To be very open and honest: I am a bit worried. And the reason is my beloved Facebook. Why I am worried? I fear that Facebook as a publicly traded company could become a “money monster” driven by quarterly results more than by it’s original purpose of serving humankind. I am worried because Wall Street is ruled by money – not heart! And I am worried that my friends and I will become a commodity at the end of the day. And I am not alone with this fear. A recent study from mid 2011 listed the social network among the worst companies with regard to customer satisfaction. You can read more about it here. But let me explain and share my personal (love) story with Facebook.
My friends know that I am a heavy Facebook user. I initially created my account to promote a startup in the social learning space a few years ago. We wanted to fix a broken education system by allowing people to learn from each other. We learned some valuable lessons but that is a different story.
In the early days, Facebook was still a student-only platform and it made sense to promote an educational service there. You can read more about Facebook’s history here. It took a while for me to familiarize and get “cozy” in the network. I was very skeptical and worried about my data in the beginning. It was still a very new and unknown thing. And it wasn’t exactly what I would call beautiful. But the applications (apps) were very cool. I liked the idea that anybody could add value to the platform by developing apps. It created opportunities for thousands of developers who could use the API (application programming interface) to plug in their solutions. And, of course, it added lots of value to the users who could choose from a broad range of added services.
Actually – I was also involved in the creation of a few mini apps that allowed you to have some fun, e.g. by sending virtual “good vibrations” to your friends. Facebook, in these early days, was a platform for people – some kind of democratic movement. It was very much in line with their mission: “To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected”.
On the operations side, you could still see that the Facebook team was more focused on scaling and growth than on design or user experience matters. Mark Zuckerberg was very involved in explaining privacy issues and other challenges along the way. I will always remember him sweating in the spotlights while explaining Facebook’s approach. It felt like a typical startup running near its limit and dealing with problems. And this “imperfection” gave it a very human touch. For me, the tipping point arrived when more and more friends and family members started to join. With my rising number of friends the personal content I consumed grew. My comfort level with being open grew. I uploaded lots of photos, posted on a daily basis and made sure to update my profile information on a regular basis. And then even the biggest skeptics started doing the same!! Suddenly, it seemed everybody was on Facebook – people joined because they didn’t want to be left out. You heard things like “What – you are not on Facebook yet?” People wanted to be where their friends and family members were. It was about being connected with those who matter to us and sharing our lives with one another. With my family being far away and lots of friends abroad it allowed me to stay connected with them. I was even more in love!!
As time went on, some of the fundamentals changed – at least it felt like this. With millions of eyeballs in this game, Facebook became very attractive for marketers and business. Facebook was not just a place for friends anymore. It became a media platform – a real channel. From a business point of view the so-called “fan pages” were the perfect answer to this. And, of course, there was the brilliant application of social plugins, such as the “Like” button, which can be found all over the Internet today, or the more traditional ad spaces within Facebook. One could say that a new era of Facebook and me began. Not only did I spend a big part of my leisure time on Facebook, but it also became a major aspect of my professional career.
I was the very first Social Media Manager of Mercedes-Benz. Our team built the official Mercedes-Benz fanpage , which reaches millions of people today (almost 7 million in March, 2012). We set up the framework for a global social media presence across multiple markets. Internally at Mercedes, I was the crazy “Facebook Guy” – the one who spent his working day with weird stuff called “social media”. Most of the people believed that I would be out of work soon. Facebook would fade away like Second Life and other hyped platforms vanished in the past. It didn’t…Now, almost 8 years after Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook in his dorm room – it will go public. It filed for the IPO on Feb 1st, 2012 to collect approx. $5 billion and has at estimated valuation of $100 billion. Incredible numbers but also scary! We all know what money does to people. So my beloved Facebook is moving from “Love Street” to “Wall Street”.
Here are my central concerns about this transition – both as private user and big fan as well as a Facebook marketer and business consultant in this space.
