Tech: How brands could learn from the Vikings

Asos: one of the first brands in Europe to launch an integrated Facebook Store
Asos: one of the first brands in Europe to launch an integrated Facebook Store

Everyone involved in social networking - users, brands and the networks - is learning as they go, but it doesn't mean having to stick with one option if it's clearly not worth your while.

Social networks now have to prove themselves as proper, sustainable commercial businesses.

The majority of the money flowing around them is marketing money from brands – simple adspend or extra investment by brands managing their social profiles.

For the networks themselves, however, it is proving tricky to balance bringing in more money and maintaining their popularity among users and partners.

Twitter is changing the way it operates – having hitherto been a free and open source from which other companies could pull, it has started to protect its system. It will have a lot more control of the look, feel and, most importantly, advertising opportunities around the content that's being created on its network.

I would argue that this makes it worse for users, who are more restricted in this walled garden, but better for advertisers, who will have a bigger, more consistent potential audience.

Facebook, meanwhile, has decreased the organic page reach for natural posts that appear in the timeline. Funnily enough, it, too, has been rolling out "promoted posts", in which you, as an individual or business, pay a certain amount to ensure your post will be seen by a guaranteed segment of your followers.

It's like two large gentlemen appearing at the door of your Facebook "community cafe" one day, casually looking around, and saying in low tones, "Nice community you've got here, it would be a shame if something should happen to it..."

While this is worse for advertisers, it is potentially better for users, who will see a cleaner timeline as a result.

Everyone is learning here. The networks are discovering what makes a viable long-term business model in the social space. For users, meanwhile, Facebook is akin to the stabilisers as people learn to ride the bike of social networking, after which they will be likely to drift off into smaller, fragmented niches of interest. Similarly, brands are finding out how to create marketing that works in these realms.

The trick for brands is to learn things like the Vikings did. Vikings weren't simply the warrior raiders and pillagers of popular myth – they were explorers who would colonise areas for a time, work within the local society and learn all they could. They would take all this new knowledge and continually send it back home. Then, when there was nothing more to be gained, they would leave and make their way back to their improved homelands.

Asos is a case in point. It was one of the first brands in Europe to launch an integrated Facebook Store in early 2011, closing it a year later. Yet the amount it will have picked up about social shopping during that year will have significantly improved its overall marketing approach, and its own site.

So don't be a social network colonist, departing your own shores to live forever in a brave new world. Be a Viking – learn what you can for as long as it is worth your while, then get out.

If you think your brand's social strategy would collapse if Facebook disappeared, then you don't really have a social strategy.

John V Willshire is the founder of Smithery, an innovation works for marketing and product development.

Follow him on Twitter @willsh or at


Three more pieces on the changing landscape.

We Are Social's Robin Grant on 'Why Facebook has decreased page reach':'s Dalton Caldwell on the 'Twitter pivot':

Starcom MediaVest's Mat Morrison's excellent analysis of the Asos Facebook Store:


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