Joel Helbling stopped by the office on Friday for a great lunch where we chatted on a number of topics. Joel quoted someone who said that, as a social media company, you have to decide what your product is... the people or the platform. Many people (myself included) look at the valuations of a platform like Facebook and think it's the biggest bubble in history.
I still do... but it's important to recognize that the value of Facebook doesn't come from the software, it comes from having so many users. You are Facebook's product, not the application. Facebook has developed your behavior, captured your data, and are now optimizing it to sell advertising. It's not about the software, it's about you. It's not about selling services or products, it's about selling you.
There's a problem inherent in that business plan, though, and that's that people aren't something that you can control. People are fickle. People are independent in someways and followers in other ways. As quickly as Facebook grew to 800 million users, they could easily leave Facebook for the next platform.
Bianca Bosker recently wrote:
But these days, discontent with Facebook seems more the rule than the exception. More than a third of Facebook users are spending less time on the site now than they were six months ago, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found, and Facebook's U.S. user growth rate in April was the smallest ever since comScore started tracking the figure four years ago. According to a forthcoming report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index, "customer satisfaction with the site [Facebook] is falling." Even Sean Parker, Facebook's first president and an early investor in the company, said he feels "somewhat bored" by the social network.
As a marketer, this is incredibly important - and points to how we must change our methods for reaching our audience or growing our communities. Our goal shouldn't be to see how we can stuff an advertisement in some gap that's hard to ignore in the Facebook wall, our goal should be how we can develop prospects into customers, and customers into fans, and fans into advocates who help get the word out on our great products and services.
Marketers still think that everything comes down to buying attention and, in a world with so many distractions, that's getting more and more difficult. If Facebook has your attention, then surely spending money on Facebook advertising will buy the attention they need. It works to a limited extent. But if you changed your strategy and were concerned less with buying attention and more on deserving attention, how would your marketing efforts change?
It's not just something to think about, it's truly something you must start working on. Facebook won't own us forever.