Social Media and the Importance of Kaizan

The sale of for $500,000 (a pittance compared with the $200-million to $300-million it was worth a few years ago), is a lesson to all social networks, including the mega-giants that dominate the landscape.

While Digg has become irrelevant in the past year, it was not that long ago that it was the king of the hill. It attracted major amounts of traffic, had a passionate and engaged community, and was an industry leader.

While VentureBeat’s Tom Cherader suggests Digg was undermined by its technology, Digg’s demise had much to do with a lack of focus, the failure to keep improving and evolving as rivals such as StumbleUpon and Reddit kept moving forward, and the rise of new rivals.

As a result, Digg floundered and soon began losing its lustre as a leading new aggregation service.

The key lesson for social media players is the market’s volatility and fickleness.

There is no higher ground that keeps you safe from the social storm. One day, you’re top of the heap; the next, people start to look at you as less interesting, viable or worthy of their attention.

It means social networks have to keep embrace the Japanese concept of Kaizan, which advocates the continual improvement of all processes and functions. In a fast-moving world, social networks can’t stand still so Kaizan is a way to protect themselves from complacency.

A good illustration of continual change is Facebook, which keeps on tweaking the dials, introducing new features, and adjusting its look and feel. Some of these changes work, while others fall flat. Nevertheless, Facebook keeps pushing forward.

Another example is Twitter, which has aggressively started to change how it operates. Instead of letting third-party developers and services drive innovation and attract users, Twitter is now assuming more control over things such as its API, and, at the same time, unveiling new features.

This is not to suggest Facebook or Twitter are invulnerable because sooner or later most companies start to struggle to maintain their edge, but they are making moves to stay competitive dynamic and viable.

If you look back, the social media landscape is strewn with players who have soared and then faded.

Friendster, for example, was the leading social network – long before Facebook and MySpace appeared on the scene. Today, Friendster only exists in a few countries. MySpace went from the leading player to have a small social role because it failed to evolve and keep its connection with users.

The bottom line is change is constant in social media. Companies can’t stand still or even move slowly, otherwise the market passes them by as new players emerge and consumers seek new, shiny options.

Digg dug its own grave by failing to do enough to stay interesting, relevant and valuable to users. Its demise should be required reading for any social media executive.