June 14, 2012

Brands: How to cut your exposure to Facebook business risk

Will Facebook stick to its core competency or be waylaid?

This is third of a three-part series on Facebook as an investment. Also see:
Facebook’s biggest barrier to enormous wealth? Trust
Facebook will remain king, but social pure plays will fade

Christopher RollysonMany brands are boosting their investments in social business platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest with every passing quarter, but CMOs are too often focused on next quarter’s numbers. They fail to insulate themselves against platforms’ business risks. Facebook’s IPO will likely cause the company to change its behavior in surprising ways, and without warning, by changing its policies and features. Here, I’ll address how brand executives can insulate themselves from Facebook’s — or any platform’s — fortunes by moving to make their relationships and networks portable.

Seeing beyond the platform

Pure play firms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have defined language, behavior, features and the very concepts of digital “social networks,” but they are quite expendable when brands manage their investments appropriately. However, brand leaders need to follow the digital ecosystem closely and be ready to adjust quickly.

Here are some principles for avoiding surprises. Specific action steps follow.

Assume pure plays’ gradual obsolescence

Watch the ecosystem’s major players, and the interactions among them, but the trend will be specialist sites maximizing value from “social networking” and fading dominance of pure plays. The latter will continue to exist, but they will not maximize value because they are designed for “socializing” (which people can’t resist), not doing things. Moreover, I use “ecosystem” intentionally because it indicates a pervasive, real-time network that increasingly interoperates. Because it’s digital, it’s more dynamic than any human market we’ve ever experienced. Here are brief comments on some of the players:

Buying RIM won’t help Facebook enough to warrant the distraction — not even close.

Facebook is so entrenched globally that it may remain the dominant general social network for many years. However, there is a big caveat. Facebook’s management team looks like it’s losing focus due to the IPO and too much time with Wall Street bankers. It’s “using the money it raised” for M&A, purportedly considering entering the hardware market (buying RIM). If Facebook’s management team and core competencies included M&A (like, say, Cisco), I would be confident. But they don’t. If Facebook buys RIM, I would seriously question Facebook’s medium-term relevance and long-term survival. Making phones will not help Facebook sell more mobile advertising. Not even Apple’s best-in-class iPhones will likely display much advertising due to user backlash. The device wouldn’t help Facebook enough to warrant the distraction — not even close. Continue reading

June 11, 2012

Facebook’s biggest barrier to enormous wealth? Trust


Image by RedKoala on BigStockPhoto

 

Why Facebook will find it hard to monetize the social graph

This is first of a three-part series on Facebook as an investment. Coming up:
Facebook will remain king, but social pure plays will fade
Brands: How to cut your exposure to Facebook business risk

Christopher RollysonIf Facebook’s stock price were based on the number of blog posts about its IPO, the company would be in great shape, but too few posts have addressed Facebook’s real barrier to monetizing its business, so we will rectify that here. 

Although Facebook is a fantastic social venue and platform, I did not buy into Facebook and do not plan to invest in its stock. (The stock price is down 30 percent from its debut on May 18.) Facebook‘s Achilles heel is a significant trust gap with its users, and now, its investors. Its trust gap will make it difficult for Facebook management to fully monetize its most unique asset, its users’ social graph data. Moreover, the management team has not shown the insight or willingness to address this barrier.

Why lack of trust is Facebook’s Achilles heel

That Facebook has a spotty trust profile with users is an understatement. Its management has a history of being cavalier with users’ data. Although many have argued this point, I’ve observed that Facebook’s policies have been mostly legal, but trust is independent of legality. Facebook’s management has gotten better about “considering” users during the past year or so, but such consideration has felt compliant and not entirely voluntary.

This matters. Although I have no inside information about Facebook’s technology or strategy, my knowledge of user social data and its value in developing relationships leads me to deduce that Facebook’s gold mine is its unique knowledge of users’ social graphs. Just play around with Facebook ads. Only Facebook knows what California physics undergrads prefer in music, movies and running shoes. Who their friends and hobbies are, and when they post their running updates. And what moms with 3.2 kids who went to Berkeley think about whales or global warming or Republican budget proposals.

When users discover how Facebook intends to use their personal information, they will see red. This is Facebook’s biggest risk.

The problem is, although I’m sure Facebook has employed some of the best attorneys for a long time, and user agreements give Facebook the “right” to use social data however they want, we have all witnessed that users themselves revolt when they perceive that they have been duped. And when they discover how Facebook intends to use their personal information (that they have willingly, if ignorantly, surrendered, by the way), they will undoubtedly see red. This is Facebook’s biggest risk. It’s not a legal issue, it’s a trust and relationship issue. Continue reading