For the past month, Meerkat was the talk of the town as well as SXSW.
Meerkat is one of the newest up and coming apps which allows users to run a live video broadcast. It has a slight dependency, however, on Twitter’s platform. “Everything that happens on meerkat happens on Twitter” their website states. This includes notifications to followers that a stream is about to begin.
Twitter has of course noticed this furry presence, and has decided to cut them off from their piggy-backing practice.
An update from Buzzfeed shared the following statement from a Twitter spokesman: “We are limiting their access to Twitter’s social graph, consistent with our internal policy,” meaning that Meerkat users are no longer able to leverage their pre-existing Twitter followers – they will need to farm their own from scratch. As it turns out, Twitter has been working on integrating its own live broadcast capabilities having recently acquired a similar service, Periscope. And just like that, Meerkat is deemed a competitor.
In 2013, the Facebook app Branchout experienced a similar scenario. The service allows users to search things such as the employment history of other users in order to network. It quickly generated 33 million users through Facebook posts, and acquired almost $50 million in funding. However, when Facebook launched Graph Search, the same service was now accessibly to every Facebook user through the search bar. No need for an app.
So what kind of message does this send out to entrepreneurs, or app developers? You have three strategies to choose from: autonomy, acquisition, or annihilation.
Autonomy. If you have an idea for a killer app or social media channel, be prepared to grow your following from scratch, and without the help of other social networks. At the rate that companies acquire and develop new softwares, technologies, and services, you never know what might now be considered a competitor to the big guys.
Consider instead how companies like Snapchat, or Whatsapp have grown their user base: sourcing contact information accessible from a user’s device and sending invitations. Alternatively, you can also remind your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram followers with updates to check out your app.
Acquisition. Getting acquired by one of the giants can certainly pay off big, such as Instagram’s billion dollar purchase, Oculus VR’s 2 billion dollar acquisition, and the even more outlandish 19 billion dollar deal for WhatsApp – all deals made by Facebook. They certainly do have plenty of money to splash around, and while they do seem to buy up everything under the sun, don’t expect Zuckerberg to just hand you a check.
In fact, Zuckerberg once went on record in 2010 to state that Facebook only acquires companies for their excellent people. Whether or not that was the case with the aforementioned acquisitions is something he may never share. But it may be tough to say that WhatsApp founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton are worth 9.5 billion each. So if acquisition is what you seek, you are going to need more than a great platform.
Annihilation. Ok, a bit dramatic. Meerkat made the bold decision to rely on Twitter to support their platform from the beginning, a move which cofounder Ben Rubin understood might not go over too well with the giant. And they were able to build some great traction and awareness during that time, but ultimately that plan was annihilated. You might be able to say that making Twitter sweat is decent proof of concept for your product – you might even get some extra media attention when they cut you off with little to no warning – but ultimately, you will have to start over on your own, or risk being blown out of the water by more widely used services offered by the giants such as in the Branchout flame-out.
Rubin suggests that the next step is to introduce ways that people can connect with one another within the app. That timeline to deployment however, will certainly be a number one priority in order for the company to continue its growth.
What does this means for brands leveraging social media?
If you’ve been investing and pouring time into building your following on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and some of the other giants, don’t stop. We will need to monitor Meerkat for some time to see if people are joining en masse. But if Twitter is soon to launch a live broadcasting service as is suggested, you might as well use it to engage with your current followers.
Don’t worry about not being on Meerkat and missing the train. You can always join in later if you see that your audience or target demographic starts to use the service.