Looking back at my first briefing with Mark Zuckerberg in 2006 and my key takeaway from Facebook’s success.
On his Facebook page, Mark Zuckerberg shares with the world: today is his company’s 10th anniversary. You’ve probably also seen your friends sharing A Look Back videos that pull from your personal site data.
As a former industry analyst covering marketing and social media, I have one Facebook moment in particular that isn’t part of my video. In 2006, Facebook was two years old but I was more than a decade beyond my undergraduate studies. I had to use my alumni email address to create an account, so my user ID begins with a “6.”
In the summer of 2006, my colleague Charlene Li invited me to a briefing with Mark Zuckerberg and Melanie Deitch. Here’s a high-level summary of my notes from that 30-minute call:
Additional round of funding [$25 million]
Launched mobile in April: pull info from site / push info to site / receive info pushed from site
Enhanced flyer (advertising) capabilities
Prioritized functionality based on Facebook as “communications utility” and “social directory”
At the time, Facebook had nowhere near the attention of MySpace. Regional competitors posed formidable barriers to entry, including Bebo (UK), Orkut (Brazil), and Cyworld (Korea). Brands were most interested in blogs, podcasts, and widgets when considering corporate social media.
Today, Facebook is a public company with market capitalization of almost $160 billion. Over 550 million users access Facebook via mobile every day and the company pulled in $2.59 billion in revenue last quarter. Over the past eight years, the company has redefined what it means to be a “communications utility” and “social directory.”
One quote from Zuckerberg’s reflective post stands out for me:
“People often ask if I always knew that Facebook would become what it is today. No way.”
Too often and too frequently I think people are focused on the game’s final score instead of the plays that add up to a win. Alternately, people think success can be carbon copied into other situations. “We will be the Facebook of this!” “We will be the McKinsey of that!” If there’s a lesson to be learned from Facebook’s last ten years, for me it’s this: focus obsessively on making a great core product and success will follow.
Brands with the bandwidth and budget should certainly get involved with Jelly — in a way that integrates with social, digital, and overall marketing strategy.
Jelly has officially launched. The Q&A app has drawn attention from early adopters and experimenters, most likely due to the affiliation of Twitter co-founder Biz Stone. At this point, I estimate that only about one in every ten questions I see on the site are from someone genuinely asking for assistance (e.g. I’m traveling to Boston next month, what’s a good non-seafood restaurant downtown?), while most posters are testing (e.g. asking “who is this” while posting a picture of a colleague) or trying to be funny (e.g. “what is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow”).
Some brands have been experimenting within the community as well, which makes a lot of sense. Searching for brand-relevant content in social media can be described as looking for a needle in a Mt. Everest-sized big data haystack; Q&A sites with a clear taxonomy can provide a direct path to discovering unmet consumer needs. Moreover, expert and endorsed opinions carry weight; authoritative answers are highly valuable. We’ve already seen this type of interaction on Twitter — think Best Buy’s Twelpforce or Intuit’s TeamTurboTax answering general questions about consumer electronics or income tax asked publicly but not mentioning any brand in particular.
Given that brands have become familiar with the rules of consumer engagement on social networks, I’d expect that they’d put their years of lessons learned into play when experimenting with a new site like Jelly. But after a couple days, it’s clear that old habits die hard:
It appears that some brands can’t resist the urge to push messaging at consumers, rather than building credibility by listening to conversations and providing value to others BEFORE promoting their own wares, if ever.
Let’s face it: the Klout-bait tactic of asking slightly relevant and totally mundane questions generates meaningless “engagement.” (For examples click here; for an example on Jelly, read this.) This is a cheap trick that should be banned by smart marketers — who should focus their energy on creating content that helps drive business results.
I certainly commend the early adopter brands (and their agencies) for their courage to experiment: General Electric, Kenneth Cole, Livestrong, CNBC, Meijer, Travelocity, Marriott, Life Is Good, Tom’s Shoes, and Molson have all been noticed by users. But brands must remember that they’re held to a higher standard of participation, even though a human on payroll writes the copy, takes the pictures, and hits the post button.
Jelly’s functionality will certainly evolve in the months ahead and we will likely see features already common on other social networks, such as:
cross-posting to social media accounts on other platforms (think Instagram),
user mentions and notifications (think Twitter),
ability to filter questions and answers seen by user lists (think Facebook),
user ratings and badges (think Yelp),
topic segmentation (think Quora), and
most importantly for brands: ability to search for keywords, phrases, and hashtags (think Twitter).
