If you read this blog regularly, you know that I can be a Facebook supporter (some may say apologist), but today I have a bone to pick with it.
Where others frequently attribute shady intent to everything Facebook does, I see a company legitimately trying to balance the needs of users with the demands of advertisers who fund the free service. Consumers love Facebook, so much so that Facebook now accounts for one of every four page views in the United States, yet you and I pay nothing for it. Or it is more accurate to say that while we provide no cash to Facebook, we do, in fact, pay with our time, attention, data, permission, and clicks (which Facebook converts into cash).
But even Facebook supporters can and should question when the social network takes a step that pushes the envelope of best practices in permission marketing, and I believe it has done just that with Facebook's new Sponsored Stories product. What I find frustrating is how tantalizingly close to perfect the model is, yet the omission of a single feature makes all the difference.
Here's how Facebook Sponsored Stories work:
You post a status update about a brand, such as a check-in, like, or a piece of praise.
Because that signal of affinity is so ephemeral within the news feeds of your friends (or perhaps may never even be displayed there), the brand can now choose to pay Facebook to turn your status update into an ad.
Your friends (and only your friends) will then see your status update in the right gutter of Facebook.com, along with your name and profile picture.
There are blog posts that you can write without doing any prior work (he says, looking meaningfully at himself in the mirror), and then there are blog posts that require real work. This very interesting post about how the Facebook development organization operates is in the latter category. Instead of pointlessly summarizing the author's findings, compiled from sources who know Facebook from the inside, I'll add a few reactions:
If, as reported, the development team comprises about a quarter of the company's employees (and operations another quarter), that's an unusually high ratio for any tech vendor, whether or not it's in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) business. At salesforce.com, R&D comprises 15% of the company, which is high for the tech industry. Facebook's 25% R&D is staggeringly high.
Even though Facebook regularly confuses the heck out of the people with changes to security features, the company does pilot features before shipping them.
Facebook developers bear a lot of responsibility for their own code, across many dimensions of quality (design, testing, justification, etc.).
The ops team has a more gradual approach to deploying new code than it might appear.
"Though they’re unlikely to admit it, the mainstream social networking race against Facebook is as good as over. By contrast they remain the No. 1 destination for artist communities online, yet without a major reinvention they’ll start to feel the competitive pressure bite there also."
The major reinvention came far too late, and it was too little.
Ironically, even though MySpace let basic usability and functionality stutter, artists stuck with it because that’s where their audiences were. A host of much more competitive and differentiated alternatives came to the fore, focusing on subsets of the broader MySpace music value proposition. Sites like Sellaband, Bandcamp, SoundCloud, and PledgeMusic each have very different value propositions, but all took from MySpace the baton of developing the artist-fan relationship and ran with it.
Social media does not make marketing any easier. Although it is a powerful tool for marketers to reinforce their brands, energize advocates and strengthen relationships, it is also yet another marketing channel that requires attention, investment and innovation. And much like the Web 15 years earlier, this is a channel that challenges the status quo and defies easy metrics.
In 2011, social media marketing doesn’t get any easier. Although the medium is maturing, that maturity brings with it a host of new challenges for marketers. Primary among those challenges is that social media is becoming an awfully cluttered and noisy space. As more people adopt social behaviors and more marketers increase their social media budgets, it is tougher than ever to cut through the noise, reach an audience and make an impression. In addition, Forrester is seeing a marked increase in the number of people worried about privacy in social channels, and this concern is growing most significantly in boomers and seniors.