One afternoon in High School, I watched in awe as a friend connected his IBM PC Jr to a touch-tone telephone. Moments later, after a series of loud squawks and whistles, we were staring at the login for the local university’s library mainframe. That was 1982.

Then came Compuserve, BBSs, Prodigy, and finally America Online. The free AOL discs were suddenly everywhere. But just as quickly as it grew to one million users, AOL was absorbed into the larger Internet and World Wide Web.

Along came social networks. MySpace quickly eclipsed Friendster, which already left The WELL in the dust. In a few short years, Twitter and Facebook took over the world.

Now my teenage children roll their eyes at Facebook if they even acknowledge it at all. They’re connecting with friends on Instagram, Reddit, and Snapchat. Or they meet virtually in Minecraft.

Despite all of these changes, there is still a common thread running from the invention of the telephone to the connected smart phones of today.

Physical networks are enabling human ones.

And the only thing we can be certain about is change. And the pace of change is increasing exponentially.

Most importantly, the tastes of our audiences change faster than the platforms’ ability to catch up. Teenagers are leaving Facebook for Instagram. Next month a new platform may be all the rage. Someday those same teenagers will be adults and consumers and we’ll have to find them to reach them.

What does this mean for marketers today and in the future?

It’s no secret that humans are social creatures. We crave connection. We constantly invent new tools and platforms to connect ourselves to each other.

Because things change so rapidly, it’s vital for marketers to not grow complacent in one network or another. In the 90’s, companies spent millions building out communities on AOL. Look where that got them. But marketers must also stop worrying about the Next Big Thing. The only thing that’s certain is that we can’t predict what’s over the horizon.

Those two ideas may seem contradictory, and they are. But the message is clear. 

Use the tools available to you but adopt a flexible outlook.

And focus on connectivity and content instead of the platform.

If you are creating quality and compelling content, targeting the right audience, and it’s available on myriad platforms, you’ll do just fine. If you are betting the house on a Facebook strategy or Twitter strategy, you risk getting left behind.

I can state with confidence that Facebook isn’t going anywhere. But I’m certain that our audiences will move on and we will need the flexibility to meet them wherever they are.

Image by geralt-9301