Brands and the Audience Evolution

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Frank Bruni wrote an interesting piece in the New York Times about what Princeton prof. Daniel Rodgers calls the “Age of Fracture.

The idea is, as our knowledge has gotten more specialized, there is less common ground that draws us together. Everyone is taking in content with their own customized feeds. Even at Princeton, in a room full of geniuses, the average teacher struggles to find common cultural references.

In the mid-70’s, America’s top rated show, All in the Family, drew 23% of all Americans. That means that almost 1 in 4 Americans were reacting to the same thing at the exact same time. Today, America’s top-rated show, NCIS, draws 1/16th of all Americans (7%), including those who DVR it.

Sure, there are a few cultural events (like the Super Bowl) that draw up to 35% of us, but on a regular basis, there is no MASS AUDIENCE anymore. Everything is going niche and finding a very specific following. Some of us are watching HBO and Netflix Original Series, some are watching cable and network series, and some of us simply watch videos through our social feeds.

The same is true of social networks.

Parents and brands joined Facebook, so influencers switched to Instagram. Then they moved to Instagram, so influencers migrated to Snapchat. Fred Wilson, the legendary investor who wisely invested in Twitter, Tumblr, Zynga, Etsy & Kickstarter, recently commented on this on a fascinating profile in Business Insider.

On Instagram, he says:

“A lot of the stuff that was on Instagram has now moved to Snapchat. It doesn’t mean that people are not using Instagram, but if I go back and look at my Instagram feed a year ago versus today, there’s a lot of people who were in my Instagram feed a year ago who aren’t there today. They’ve been replaced by brands.

So now my Instagram feed is full of things like the New York Knicks and restaurants posting amazing photos of food. The young Facebook user base who left Facebook to go to Instagram has now seemingly moved mostly to Snapchat and my generation (baby boomers) plus brands are what’s on Instagram now.”

So…what is the NEXT BIG Social network once all the brands and parents get to Snapchat? Maybe nothing! In an era of niches, there’s no next big network that has attained critical mass. Instead, there are a bunch of small communities forming that cater to specific interests with very devout followings. Here are a few of the communities that are developing:

There are communities for Musicians:  40 million musicians share their music with 200,000 listeners;

Communities for Students: a network of 34.2 MM students and teachers around the world that is dedicated to helping everyone become more educated;

…and even communities for Storytellers: 25 million people around the world writing and reading 40 million stories.

The landscape has changed, but there are still a lot of great ways to reach an audience. In fact, brands may have an easier job targeting their core consumers because these communities have done such a good job of singling out very specific demographics.

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