Naturally, as Jelly appears to be a mobile-first service, its ability to deliver location- and/or time-based opportunities for brands could be a strong differentiator. For example:
Any retailer concerned about showrooming could geofence its stores and monitor questions being asked to drive conversion (e.g. Target brick&mortar vs. Amazon ecommerce)
Guerrilla marketers could monitor specific areas during events and answer questions to drive awareness and consideration (e.g. competing against the official sponsors of the Olympics, Super Bowl, World Cup)
News organizations could create flash polls during the midterm elections to gauge real-time voter sentiment (e.g. opinions in red vs. blue states by county)
Brands with the bandwidth and budget should certainly get involved with Jelly — in a way that integrates with social, digital, and overall marketing strategy. Companies shouldn’t forget the lessons learned from past efforts when experimenting, which will help guide how to use new functionality — whether in Jelly, Snapchat, WeChat, Line, or whatever comes next. Many brands will draw criticism for using yet another service to create corporate noise, but the best brands will create signal in innovative ways that build business.
Although these deals may be great for the acquired companies and the start of an era of social software consolidation, I can’t shake the feeling that this matters very little, if at all, to client-side marketers.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software suites have been around for decades, “social” or not. Although today’s playing field may be shaking out into an intense competition among SAP, Oracle, Salesforce.com, and Microsoft, the problems of CRM 1.0 persist in the world of CRM 2.0 or “social” CRM.
CRM is like a triptych – a work of art consisting of three sections. The ornate middle section has always been technology. The other two equally important parts are process and culture. Tech vendors would have you focus only on the center, but your program needs all three parts completed. Speaking of art, some people are fans of Gaudi and the Sagrada Família. Unfortunately, it’s not a completed work and while interesting to observe, it’s impractical to be used. In this era of budget accountability, the last thing a marketer wants is a tool that sounds great in theory but in practice can’t be put to work.
If anything, what these acquisitions tell us is that consumer engagement at scale is a difficult proposition. Standalone vendors aren’t able to go it alone — we saw similar activity in the listening platform space with Radian6, Scout Labs, Nielsen Buzzmetrics, and Cymfony. As SMM tools exit on a path towards platform integration, marketers may have shiny new tools to choose from, but they’re left with the same old problems they began with.
Last week I discussed the updates to Groundswell and I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight the continuing work of co-author Charlene Li.
Charlene has been a trusted advisor to marketing leaders for over a decade, helping make sense of search and portals in the early days and then building awareness and understanding of social media.
After co-authoring Groundswell, Charlene followed up with Open Leadership. I asked her some questions about both books.
Q: Business books run the risk of becoming outdated before they get from concept to print. Yet Groundswell has retained its relevance after three years in print. Why?
When Josh and I wrote the book, we designed it around frameworks and stories, which can withstand the test of time. We had a three year time horizon, but for a Forrester analyst, our three years actually stretch out longer than that! But more importantly, while technology and the current business trend of social media is a foundation for Groundswell, it is not the focus. People and the relationships with them are the focus. And you can see it reflected in the very human stories that begin each and every chapter.
Q: What is the best story you’ve heard of Groundswell’s impact on a company or business professional?
Countless organizations have used the book as a foundation for how to use social media. But it’s the personal stories that stay with me. One person recently came up to me and shared that Groundswell was the reason why he changed careers, moved his entire family across the country, and became a top executive at a hot social media start-up. He and many others said that reading Groundswell was like having a new world revealed to them. As an author, there is nothing more rewarding or humbling than knowing that your words had an impact.
Q: You wrote a book after Groundswell, Open Leadership. How do those work together?
While I was speaking about the ideas in Groundswell, people started “getting it”. But they were troubled by the idea of having to give up control and asked, “How open do I need to be in these new relationships?” This is an especially tough problem for people in leadership positions, who are essential in getting support for a relationship-based social media strategy. So often, people start with either Groundswell or Open Leadership depending on what the problem is. Many executives today are pretty well read, so they will skim Groundswell for the frameworks, and then read Open Leadership for the deeper, more relevant questions. My Groundswell co-author Josh Bernoff also wrote a follow-on book, Empowered, as he saw similar questions arise around how to implement the concepts in Groundswell.
Q: As you say early in Open Leadership, “being open is hard.” What are the best ways to get a company started down an open leadership path?
The most important thing that an open leader does is share, so companies need to create a culture of sharing. Rather than hold information close to the vest, they seek out opportunities to connect with customers, employees, and partners. The key difference is that today, it’s no longer done by walking around or sending personal notes. Social technologies allow you to share at scale. To create a more open culture, Premier Farnell CEO Harriet Green created an internal video sharing site called “OurTube” and encouraged employees to share their best practices. To support this, they placed several thousand handheld video recorders all over the company.
