What Facebook Must Do Next

I was recently asked a question that gets to the heart of marketing in a time where social media, and the “big-market-data” it creates, is preternaturally changing business models world wide. The question was  this: “If you could change Facebook today what would you do?”.

This is a big question with no simple answers. But it helps focus the mind on the challenges they face.

The fortunes of Facebook have been discussed in the news media almost every day following their much hyped share-market float. Most of the discussion and news has not been good for Facebook. The share price has been plummeting and people are now questioning it’s long term value as an investment and a marketing platform.

It is the marketing challenge that Facebook needs to tackle head on if it is restore confidence. The issue is that advertising on Facebook is akin to doing a sales pitch at a birthday party – it’s just not cool. Facebook is a place to discuss topics with friend. It’s not a place to be confronted with brand marketing. For Mark Zuckerberg that’s a big problem.

Facebook grew quickly because Zuckerberg and his team relentlessly focused on the user experience on their platform. The hypothesis was that if the platform is enjoyable to use then current users will recruit new ones. In other words the experience of the site, and the people on it, make it cool. They were right. So how can the Facebook team make social marketing cool?

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The problem and solution lie in the common complaints of current advertisers; Facebook display ads don’t seem to work well. Many brands say that the click through rate on the normal Facebook display ad – the one that show up on the side of the page – is very low. That tells us that the marketing approach of grabbing attention and then displaying an offer doesn’t work in the social space. In fact ever increasing levels of media fracturing is seeing that model become broken.

What does work is offering something of value, where potential benefit provides  message recipients a strong value proposition. The actual value proposition needs to be guaranteed; everyone needs to get it. And this means it need to be delivered through software, through a Facebook app.

The problem is that on the Facebook platform there are far too many pages and apps that are not even attempting to offer value to the user – and this creates a bad experience for everyone. Apple understood this issue when they designed their App store for the iPhone. This is why they retain the right to reject an app they feel is not in line with their brand. Facebook must go into overdrive to educate the market in what it takes to deliver value to users in the social space then ensure-somehow-it is delivered to them.

Mark Zuckerberg’s dream for Facebook was a more open world. So it’s ironic that the future of Facebook may have to rest in much tighter control of their brand.

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