Another dotcom bubble?

It’s another one from the vaults. I wrote this in November 2013. Shocking, actually, to see how – in the intervening five months – so many things have changed and moved on. What has stuck – and grown, if you like – is the feeling that Twitter and WhatsApp and the rest simply aren’t worth the stupid sums being paid for them. We’ll see.

$11.2bn. As much as $30bn. As I write, now around $20bn. Oh, yes, dear reader, you know what I’m talking about. And still it doesn’t make a profit. Meanwhile, in what was quite clearly an attempt to start making a profit, I receive a promoted tweet from @BMWUSA asking me to show my support for Team USA, as we approach the winter Olympics.

Erm, an’ thank you most kindly, but why, exactly, would a Welshman with English overtones, resident in London, wish to express support for Team Merca? I’m sure they’re all lovely, with their splendid muscles and super hair and dazzling teeth, but – and it’s a small one, I know – nit-picky almost – they’re from a completely different country to which I have no links whatsoever, unless you count my ancestors’ compatriots’ vain efforts to shape it up a little.

So, a poorly targeted promotional tweet – well, I’m not the target market for much of the TV advertising I sit through (too lazy to reach for the clicker, d’you see), and this is simply the socially medieval equivalent.

But, of course, it isn’t. Because social ain’t TV – there’s no Strictly Come Tumblring or I’m a Celebrity Follower, Unfriend Me! – and promotional tweets aren’t big budget, glossy items, with soundtracks and celebrities and (this is most important, pay attention) paid for in advance.

(When I make this point, I’m thinking about the Louis Vuitton ‘L’Invitation au Voyage’ ad with David Bowie (or is it Tilda Swinton) and Arizona Muse. Not the Cillit Bang ‘Barry Scott in a big purple fighter jet’ ad with Barry Scott.)

No. Promoted tweets are cheap as chips for the tweet promoter. As long as I, the recipient of the promotweet, do not click ‘pon said spamulous item, nor neither follow the issuer of same, then the spamuliser pays nowt. Not a brass farthing. Which, clearly, means that targeting simply isn’t an issue, and is why I’m happy to call this stuff spam.

So now Twitter’s under increasing pressure to demonstrate its revenue model and to show some sign that it could, in future, turn a profit and reward the enormous valuation that’s been put on it.

This means, I’m afraid, considerably more of these poorly-targeted promoted tweets. Is it just me, or can anyone else see a flaw in a business plan that relies on the social equivalent of the Nigerian email scam for revenue generation?

Facebook saw an immediate 16% dip in its share price when ‘senior executives’ revealed that young people were leaving the site – in fairness to it, however, its share price recovered once it was realised that the audience hole was being backfilled with the young people’s parents and grandparents.

But the point remains made – young people, the valuable Holy Grail audience, trendsetters, early adopters, rainmakers – don’t like being sold to through channels they consider they ‘discovered’ or ‘invented’.

They don’t like their feeds being abominated with spamulous commercial messages. They – making a little leap here – don’t like promotweets. Which is, arguably, why the current valuations of various social media are a wee smidge on the high side.

Now we hear about £8bn for Dropbox (actually, I can see why Dropbox might be worth something) and Pinterest securing funding that would value the enterprise at £3.8bn, despite the fact that it has only recently begun to clarify its business model.

I think it’s clear that I don’t think much of social media as marketing or promotional tools. There are too many gurus telling you how to do, and not enough do. The Emperor is risking risqué with his lack of vestements.

But what is increasingly scary is that no-one seems to remember the rush of the lemmings into the tech bubble of the late nineties and what happened in March 2000.

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