So Facebook turned 10 years-old today. Today, Facebook presented me with a Look Back on my own journey since I joined in 2007: My first posts…. as I stumbled to figure out how to use the platform. My most engaging posts… which brought a smile to face. It was pretty nostalgic. Facebook does an amazing job of pulling users in… allowing us to make it a significant part of our day.
Facebook has done some pretty amazing things since it was first introduced. But with time comes challenges and Facebook has had a lot of them. So I’ve decided to curate some pretty significant events and have you decide: Is Facebook becoming the company it set out to be?
It’s Everybody’s Hangout
I don’t think Zuck ever envisioned that this platform would scale to this enormity. In advance of Facebook’s birthday, Pew Research came out with some interesting facts about this platform:
used by 57% of all adults and 73% of all those ages 12-17. Adult Facebook use is intensifying: 64% of Facebook users visit the site on a daily basis, up from 51% of users who were daily users in 2010.
The future bread and butter of the platform ie teenagers are not necessarily abandoning the site en-masse. As the research indicates, their relationship with the platform is “complicated” and “evolving”. I gathered a few quotes from a forum, entitled: Is Facebook good or bad?
It’s this “addictive” perpetual hangout spot that has caused the real world to not only question its impact on employee productivity, but also its influence on emotion and frame of mind. It has evolved to become a place of blatant transparency, uncomfortable conversation, defriending — all the symptoms of the real world knitted into a single platform — all for the world to see. It’s a platform that can be the cause of real world problems. Pew added these stats garnered from Aug/Sept 2013 study:
The User’s Inherent Need for Validation
Facebook understands human needs and dynamics. At a basic level, everyone wants to be liked. The individual need for acceptance has been a strong foundation for Facebook. They’ve always noted that increased Likes, Shares and Comments are forms of validation. So, to feed the “Beast” with our information, Facebook has used these very tools to continue to allow us to publish more about ourselves all in an effort to feel better about ourselves. Manipulative?
It has allowed Facebook to deliver awesome experiences like Looking Back or our personal Year in Review. But it’s also come at some cost to the user.
A Safe Haven for Insidious Behaviour
Anonymity continues to be strong topic when it comes to social networks. It’s the one aspect that allows many a certain level of comfort to be transparent, without being known. Incidences of duplicate, fake or undesirable accounts are a reality. This has the intention of increased SPAM and distributing malicious links. While Facebook expects every account to have a profile, this article suggests that these fake accounts could number as high as 140 million.
In the time I’ve been on Facebook, I’ve witnessed friends’ personal accounts being hacked and impersonated. Facebook has ramped up policies to deal with offending accounts. While this may take some time to deliver resolution, it does work. If you have experienced issues with threats, abuse, fake accounts go to the Facebook Violations section within your Facebook settings.
Prioritizing the Community
Users continue to have this increasingly volatile relationship with Facebook. I remember when Mark Zuckerberg brought Facebook public. Despite investor pressure, Zuck favoured the role of community over ad dollars. It was about making the platform work for its users… not for the advertisers. He said,
Our mission is to be more open and connected… when you give everyone a voice and people power, the system usually ends up in a really good place. So what we view our role as is giving people that power
The reality is that a company going public has responsibilities to its investors. Trying to balance the needs of the community with the need to monetize its platform has been challenging for Facebook.
When Timeline was introduced, the new experience had massive implications for business. With the removal of customs tabs Facebook turned the business world upside down.
Pages could no longer display one of their custom applications as their default landing tab that non-fans first see when they visit. This powerful marketing feature allowed Pages to set up a welcome app that teased special content like contests or coupons, but required users to Like the Page for access.
Without default landing tabs, non-fans now had to actively click through the little app tiles overshadowed by a Page’s cover. Many haven’t, and it cost marketers Likes as well as email signups, contest entries, and other key performance indicators.
