We love looking for the Next Big Thing. Social-media enthusiasts of all stripes love scanning the Web for hints of what’s to come — for the next social technology that will take us all by storm.
A lot of social pundits are pumped up about the potential of location-based networks such as Foursquare — yet as Caroline McCarthy points out in the lead story from today’s SmartBrief on Social Media, these networks have some pretty significant limitations.
I think McCarthy is dead-on in her analysis of the hurdles these networks have to overcome if they want to be the Next Big Thing. But what if they don’t want to be Big? What if they just want to be What’s Next?
Not every burger shack needs to be the next McDonald’s to be considered successful. Not every retailer needs to be Wal-Mart. Not every software developer needs to be Microsoft. Yet when it comes to the social Web, there’s a sense that anything short of total ubiquity is a kind of failing. We’ve seen so many giants born in the last 10 years that we’re starting to forget how abnormal that really is in the business world.
Foursquare doesn’t have to replace Twitter — or anything else — to be a success. It’s playing a different game, one that caters to a naturally smaller audience. It’s not for every person, or every business. And that’s really OK. If it tried to appeal to everyone by becoming more like Facebook or some other network, there’s a good chance it would ruin the utility it already has. Sometimes, having a strong draw for a specific audience can be the most powerful thing a brand can have.
It’s better for the network to develop its user base organically, focusing on better serving the kinds of people it does attract. Niche communities can be prosperous without being everywhere; they can be What’s Next without being Big.
What do you think? Do location-based networks need to become more mainstream to be successful? Do social networks need to be large to be important? Are location-based networks overrated?
Image credit, Eric Isselée, via Shutterstock