Why Facebook will NOT be “Yahooed”

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This is my second contribution to the innovation generation blogs, an initiative sponsored by Alcatel. Here is my second piece entitled: Facebook, The Good, Bad and Ugly.

No one knows exactly where the social network is going, but it’s certainly going somewhere. Last September, I organised the San Francisco blogger bus tour on behalf of Orange, a unique experience, in which 14 bloggers from all over the world roamed the Valley in search of evidence that innovation wasn’t stifled by Facebook and other social media giants, as some wanted us to believe.

Yet, all along our visits, we heard claims that “Facebook was passé” and even that “Facebook would be ‘Yahooed’.” Four months later, the news that we are getting about social media is so contradictory that it is very hard to tell what’s going to happen. Yet, marketers from all over the world have invested massively in Facebook.

[photo : antimuseum.com]

The question is, will it prove useless, or will Facebook on the contrary, be the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy? And why does it matter for service providers?

The good

Facebook’s footprint is humongous and there are nos signs of “Facebook fatigue”. So many have moaned that after the one billionth user, things would start to deteriorate. Well, it didn’t happen. Socialbakers’ numbers aren’t showing evidence of that. Even though the recurring purges of fake users trigger falls in numbers, penetration rates can still go up (with less than 50 percent of the UK population, and less than 40 percent in France, there is room for improvement).

When Timeline was implemented in 2012, it was heavily criticized and doomsayers predicted users would leave the platform. They didn’t, they just got used to it, that’s all.

The bad

Facebook and Instagram have a track record for playing tricks with data privacy on the back of users. Yet, despite the recent rumors about users leaving Instagram for this reason, the news has been denied by Facebook itself. Instagram, according to Mark Zuckerberg’s firm, is even gaining users.

Zuckerberg himself admitted that privacy doesn’t matter anymore. A belief which isn’t shared by all and especially in German-speaking countries, where culturally speaking, data ownership is crucial. Max Schrems even founded a group entitled Europeans versus Facebook, which is filing legal action against Facebook.

Regardless of the outcome of this lawsuit, there is something wrong with the way the world’s largest social network is considering its users. So much so that might one rightfully wonder, like Dalton Caldwell, whether this is what social media was supposed to be, whereas it was meant to “change the world” to use one of Mr Zuckerberg’s famous quotes.

And the ugly

Very recently, LinkedIn’s Mario Sundar pointed out the lack of style in the company’s PR. This isn’t conducive to believing that marketing has changed forever like Tara Hunt had predicted.

Besides, a few months ago, Facebook decided to tweak its secret Edge Rank algorithm so that fewer users in your communities are exposed to your messages. This is no big deal for users, but for brands, it means that they are now offered to pay for “promoted posts” to reach more users. Wait a minute; what if your average TV network was offering your business advertising space and was asking for more money so that viewers are actually presented with your message? You would naturally be angry.

Yet, with Facebook, nothing has happened. Do advertisers have any other credible alternative to Facebook? As I heard one of my counterparts say at a recent advertisers’ meeting: “I know all this stuff about Google+, but Facebook is where all the users are!”

The future

What does the future hold? I’m not certain social media sells soap; what is true though is that there are a lot of similarities with the period that we are going through and the early 2000’s. Back then, everyone argued there wasn’t a business model for the Web. Yet, more than 10 years later, European e-commerce is delivering nearly as much revenue than Telecommunications companies.

Similarly, those who said there wasn’t a business model for online advertising are those who praise Google Adwords now. Multinationals spend up to several dozens of millions of euros on search engine marketing (SEM), including service providers. This is no small business.

Social media and Facebook, in particular, are no different from those early web trailblazers. The world, and service providers in particular, should stop sneering at those shaky business models. Internet business is a self-fulfilling prophecy; it has always been the case. This is high tech innovation for you, no one knows for sure where it’s going, but it certainly is going somewhere.

As a consequence, there are chances that we might have to put up with Facebook’s freaky way of handling privacy for a lot longer; that is to say as long as brands are ready to pay for advertising on Facebook and experiment on the popular social network.

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