The Social Media Report #16

Will cloning in social media trigger the regulators?

In this week’s edition we take a look at the topic of regulation of social media, and its impact on innovation in competition, with Facebook and Twitter reportedly moving in on the audio social media space. We also have as usual my must-read articles of the week.

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The week in review

The clone wars: barely one week since Facebook CEO’s Mark Zuckerberg appeared on the high profile chat room on Clubhouse, sources have reported to that Facebook is now building a clone of the audio app to compete with the hottest new social network. This week, also, we saw Twitter Spaces, Twitter’s own clone of Clubhouse, released in selective test batches to a small portion of Twitter users.

Large social networks copying the features of innovative startups is nothing new, Snapchat, for example, pioneered Stories, and now Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and even LinkedIn all have their own versions. But this issue of whether cloning a new social network and using its functions as a feature is unfair competition, is an important one to the fabric of society as well as social media. The problem is, when the big social networks copy, they REALLY copy. Twitter Spaces looks and works *just* like Clubhouse…

This matter of cloning features in social networks is one of many that issues faces scrutiny from the lawmakers, and this week I’ve been invited to talk about the topic of regulation of social media on a panel debate hosted by PR Week. Social media’s impact on brands and the impact from regulation has never been more topical (bar the odd Weetabeans pipping it to the post now and then) so I spent last week speaking to experts on this matter.

The lawyer’s view first. I spoke to Piers Linney, entrepreneur and investor, famed for his role as a dragon on Dragon’s Den, and unbeknownst to me when we spoke on Clubhouse, Piers is a lawyer by trade. The issue here, said Piers, is twofold. Firstly, lawmakers are perpetually 10-20 years behind technology innovation, and so in a constant state of catch-up. This being the case, legislation will never truly be reflective of the current state of play. Secondly, the issue of IP is key. A brand such as Clubhouse will have IP which is protected, but it may also have features which are not. Whether Clubhouse has registered its very USP as IP will be telling as regulators watch the cloning game carefully. Whether Clubhouse has essentially protected its user interface and features could be key to how and whether it can be protected from the copycats.

Then, the lawmaker’s view. I was also honoured to be given the opportunity to speak with Damian Collins, Member of Parliament in the UK, famously former DCMS Committee Chair, and co-founder of the disinformation and fact checking initiative, Infotagion. In a wide ranging discussion on my Clubhouse show, Trending, Damian touched on the issue of the damage that cloning can do to the wider community. The larger, powerful social networks, with their history of forcing out startups, through copying or acquiring, reinforces their monopolistic status in their industry, and is harmful for all.

Regulators will certainly be watching the developments in the Clubhouse-Twitter-Facebook cloning saga that is only just beginning, Damian Collins suggested, but I wonder if they will be able to move fast enough. Facebook acquired Instagram nine years ago in 2012, but it is only now that the regulators are considering unwinding the move. If only things could move faster.

A new era: for me, Clubhouse has eschewed in a new era of innovation in social media, and the format will add some variety to what was becoming a stagnant social network ecosystem with little real change in how things looked or worked. Whether Clubhouse reaches critical mass with the cool factor to keep the user base elites, like Instagram did, only time will tell. But the regulators will be watching closely as this develops, this time, as opposed to a decade late. Or at least one would hope.


My must reads from this week

Here are the most interesting stories that I have been reading this week.

Influence

Innovations

Future of work

  • Work from anywhere: Spotify has announced it will allow workers, after the pandemic, to be office-based, work from home or mixture of the two.

  • End of the 9-5, 5-day week: Salesforce.com announces the end to rigid hours and office days.

  • End of the big HQ: First Base CEO Chris Heard publishes a thread about companies he has spoken to and their thoughts on the future of work. He believes we are entering an era where HQs will be smaller than they used to be, with regional and global hubs supporting anywhere workers.

  • And a thought: these moves are smart - we call this Total Flexible Working and we do it at Battenhall too. Work from anywhere, flexi time, part time, and multiple global hubs over one central HQ. This is the present and the future.

Long reads

Updates

  • I’m speaking at Bristol Creative Industries on Clubhouse trends on 2nd March. Details here.


The Social Media Report is written by Drew Benvie, founder & CEO of Battenhall, The Drum, CIPR and GDXA’s social media consultancy of the year 2020.

You can follow The Social Media Report on Twitter at @TheSMReport. Suggestions for stories can be emailed to db@battenhall.com. Thank you for reading, and see you next time.