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Spark, We Hardly Knew Ye: Lessons from Amazon’s Sunsetted Social Network

Culture

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Amazon Spark, the company’s first foray into social, is done. But we hope its lessons will persist for its competitors.

Amazon Spark, the company’s first foray into social media, is no more.

Launched in 2017 as a highly visual rival to Instagram, the platform was a mix of company placed posts and Prime member-shared content detailing things they’d bought from the online retail giant. For users interested in the opinion of buyers before they themselves bought a product, Spark could have provided an engaging alternative to starred ratings and reviews.

But sadly, it was not to be.

Despite clear investment from Amazon VP of Consumer Engagement Chee Chew, the project withered on the vine (drawing only 10,000 users in its debut)…and shriveled further after Chew departed for Twilio. As Spark transforms into a new initiative, #FoundItOnAmazon (so named for the hashtag Amazon buyers were using elsewhere to showcase their purchases), I think there are some lessons and cautionary tales to consider in the wake of the platform’s reimagining.

When You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em

Technically, the loss of Amazon Spark isn’t a sunset, but rather a pivot. An Amazon spokesperson shared with Geekwire, “we’ve changed the name to #FoundItOnAmazon to reflect the tag that influencers are using on social media to share their great finds with others.” In so doing, Amazon relented to the overwhelming momentum of influencer posts happening on a network other than theirs. Should you try to find Spark today, amazon.com/spark will redirect you to this new service.

Yes, #FoundItOnAmazon is another social platform hosted by Amazon, one that mimics the company’s existing “Interesting Finds” product (which, in turn, strongly resembles Pinterest). But it doesn’t shoehorn its users into participating there; they can take their posts and purchases all across the internet, showing off on this site as well as on their site. This flexibility will serve them well long-term.

More Champions Are Needed

At every turn and in every report, Amazon VP Chee Chew was the main cheerleader for the project. His departure appears to have cast the future of the product into steeper doubt. And in a company as big as Amazon, it feels odd that any product or project operate as what I call a “one person revolution.”

Any project in your organization that lives or dies by the interest and involvement of a single person, needs to be re-examined. People advance, move on, or otherwise shift in their allegiances. How can products or projects be redesigned so they have support and sustenance beyond a single enthusiastic ally? Hopefully, Amazon has learned its lesson here, and deployed a team of engineers, product managers, and marketers to help #FoundItOnAmazon fare better than its predecessor.

How Social Can a Brand’s Social Network Be?

TechCrunch’s report by Sarah Perez broke the story of Spark’s shuttering, and she identifies a clear reason why the platform might have struggled: a relationship between a buyer and a brand can’t replace the ones we have and nurture with our friends. “Unlike on Instagram,” Perez noted, “where people follow their friends, interests, brands they like, and people they find engaging or inspiring, Spark was focused on shopping and the sale.” In some ways, it feels generous to call it a social network when it was actually designed to be a shopping interface.

These are cautions that platforms like Instagram and Snapchat should heed as they embark on their own respective experiments in shoppable feeds. As ads, sponsored posts, and other efforts to pry open our wallets invade our feeds, I’ve thought more than once: what could an all-influencer feed look like? As Spark’s challenges may portend…not great. Perez shared, “[Spark] lacked Instagram’s broader appeal. Your friends weren’t there and there weren’t any Instagram stories, for example.

Everything felt too transactional.” Though shoppable posts aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, platforms embracing this strategy should be sure to balance these opportunities with the reasons users joined to begin with: to see their friends, follow celebrities and high-profile figures, and be truly social.

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