Frank N. Magid Associates, wrote that "Peach is dead, four days after its [January] launch. This seems as obvious as the death of Meerkat one month after its debut."
Meerkat is a live-streaming video app that predates Periscope. It, like Peach, stormed the social media scene, ready to take its place next to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Yet today, Meerkat is usually mentioned in very different company with apps such as Beme or Ello.
These social networks generated considerable buzz before and after their launches in 2015, but haven’t been able to turn their initial hype into staying power. This boom-bust cycle is a dilemma for communicators: The value of maintaining a multifaceted social media presence is undeniable, but is repeatedly searching for and anointing the next Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat advisable?
Experts say that even if a new platform or app has a high-pedigree founder such as Hofmann, boasts cool features, and has generated lots of hype, the most important factor for brands, agencies, and marketers is whether it can sustain a substantial user base. And that takes time.
"The ludicrous hyperbole in the first week of Peach is crazy," says Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of VaynerMedia. "I want to make sure you get the context of this right, because I’m one of the bigger Dom Hofmann fans on Earth. But nothing, nothing should be anointed. To begin to compare Peach to any of the top-25 apps in the world is stupid."
Vaynerchuk, an angel investor, has backed some of the most successful social media platforms and apps, such as Facebook, Twitter, and ride-hailing company Uber. He says in most cases, the earliest he will even "begin to flirt" with a new platform or app is six months, and after that, they must meet certain criteria to keep his attention.
"The only time I, personally, me, Gary opens his mouth and says this is something to pay attention to is when something is substantially used, well-engrained in the top 150 apps to download free on the App Store," he says. "I’ve made a very strong practice in my career to give things at least six months to a year to, A, flesh out, and B, have some level of real usage, right? What I think about Peach is that it has a great team behind it and I can’t wait to start thinking about it in 2017."
Jeff Beringer, Golin’s global digital practice leader, shares Vaynerchuk’s caution about jumping on the hype train too quickly.
"With Peach, it’s really too early to tell whether this is going to develop into anything that is long-term or if it’s going to be another flash in the pan," Beringer says.
To help clients avoid investing in untested platforms or apps, Golin operates a "digital platform council," which monitors dozens of emerging platforms and pushes out updates and recommendations to clients.
"What we look at for clients is, what is the story you need to tell? Is your audience there?," he says. "We’ll tell [clients] to hold off getting in until we have enough data to really support the fact that their customers are really there."
Fast-food chain Chick-fil-A takes a similar approach with its highly regarded social media strategy, according to Emily Randall, a digital and social media consultant for the brand.
"We ask ourselves what business objective the new platform could help us reach that other channels can't provide," she says. "Some specific factors we consider include the audience, channel capabilities, content strategy, and what resources would be required to manage the new channel."
While Beringer, Randal, and Vaynerchuk say audience may be the decisive factor, communicators should also pay attention to features introduced on emerging platforms. Between two hypothetical platforms with an equal number of users, the one that offers brands and marketers the most efficient and effective suite of tool, analytics, and ad services is a better investment.
For example, Beringer points to how Twitter solidified Periscope’s advantage over Meerkat by proactively providing potential brand users with detailed information and analytics about its user base.
"It gave marketers a sense of comfort with being able to try something themselves," Beringer says.
Another benefit of tracking emerging platforms’ and apps’ features is that established companies will sometimes see a new feature and roll it into their own platform’s functionality.
One of Peach’s features, called magic words, makes the app display different interface options like videos and drawing tools based on a set of keywords. Beringer says it caught his eye.
"I think the magic words piece of Peach is pretty cool, and you could easily imagine how – if the user base materializes and brands really start to pay attention – magic words could have brand extensions to them," Beringer says. "Imagine things like sponsored magic words, where brands could have trigger words built into the app for a period of time that add functionality, and it becomes a paid or promotional sponsorship opportunity."
Beringer says there’s always a risk that a more established platform could replicate an emerging platform’s functionalities for its already established user base, effectively removing one incentive to switch to the emerging platform. However, for users, there’s no drawback to experimenting. If a brand figures out how to leverage something like magic words, and Facebook or Twitter introduces a similar feature, that brand will be a step ahead on those platforms.
When early adoption works
Vaynerchuk notes that for marketers, it’s not advisable to invest in a new platform too early, unless the act of planting a flag and being visibly active on that technology carries an intrinsic value.
"It’s crazy to start thinking about doing marketing campaigns when you’re a Fortune 500 company a week or two in – unless you’re doing it for the headlines from the press as a proxy to being a first-mover," Vaynerchuk says.
Beringer has a similar view.
"It’s definitely worth experimentation for the right kinds of brands. Some of our clients, their brand identity is very much aligned with being an early mover and trying and testing things whether or not they materialize to millions and millions of users," he says.
Randal and Vaynerchuk also point out there are always exceptions to the wait-and-see approach. Vaynerchuk points to the rapid establishment and success of Vine. "That was even quicker than six months, and I moved very quickly," he notes, and Randal says there are no "hard and fast" rules.
"If a brand feels a new channel helps reach a business objective, it might be worth trying out," she says. "There is something to be said about being an early adopter, but it does come with risks that should be considered up front."