I was lucky enough to recently visit Facebook HQ in Menlo Park, just outside of San Francisco. The multi-building campus is incredible and feels like it could have been designed by Willy Wonka, if Mr Wonka was a software developer with a penchant for working long hours. I didn’t lick any walls though so my empirical observations were limited. During the tour I began to think about how much Facebook had changed since it floated a year ago.
In the U.S. Securities and Exchanges letter announcing the Facebook float, Mark Zuckerberg famously (at least in the circles I hang out in) wrote, “Facebook was not originally created to be a company. It was built to accomplish a social mission — to make the world more open and connected.” Billions of dollars, and over a billion account holders later, Facebook is now very much a company, and one that the whole world is watching very closely.
A focus on generating revenues is having an impact on Facebook the company. While Zuckerberg didn’t seem over concerned with profit before the IPO, pressure from shareholders has shifted the company’s focus. Advertising on the platform has evolved very quickly and there are other revenue generating products being tested all the time.
It could be argued that Facebook may have floated a little too early. As a developer lead organisation (the vast majority of Facebook HQ employees are developers) much of what Facebook does is driven by software updates. The Facebook advertising platform has evolved through this method. But the relentlessness of adverting-focused updates has made it difficult for many people, and brands, to keep up.
My view is that Facebook could have done a better job of educating brands about how to best use the social media platform to generate long term value. The data that brands can now access thanks to Facebook is simply incredible. However for many marketers what that data is, how to access it, and why it is so valuable to marketing efforts is simply not clear.
Of course educating the world’s marketers, many of whom are still coming to grips with all the digital channels at one time, takes time and money. The float of Facebook generated the cash needed to accelerate this process and the world is now beginning to catch up. Much of what I do day-to-day is focused on helping my clients make big leaps in this area.
The question that I just can’t seem to shake is “why is Facebook not focusing on education more?” Many advertisers are using the platform the same way they might use Google adverting – without realising that customers are in a very different mindset. While Facebook may be doing a lot to improve the technical aspects of the platform for both users and advertisers, it’s the way advertisers are using the platform that may be part of the reason Facebook appears to be losing account holders.
Facebook’s next big challenge to overcome may have nothing to do with software. It might just be helping the rest of world reframe their relationships with customers – and think like Zuckerberg.