In addition, Timeline Covers had their own restrictions: inhibiting companies from displaying calls to action or references to Facebook features such as “Like this Page”, purchase or pricing info such as “40% off” or “Download at our website”, or contact information such as web address.
The change is a noble one that prioritizes the user experience and the site’s long-term health, but several marketers I’ve talked to are already grumbling. To date, I’ve seen fewer and fewer Facebook applications on Pages.
With Timeline, Facebook’s goal was to make Pages more about story telling than product selling… and it worked.
Selling Out the Community
The data that Facebook collects about its users is pure gold. It’s the reason the reason that Facebook Q4 earnings rose to $523M, up $64M from the year previous.
It didn’t take long for Facebook to succumb to pressure and start leveraging its data to appeal to the demands of the advertiser. A few years ago, the EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center) filed a report to the FTC claiming:
Facebook now discloses personal information to third parties that Facebook users previously did not make available,” EPIC said in its complaint. “These changes violate user expectations, diminish user privacy, and contradict Facebook’s own representations. These business practices are Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices.
This was only the beginning. Since then changes to the Facebook Terms of Service have been revised and scrutinized by the FTC and Canada’s own Privacy Commissioner’s office. The reality is that even with the changes, the Terms of Service are still very one sided. Section 2.1 essentially states that Facebook owns your data. In addition, Privacy settings are defaulted as opt-in. It is incumbent upon each user to be informed and change his/her settings.
On top of this, last year’s exposure of Prism and Edward Snowden’s announcement to the world that US government officials have been collecting material on US citizens including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, compounded the privacy issue when the Guardian announced NSA was also keeping tabs on international users by accessing data from Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple to name a few.
The Almighty Dollar… An Ad System Not Without Its Flaws
At the end of the day, Facebook needs to sustain itself. Advertising is the way it has done that. 88% of all its revenues comes directly from its ads. However, last September, this ad platform became a centre of attention.
According to Social Media Today,
Facebook had to apologize for the dating ads that appeared on its service featuring Canadian teenager, Rehtaeh Parsons, who had hanged herself in April. The teenager had been the target of cyber-bullying because of online circulation of photos taken of her, after an alleged gang rape in 2011.
This was a clear incident of an advertiser scraping images from the site and using it without authorization. Facebook immediately banned the advertiser from submitting future ads. However, this does not negate the fact that if the ad had not been reported there would be no real mechanism in place to flag these types of violations. By the time the review process takes place, the damage will have already been done!
… Perhaps ONLY Growing Pains?
As Facebook grows up, it will, no doubt, continue to face more challenges. But, as a social platform that has proven to the world that social is a sustainable medium, Facebook–for all its flaws–has given users significant voice and has proven that it’s a new medium for which businesses need to understand and to adapt.
I would argue that prioritizing an ad platform as the main source of revenue is weak. Montetizing users can’t possibly be the end game. Even Google has and figured this out and has diversified its investment.
As well, privacy now changes the game for both business and consumer. Rewriting best practices for communicating and contacting consumers and using personal information will evolve into new relationships with the customer.
The user, now more informed than ever, will perhaps begin to be more discerning about what he/she posts.
This power that Facebook has given the user is now something of contention. It will be interesting to see how Facebook maintains this delicate balance between community needs and investor pressures going forward.
What do you see this prolific 10-year-old grow up to be?
Image sources: http://pixabay.com/en/users/geralt/, phoenix real estate guy
Founder at ArCompany, and Director, International Council on Global Privacy and Security by Design Hessie is a seasoned digital strategist, and intelligence analyst having held senior positions for top ad agencies including Ogilvy, Rapp Collins, ONE and Isobar Digital. She also has extensive start-up experience in AI technologies, social tech, online publishing and artificial intelligence like Yahoo! Answers, Overlay.TV, Jugnoo and Cerebri AI. Hessie is the co-author of EVOLVE: Marketing (as we know it) is Doomed! She is also an active writer for Forbes, Cognitive World, Towards Data Science and Marketing Insider Group.