The Spirit of Friendship

Volume 4, Issue 19

And the Future of Facebook

It started as a way for male college students to see the faces of the coeds so as to choose which ones to ask out on dates. Today it is as big as television in the lives of many people.

In my newsletter of things to come, when I was making my wild-eyed media predictions a long time ago (which all came true in one way or another), I thought Facebook would come through webcams first, and of course I never used the term Facebook. I saw it as “each person having their own television station” and cross-device promotion expert Richard Fusco despite his fondness for radio saw it that way too. That was the closest my mind could get to a picture of the interactivity and democratization I knew would be coming. Of course, my mind was constrained by the things I knew best, such as television.

When Facebook came out as a stock for public investment, the results were disappointing because despite enormous audience usage there was no credible revenue model. The early Internet pioneers were mostly anti-advertising and/or had ridiculously high estimates of what advertisers would pay. Google was determined never to allow advertising. They were all smart enough to pivot and learn the advertising ground rules fast once the handwriting was on the wall.

Back in the post-IPO early days I suggested to a friend highly placed at Facebook that Facebook advertising should not be advertising at all, but branded content. Brands would insert content that fit within Facebook’s mood, not selling their product but sponsoring entertainment and/or informative/useful content that users would like and be grateful for, translating to sales and loyalty for the brand. I showed my friend the 28 studies I had done proving this point. He said it was interesting but they already had a full plate of ideas they were testing.

Stan Silverman, one of the most effective direct marketers today, pointed out around the same time that regular ads would not be as effective in Facebook, since when people used Facebook it was not for shopping or thinking about products, but instead feeling good in the warmth of communicating with friends or just seeing what they were up to lately. Nonetheless “regular ads” is what transpired in Facebook.

Something else is happening to Facebook today. The way content is organized is changing. Facebook must by now realize that users are not at all happy about this. Posts from friends they were particularly following no longer appeared on their main page (Home or News Feed) but had to be found on a new page that had to be stumbled upon. This content feed (called Pages Feed) appears to be where the algorithms put content that has some soft-sell advertising-like purpose but is not paying Facebook anything for ads. One can imagine the meeting at Facebook in which it was decided to dis-incentivize these “freeloaders” and force them into paying for ads by shoving them in the back of the Facebook so to speak.

At that meeting someone might have warned that users don’t like changes unless they themselves have asked for them. Jonathan Steuer, whose renaissance mind springs instantly to the bottom line, reminds us that Microsoft has made much-despised changes at the pleasure of its software developers without considering the inconvenience to users of such changes. Jonathan has been loyal to Apple since the beginning and across all devices the Apple interface has been steady as a rock.

It remains to be seen whether Facebook will make a success of its current ad policy or evolve a new one. If it can show ROI of course the game is won Business-to-Business (BTB), although fans might not like the ad-driven changes. A true win/win would be to maintain the mood and spirit of the original Facebook, return quickly to the beloved format before too much time passes, show the world that this is a company whose leaders can admit mistakes because they are real people like the rest of us. That’s the spirit of the place. It’s a great spirit — the spirit of friendship. It could be a wonderful — even the premier — environment for brands bonding with consumers.

And it could lead the way into a future where advertising is more a matter of friendly brand content than the bombarding remnants of operant conditioning theory. I hope this prediction comes true.

Best to all,

Bill 

Follow my regular blog contribution at Jack Myers Media Network: "In Terms of ROI." It is in the free section of the website at  Bill Harvey at MediaBizBloggers.com.

You Are The Universe: Imagine That is now available. Read an excerpt and watch my videos where I talk about the book.

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