One of the things I do with top executives is to get them more comfortable with sharing in the channels they already use. If it’s email, that’s fine! They have to master a mindset of openness first, rather than have to do that AND contend with juggling a new technology at the same time.
Q: Social technologies are being adopted in many workplaces today, while their use in personal lives are impossible to ignore. Are open employees a good thing for companies?
Open employees can be a very good thing, but only if you can structure and guide that use. Being more open isn’t about throwing open the doors — in fact, I believe companies actually have to be very disciplined about defining how open employees can be. At Best Buy, they have the confidence to let 2,500 of their employees answer questions openly on Twitter. That didn’t happen overnight — it required years of the organization inching towards this point, and happened only after repeated smaller successes where employees showed they could be responsible with greater openness. The reality is that your employees can say something every day and any day about your company. And for the most part, they exercise tremendous judgement — and don’t. Imagine the power that could come if you could harness that employee good will and direct it toward a purpose and goal. The impact could be immense.
Q: What should employees not at the top of the food chain do? Are the principles of OL different when you’re early in your career?
It’s a question of whether and when you see yourself as a leader. I define a leader as a person with followers, and the principles apply no matter where you are on the org chart. More than half the examples in Open Leadership are of people not in top executive positions specifically for that reason. The key difference is that earlier in your career, especially if you are at the front lines, your source of influence and leadership comes from the relationship you develop directly with your followers, not because of a title or designation bestowed upon you by the organization. Those followers may be inside your company or outside of it.
For example, Salesforce.com recognized the top users of it’s internal social sharing tool, Chatter, giving them the name “Chatterati”. CEO Marc Benioff brought the Chatterati to his leadership offsite, along with 300 of the top executives of the company because he recognized that the Chatterati had influence and power within Salesforce. In fact, he saw them as a key way for the company to move quickly by breaking down hierarchies and silos.
Q: Groundswell, then Open Leadership. Any hints on what’s next?
My favorite chapter in Open Leadership is Chapter 9 which discusses how organizations deal with Failure. As we work deeply with organizations at Altimeter Group, I see a lack of resilience in companies ability to incorporating new, disruptive technologies. It’s one of the reasons I’m developing a framework to assess new technologies. The goal: to help companies figure out which technologies they should move quickly to adopt — and which ones they can safely ignore. My hypothesis is that disruptive technologies are like the canary in the coal mine — if your organization can be resilient in the face of technologies that you can see coming from far away, you’ll have a better ability to respond quickly to other disruptive threats such as economic downturns.
I wonder, just because you can check in on Foursquare, should you? Users do what they want and “unintended” uses often surface interesting emergent outcomes. I’ve heard of a few situations that make me wonder if there really is no right or wrong way to be using the service…
The mayor of a newly opened restaurant turns out to be the restaurant’s manager
The mayor of a bank branch is a teller
I’m not sure these use cases are what the founders had in mind. One set of behaviors appears to sabotage a loyalty mechanism. Another may breach competitive data. And the third is like dogs running through a neighborhood, marking the same territory one after the other.
Users do what they want and “unintended” uses often surface interesting emergent outcomes. So is there really ever a wrong way to be using Foursquare? Have you heard of any odd or intriguing check-in situations?
One of the biggest stories in social media this week is Facebook’s plan to make their social graph platform ubiquitous. A few things to keep in mind: network effects, natural monopolies, and costs…
One of the biggest stories in social media this week is Facebook’s plan to expand its platform availability and allow users to link disparate online activities into a single social graph. I see this as a case of “aggregate or be aggregated” – and the biggest question mark is how Google will respond.
Network effects aren’t unlimited. Facebook operates the universe’s largest social network. We all know about the benefits of network effects – but unlike a theoretical hockey-stick graph, past a certain point network effects diminish. You don’t have to search too hard for people who’ve gone through a “friend/follower purge” to reduce network noise. Bigger networks aren’t always better from a user perspective.
Natural monopolies have huge barriers to entry. Scoble uses a railroad analogy; earlier this week, Shawn Morton told me a story about a speaker who equated social media with the nuclear power industry. While Facebook’s investment in technical and human resources is substantial, it’s not exactly a natural monopoly on the scale of a railroad, electric utility, or airline. And the nature of social technologies tend to disrupt institutions; don’t be surprised if a new entrant – comprised of staff who’ve departed Facebook – undercuts Ubiquitous Liking.
This isn’t free. Keep in mind that participating in this effort isn’t free for anyone. Individuals gain recommendations from friends, so far on things like hockey players and jorts. The cost is a bit of privacy. Brands stand to gain referral traffic. The costs include sharing customer data. Whether individuals and brands decide to “pay” those latent costs, vis-a-vis personal experience or online business goals, will determine Facebook’s success or not.
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