Blogs posts, articles and books have been written about Facebook and their ability to grow.
When people think about the company and their state of innovation, they will often align them with a myriad of Silicon Valley types. They’ll look to things like collaborative environments, the way meetings are held, how they attract clients and their head-down obsession with everything "hacker culture." There’s no doubt that it takes a certain type of individual to work at Facebook, and it takes a certain type of online social network to have broken through like they have. It’s easy to argue that they simply had a strong product, but it met with a certain zeitgeist and luck that others (Friendster, MySpace, etc…) just couldn’t capture, retain and innovate on top of. Connecting people of the world seems to have worked out pretty well for Facebook, by all accounts.
It wasn’t always belly rubs and lollipops, was it?
We can pinpoint moments (many moments) when it looked like Facebook was going to stumble or crumble. From early attempts at monetization through advertising to privacy and policy changes. Still, the company persisted and pushed on. Sometimes they listened intently to their audience, and in other instances they chose the Steve Jobs method of motion (i.e. consumers don’t know what they want, it’s up to the brand to show it to them). For good or for bad, Facebook happened to become the shining light and beacon (no pun intended) of all things social media and online social networking. They are building a deep chasm between themselves and any would-be competitors, and they’ve made an interesting investment (a billion dollars worth) in Instagram to own the ability to leverage social photographs in the mobile state. That wasn’t a big innovation. That was a big bet. Now, as Instagram begins the journey of introducing ads, we’re about to see just how engaged their users are. If history is any indicator, consumers will continue to snap and share photos knowing that the ads are the cost of a free admission to such a powerful, fun and friendly photo sharing experience.
Speaking of mobile.
If you look at Facebook’s current stock price and how pervasive the social network is for every connected consumer, it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t that long ago when Facebook almost stumbled over the entire mobile thing. Their mobile app wasn’t even really a native app, it was more of a mobile website. It was slow, with very limited functionality. Users complained, but Facebook wasn’t focusing on it. People were still getting acquainted with the newsfeed (something Mark Zuckerberg pushed on the audience that was pushed back on, until users realized how awesome it truly was). Most brands were in the same position as Facebook was. Mobile was becoming increasingly more ubiquitous, but it was hard to tell when would be the ideal time to deep-dive into mobile, suck it up and make the significant investment. Facebook pulled the trigger. It wasn’t a two-year IT roadmap with complex inter-departmental politics. A company of that size with a product that was built for the Web browser pulled a one-eighty and had something very powerful in market within a handful of months.
That is true innovation.
When marketing professionals talk about innovation, they’re quick to look at something new instead of this moment in Facebook’s short history. This company changed their core product and even adapted all of their monetization schemes to match it. If I were to ask you if you think that Facebook is a mobile-first company today, how would you answer that? Because, it is exactly that… without question. We tend to our Facebook experiences primarily on our smartphones and tablets. The Web browser version has become something other. Don’t believe me? Just look at the mobile usage, growth and time spent on their recent earnings call. The media is focused on the non-growth in the teen segment and not spending enough attention on the massive reality that Facebook is not the same Facebook that it was. Instead of admiring the company for embracing, what I call in CTRL ALT Delete, the "one screen" world, media pundits tend to look at things like new ad formats or functionality on brand pages as some kind of indicator as to the company’s propensity for innovation.
The bigger picture of innovation.
Take a look at your own brand (or the brands that you represent) and stop looking at the little/newer introductions of features and whizz-bangs as innovation, but at the grander shifting of consumer behavior. Are you truly at the vanguard of that moment in time? Facebook was smart, quick and adaptive to the environment. They didn’t let the shift from mobile be a force of resistance, but rather surfed the wave at all costs. Currently, it’s clear to see how many brands are stuck in a major conundrum. Their mobile experiences are terrible at worst or a tempered derivative of the website at best. They’re busy optimizing their websites, thinking about e-commerce (or online ordering) and worried about social media, while the IT departments tend to the mobile version or the app development (brands made this, exact, same mistake back in the early days of the Internet’s commercialization). Brands are struggling with IT and budgets to figure out how to adapt to a world that has already changed. In short, they’re making the same mistakes that they have previously made, while admonishing or dismissing the value of what Facebook has to offer. It’s a shame. Facebook is one of the most innovative companies out there. It’s a model that all brands should study. Facebook is big. Facebook was very different. Facebook innovated and changed their physical self in a matter of months. Facebook deserves more applause than they’re already receiving.
If that’s not innovation, I don’t know what is.