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Facebook has world domination plans.
Of course, you’re not surprised. They ought to. Especially now being a publicly listed company, they owe it to shareholders! They sure need to monetize their real use case and its beneficiaries – brands, causes and their communication with their audience like we mentioned earlier.
In their march towards this goal, however, they’ve crossed many a grey line. Scratch that. They’ve gone outright bad pretty often.
And yes, we think startups should learn from some of this. Scaling and growing isn’t always about playing nice and being good.
When You Know You Can Stop Listening to Users
Timeline changes, live news streams, and a dozen others. There’s one being rolled out as we speak! And each time, there’s been a huge, very vocal protest from users. But Facebook knew better – it never gave in. Including when it regularly changed terms that impacted users’ privacy.
If you’re selling a habit stronger than some addictions, you can play around with its ingredients a fair bit. The thing is to know for sure how strong a habit your product is in the users’ lives. The need must be strong. The changes themselves – they will learn to live with, soon.
Postman Gone Evil
It’s a social network. Which means you can keep in touch with all your friends. This is how it was supposed to work –
a) You sign up and connect with some friends
b) Facebook finds you many many many more friends, except you’re thinning that friend-line all the time
c) Facebook lets your friends know about what you’re thinking, how you’re feeling and all those great pics you have to share that advertise your awesomely cool life.
Except, sorry, Facebook decides. The postman isn’t delivering all your letters to your friends. It decides – based on its own whims, fancies and algorithms.
Lesson : When you’ve got them hooked, it’s ok to change your mind. If you can, align your users to your product metrics, not necessarily the other way round! The postman decides which letter to deliver and users don’t care so much, as long as they are making new (pen)friends, getting likes and seeing cat videos.
Promises? Sorry, We Changed Our Minds
Ha, you PAID for those Likes? Tough luck. Sure, you were told Facebook advertising is a better, longer term payoff since it gets you engagement over the long term.
But they gotta try and squeeze you more. And that means, first, you gotta pay to reach those folks who you thought you had in the bag because hey – you paid for the likes!
“But they can’t!” Sorry, they did, already.
So if you’re big, muscular enough, contracts – explicit or otherwise – aren’t that binding, we guess.
Ignore Those That Built You, and Need You
Well, like most of the internet, it’s the influencers who made the platform what it is. The fact is that Facebook needed these folks as much as they needed Facebook – except now that the numbers are so large that individual influencers – many created and enabled because of the platform itself – have no choice but to conform (and that’s what Zomato has learned?].
These are both individuals as well as brands – an Amul was iconic before Facebook came around, and it sure helped keep my timeline interesting! Facebook can clearly afford to ignore the needs of these influencers and risk making timelines less interesting – the volumes will probably ensure there’s enough distraction at any point of time to keep the users from noticing what’s gone missing.
It also hurts the many small brands – such as this NGO, Kalap – and causes that depended on Facebook to reach out to a large audience which cared about them. Many wouldn’t mind paying a small annual subscription for the brand pages – and we quote Anand Sankar, a travel entrepreneur who works with Kalap – “rather than pay by post, which is blackmail”, but Facebook has other plans and isn’t listening.
Well, show no mercy!
So – if you’re seeking the big prize – aim to be more interesting – or at least more distracting – than your early adopter-cum-influencers lest you become dependent on them. Outpace, outnumber and drown them into individual irrelevance. And yes, show no mercy!
Own or Destroy. How To Deal With Competition.
Okay. so you are pissed off with Facebook and you move to a real-world friend network like WhatsApp? Or image sharing network like Instagram?
Facebook acquires you again!
Of course you’ve been reading up about those fantastic valuations at which Facebook has been buying out companies. All the high value ones are very very likely to be ideas and platforms that might have threatened Facebook in the near future. Instagram and Whatsapp, at least, were clearly taking away a large chunk of newer users even as Facebook was struggling with its mobile strategy early on. Many of Facebook’s acquisitions seem to be pre-emptive strikes, and attempts to co-opt the brains that could either help it build its own platform, or challenge it one day.
In the early days, Facebook grew because Orkut and MySpace just couldn’t visualize its growth. Facebook is mad about user affinity towards it and Mark Zuckerberg will do anything to get you under “Facebook network”.
While it remains to be seen if they are able to pre-empt, absorb or annihilate every idea or team that could challenge their status as the world’s most popular social platform, it’s a good strategy to remember when you’re big, have loads of cash in the bank and serious valuation muscle to go after any creative spark out there.
Ok, we went a little sarcastic there – and not without reason. But overall, it’s clear Facebook’s acquired enough muscle, critical mass of interactions and behavioural dominance over its very dependent users that it can afford to not care about what it fundamentally delivers!
It’s a little like going to a party – if it’s quiet you can talk to people, if it’s noisy you’ll probably just smile/laugh and dance.
Awesome if your product can get that party going…