By Cara Friedman It's a dog eat dog world out there, especially in a fast paced industry like social media. Every startup in Silicon Valley is trying to jump on the social bandwagon. Sometimes they have staying power and other times they are just fads that fade away. This week, a number of formerly popular platforms are planning to say their goodbyes. What went wrong that led to these platforms shutting down or fading out? Let's take a look at the 3 most recent casualties.
The Story. AOL Instant Messenger used to be synonymous with online chatting. Now, insiders report that AOL is slashing over 40 employees, the majority coming from the AIM unit. The only employees left in the AIM department will be support staff with all of the developers being eliminated. This means that there will be no advancement in the platform and they will essentially fade out.
What Went Wrong? AIM was at the top of the pack but when strong competitors came along, they made little effort to compete. GChat and Facebook Chat came in and made chatting with friends easier. These platforms integrated chat into users general actions leaving AIM in the dust.
The Lesson. You have to be adaptable in an industry that is constantly changing. Your customers will be loyal but once an easier platform is created, there is no guarantee that loyalty alone will keep them. (Remember how many Yahoo! users switched to Google? And Myspace users that switched to Facebook?!)
The Story. Three years ago at SXSW Gowalla premiered and now on the anniversary of its creation, the site has shut down for good. A few months ago Facebook purchased the platform as a talent acquisition and announced that the site would be winding down. Some speculated that this was a graceful way to bow out from stronger competitors such as Foursquare. Regardless, the site is now gone for good and users will only have their old check-ins as a memory.
What Went Wrong? Although there was buzz around Gowalla, it never had the momentum that competitors had. Foursquare has been the dominant network in the location-based application space and Gowalla wasn't innovative enough to compete. Other competitors, such as Facebook Places, tried to come into the space but didn't succeed. Instead of doing nothing, Facebook acquired Gowalla in an attempt to compete.
The Lesson. Being creative and thinking outside the box may be the difference from a successful company and a flop. If something isn't working, you need to change it and take risks. Facebook was creative. They purchased Gowalla to stay in the game. Gowalla wasn't and because of that, they are no longer.
The Story. Posterous came on the scene in 2008 as a microblogging website. Similar to the Gowalla story, Posterous recently announced that it is being acquired by Twitter. While no plans for shutting down the site have been announced, if you read between the lines, Twitter's blog seems to be preparing users for the eventual shut down. They have suggested that you back up all your files to transfer to a new platform as well assuring users they will get ample warning in the event of a change. Sounds to me like they are planning to get rid of Posterous!
What Went Wrong? According to Posterous, nothing went wrong! The team seems to excited to be working at Twitter now even though that means the eventual demise of Posterous. Posterous fans however, are not as excited. While some users posted congratulatory sentiments, others were disappointed. Fans and users were unhappy with the decision to move to Twitter and were complaining about the lack of transparency regarding the future of the company.
The Lesson. Responsiveness and transparency are important qualities for a business. Concerns from fans should be addressed, not ignored. Maybe with some transparency and explanation, Posterous could show their users that this change is for the best. The silence however just angers fans and creates more uncertainty.
These examples are not hard to come by. What we can do going forward is to learn from the mistakes make by others to ensure our own company's success.
What other lessons have we learned from companies in social media? Share your thoughts in the comments below!