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Will Facebook Be Disrupted by IBM, Cisco, Oracle, and Others?

Being at the top of the heap is never a secure position, especially in technology. So while Facebook’s status is unquestionable today, the challengers who could knock it from its perch are closer than you might think.

The widespread news of Facebook’s two latest tempests over groups and data leaks illustrate that the company is firmly ensconced today as the king of the social networking mountain. But being at the top of the heap is never a secure position, especially in technology. So while Facebook’s status is unquestionable today, the challengers who could knock it from its perch are closer than you might think.

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Pressures from two sources may be Achilles heels for Facebook: 1) Attention entropy affecting users; 2) large players such as IBM, Cisco, and Oracle not directly competing against Facebook, but introducing next generation social experiences that absorb social networking features and functions into task flows potentially making Facebook irrelevant.

New Video Technologies such as Cisco TelePresence are Reshaping Social Interactions: Janice Chaffin, President of Symantec’s Consumer Business (l) & Steve Steinhilber, VP Cisco (r) weigh-in with Adrian Ott (center) at The 24-Hour Customer book launch.

Facebook Fatigue and Attention Entropy

If you’ve found yourself using Facebook less over the last year, you’re not alone. Jessica, a freshman at Chico State, said it best, “I used to use Facebook all the time, but now my friends and I like to do other things.” A recent article on MarketingProfs describes “Facebook Fatigue” noting that nearly one-fifth of teens who have created a Facebook profile are no longer visiting the site or using it less citing “loss of interest.”

Another recent study indicates a steep decline in the number of active U.S. users particularly in the 26-34 year old range.

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Facebook is experiencing a phenomenon called attention entropy. Simply put, attention tends to erode and disperse over time. It’s one of the Laws of Time-onomics that every company has to contend with. Although social media is here to stay, it’s a mistake to think that any particular social media platform will have infinite staying power.

Next Generation: Social Media Expected and Integrated

Social media isn’t about a platform; it’s about collaboration, community, and interactive communication. All things that tech heavyweights have been working on for years, just not under the social media banner. Companies like IBM, Cisco, Oracle and others are all working on tightly integrating social networks into broader areas like video, task flows and customer experience infrastructure–customer-centric ecosystems if you will–that are closely integrated, rather than as a standalone silo, to the way we live and work.

For most people, Facebook doesn’t replace anything. It is another new thing added onto an already jam-packed schedule–hence this is why so many people complain about it being a time suck and attention entropy takes hold. If social networking is integrated into things we are already doing such as work, watching TV, and shopping, then the forces of attention entropy are less powerful.

Incorporating a new technology into a larger offering has been a successful strategy in high technology. Social media and networking will become an expected and integrated capability for every digital interaction.

A few examples of social media becoming part and parcel of broader customer-centric ecosystems are:

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IBM: IBM’s work is so vast across so many IBM offerings that Facebook is a “ripple in the ocean” of social media. Among many solutions IBM offers, their recently introduced Customer Experience Suite incorporates elements of social media into customer touch points.

HP: Senior management has indicated that it is shifting its focus from PC’s to developing ecosystems that interact with the way consumers think, feel, and connect. Accomplishing this will require seamless integration with social media into a complete customer experience.

Cisco Quad: An integrated directory, phone, and social media platform for business

Cisco’s Eos™ Platform: An interactive media and entertainment platform that integrates the delivery of movies and TV shows from providers with fan communities forming a seamless viewer experience.

Immersive videoconferencing: Padmasree Warrior, Cisco’s CTO, has indicated that video is a killer app suggesting that it will change the way we interact. Truly immersive videoconferencing offers all kinds of new opportunities to reshape social interaction especially as price points continue to decline. Examples of innovative applications include: My recent book launch (The 24-Hour Customer) that used Cisco TelePresence (see photo); the Doobie Brothers performed a live concert to launch their latest album with their community using this medium.

Social Customer Relationship Management Providers–Many companies in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) market including Oracle, Salesforce and start-ups are integrating social media directly into the applications. Some are integrating with Facebook, some use Facebook as a veneer and provide incentives to bring customers back to their ecosystem at the first opportunity, and some social media elements are proprietary.

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Although many offerings above are targeted to the business to business market today, Cisco’s Warrior notes, “The lines are blurring between the consumer and enterprise worlds.”

Still King of the Hill

Of course, Facebook is not standing still. Its 500 million users will provide data inertia for years to come-it’s difficult to abandon Facebook completely when Aunt Sophie posts the family photos there. The recent revelation of Facebook’s work on a phone indicates that the company sees the need to more deeply integrate into peoples’ lives to remain relevant. Lastly, Microsoft’s investment in Facebook makes integration of Facebook functionality with Microsoft’s current or next generation offerings a wildcard and a potential key to both companies’ futures.

The tech company scrapheap is littered with first generation wonders. Only time will tell if Facebook can survive at the top of the hill. What do you think? Can social networking continue to exist as a standalone activity, or will it fade as its features and functions are absorbed into other applications? Can Facebook go it alone or will it need to buy, partner, be bought, or merge its way into the future?

Adrian Ott, was called “one of Silicon Valley’s most respected (if not the most respected) strategists” by Consulting Magazine. She is author of the new book The 24-Hour Customer: New Rules for Winning in a Time-Starved, Always-Connected Economy and CEO of Exponential Edge® Inc. consulting. Follow Adrian on Twitter at @ExponentialEdge

©2010 Exponential Edge, Inc., All Rights Reserved

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About the author

Adrian Ott, award-winning author, speaker, and CEO of Exponential Edge Inc., was called “one of Silicon Valley’s most respected strategists” by Consulting Magazine. She helps relentless visionary executives to foresee disruptive opportunities and accelerate market leadership

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