The French have a phrase - plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Literally translated it means ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’. As we reach the end of Web 2.0, I believe we are witnessing a shift back to something approximating the pre Web 1.0 age.
Like all revolutions at first you witness a period of freedom, exhilaration plus an outpouring of creativity and democratisation. However, this honeymoon period rarely lasts very long before the establishment and the large corporations get involved and over time we witness a slow return to the status quo.
I would argue exactly this scenario happened at the start of the Noughties with the development of Web 2.0 and the explosion in apps, social networks and user generated content.
Rather than relying on third party publishers such as the print and broadcast media, ordinary people and small businesses with limited or no ad budgets had the ability to reach potentially global audiences using websites, blogs and social media.
This heralded the ‘golden age’ of social media, the birth of the ‘influencer’ and a huge increase in people setting up businesses in a back room with just an internet connection and a ‘weapon of mass communication’ – be it PC, smartphone, tablet or connected device.
However, very soon many of these challenger companies – YouTube (Alphabet), Facebook & Instagram (Meta), LinkedIn (Microsoft) and most recently Twitter (Elon Musk) - were bought with the underlying need to turn a profit, ultimately turning them into ad platforms.
Linked to this, the exponential rise in content meant that the platforms had to introduce algorithms as a quality control and as a way to monetise their offering. Then throw into the mix the rising levels of negative, hate-driven, fake and politically motivated content and you end up with governments of all types desperately trying to regain control over their populaces.
Today, the ‘social’ media dream is almost over. Online, the only people or brands who get the sought-after clicks, impressions and engagements needed are those who either have the ability to create really dynamic content or ad budgets coupled with audience data to reach heavily targeted customer or user bases.
To illustrate this, let me take you on a journey from pre 1993 (pre Web 1.0) to the present day. 30 years ago, there was no internet so if you were a small business you would have had to rely on (1) word of mouth (2) a listing in Yellow Pages or Thomson Local (3) direct mail (4) print advertising or (5) PR.
By the early noughties websites were becoming more common and Google had emerged as the pre-eminent search engines. With the appearance of social networks from 2004/5 enterprising SMEs and individuals really started to take advantage of the massive audience that the technology offered them. These were the pre-algorithmic days when a Facebook Like actually meant a strong connection to your customers and when a decent Twitter strategy opened a myriad of doors to journalists, influencers and potential clients.
Now with almost everyone on the planet a content creator, massive concerns about the corrosive nature of online platforms, information overload and intense competition for ‘eyeballs’ I feel we’re almost coming full circle – hence ‘plus ça change’.
(1) Word of mouth is still absolutely vital (2) a strong Google Business Profile has replaced Yellow Pages/Thomson Local (3) direct mail still has a place within the marketing mix, albeit using QR codes (4) Meta (Facebook and Instagram) are the new print advertising while (5) influencer relations is the new PR.
While we’re undoubtedly experiencing massive changes in the world of business and we all have to embrace change, sometimes it’s worth a backward glance in the rear mirror to see what’s behind us.