Looking at the upcoming IPO and its effect on Facebook: I sincerely hope that Mark and his team will never forget where they come from. We all understand that Facebook is a serious business and soon a publicly traded company. Of course, they need to make shareholders and analysts happy – but they should remember who fuels their success: People around the world who love their service for the power and freedom it gives to them. Human beings – not just eye balls to make dollars from. What would Facebook be without this human element? Nothing – if you ask me! The millions of real human stories and connections are what Facebook is all about. To focus solely on the ROI vs. the Return on Relationships could be fatal to the network. I hope that they will not allow Wall Street to take over and that they don’t focus on profits alone. Why? I think we have seen enough examples of what happens when money rules the world: The latest global economic challenges, failures of global enterprises like Lehman Brothers, Enron, WorldCom or even the financial fall of nations like Greece.
I hope that Facebook will do better. I hope that Facebook will create or at least be part of a better world – because they can and their 100s of millions of users deserve it! To be clear: I am a big fan and promoter of Facebook. I have spread the word in many occasions over the course of the years and I earn my living by explaining the power of social media and helping businesses and brands to connect with their communities the right way. I know many people at Facebook who are very passionate and who have done a great job over the past few years. I think of the German team around Scott Woods for example. And I have also been at the Facebook HQ in Palo Alto in late 2010, which was very impressive. I also attended fMC – the very first Facebook Marketing Conference in New York – earlier this year. In all of these settings, wonderful people are working on how to connect with other people AND how to make money within the Facebook eco-system. And it’s a vital puzzle to figure out.
In working through this puzzle of relationship and moneymaking, I have put together four actions Facebook could take for me as a user, marketer and entrepreneur:
• As a user I’d like to ask Facebook to listen more carefully and to connect more with me and the rest of the Facebook community on a deeper level. I would like to receive more information about changes and interesting stuff that is coming up. Facebook should consider my feedback and pro-actively ask for my opinion – before moving forward. At least they could try. I suppose that I am not the only one longing for this.
• As a marketer I’d like to have access to the same resources like any other of the big brands. The brands I’ve worked for couldn’t be more different: from global enterprise level organization to small business owners with a very limited local market. Why does Facebook make a difference between big and small spenders? The small business owner might not spend a lot in comparison to the big spenders, but it sometimes is their whole marketing budget. So please let’s not forget the small and mid-size businesses in the business development strategy. They need more help than the giant brands who already have big “machinery” working for them including big budgets that Facebook is focusing on. So Facebook should keep the platform open and democratic and they should think about the small guys, too.
• As an entrepreneur I’d like to be more respected. Why I say that? I am still waiting for a few answers regarding pending topics I addressed to their team in Ireland a few months ago. You shouldn’t only move fast – if the emails were sending from a firstname.lastname@example.org address. Another reason is that some people in your team don’t find my title “human being” (as stated on my business card) important enough – but this is just a personal story. It’s all about respect, my friends.
• Last, but not least I´d like to suggest to create some kind of “declaration” that clarifies Facebook’s intentions and purpose and which makes clear that Facebook values its users and their data more than the financials – even after going public. I believe that every single user would feel some kind of relief – if Facebook would publish something like that.
My reason for writing this post is because I care. I am an ambassador for Facebook and the power of social media for years now. I preach the value of applying social technologies and I have run multiple projects both as brand marketer and new media consultant. I founded Peopleizers for exactly this reason to help organizations and individuals embrace new and social media and use them for their purposes. I strongly believe in the positive power of such technologies to connect human beings, to serve their needs and to unleash more of the human potential and happiness in this world. But we need to remember that technology and money would be nothing without the “human element”. Humans give meaning to them. Technology and money itself is dead. Let’s emphasize the human aspect in our daily efforts MORE THAN what Wall Street expects from us. At the end of the day, your users and employees are more important to your success than some analysts and banks. At least Facebook should be in a position to think like that.
Saying this I want to close by explaining the title of this blog post. Back in December 2011, I delivered a keynote in Istanbul, Turkey. The title was “From Wall Street to Love Street – How to become a brand among friends”. I decided to turn this concept into a book. I am working on it at the moment and hopefully it will be ready this summer. My work on this book made me very sensitive about this topic. I am fighting for a more human-centered world. For more love and happiness in life and business facilitated by technologies like Facebook. They can be tremendous tools – if we use them right. I don’t want to see that my beloved Facebook will become a money machine driven by Wall Street.Of course, I wish Mark and his team only the best of success and hope that this message will find its way to some of the Facebook people who do care.
I am happy to hear your stories. Do you feel the same? What are your experiences both as user and marketer? Do you agree with what I have said? Feel free to share your point of view in the comment section.