I finally saw The Social Network (great movie) with my family and a lot of things hit home for me. While I’m not a “fan” of Facebook, I am a fan of the story and what we can learn from it on so many levels.
You see, I was once the anti-social introvert coding on my computer for hours at a time. I’m not a genius like Mark Zuckerberg but I could relate to his story. Thing is, I can also relate to Eduardo as I’ve been burned by partnering up with the wrong people too yet I still believe we can have friends in the business world and play fair.
Have you ever been burned by a bad business deal? Have you ever blindly signed on the dotted line?
Those questions are mostly rhetorical because let’s face it: no matter where you are in life, chances are you’ve blindly accepted EULA terms, signed a service agreement, or even agreed to NDA or non-compete contracts without really scrutinizing them.
Now, we can get into a deep conversation about intellectual property and the volatile nature of start-ups but what I found more interesting in the story of Facebook is the following:
I’d like to talk about those items first and maybe revisit the topics of partnership, venture capital, intellectual property, and protecting your creative or business assets.. That will be in the weeks to come and likely as part of many #NJAB podcast conversations I’m sure.
BTW, if you haven’t given our podcast a listen yet, come visit us over at
Now let’s discuss what really stood out for me with the Facebook story and how it can relate to the rest of us.
(BTW, I think Facebook is a bit over-rated and sucks in some aspects.. But it has been valuable for my clients and I support their efforts thereof.)Timing
You often hear that timing is everything. This is mostly true.. Yet I will argue that there are no real fresh ideas out there yet new alternatives to old concepts still end up being profitable and sustainable.
Considering Facebook wasn’t a particularly ground-breaking or “revolutionary” concept, you have to believe there’s more to success in business beyond timing and uniqueness, right? There’s more to successful start-ups than innovation and advertising.
I’d say success in small business is mostly a matter of momentum, which is a component or perhaps an extension of timing. New ideas can gain steam quickly and fizzle out just as fast. This is where game mechanics like exclusivity, access, status, connectivity/social, and competition come into play…
It’s the ‘ol VIP game at play: make something exclusive or selective to make people want it more, even if it’s more hype than real value. It works for night clubs, it worked for GMail, and it still works today. You get in and you feel like you’re something of a big deal.
Some of you may remember when you needed a dot.edu e-mail address to register for Facebook. Without an account, you could not really see what was beyond closed doors.. But you could see all the “cool people” getting in.
This approach worked brilliantly for Facebook. Perceived value tends to have more draw than actual value because it illicits an emotional response, an urge to explore and pursue.
Smart marketers do this with contests and freebies all the time. It works even better with stuff that does not have an obvious price tag. Give your stuff away for free but make people want it really bad so, when they get it, they appreciate it more.
It’s the ‘ol thrill of the hunt at work, too. We’re suckers for exclusive offers. For some, it’s a matter of competition and, for others, it’s just about getting goodies and swag. Yes, I’ll take my tiny sample tube of AXE hair product, Klout.
The Social Network movie makes it clear that Zuckerberg started Facebook for all the wrong reasons. It was all about him.. Yet he still got groupies and his idea took off practically overnight. In the movie, Mark was drunk and angry so he did something to keep him busy and get revenge.
Facebook was never a unique idea but it was fresh. People like new stuff, even if it’s regurgitations of old stuff. Having a great story helps lots too!
More importantly, there was an urgency to keep growing, adding features, retooling the interface, and finding new channels to promote through. Love him or hate him, Zuckerberg got things done.
I know people that had similar and better ideas than Facebook but they did not get to it. Thus, timing takes a back seat to momentum and productivity. Spend more time doing and less time planning to succeed where others fail? I think that’s sound advice.
It turns out that one of the biggest complaints about Facebook is that it’s a faceless entity in that they do not really target a specific audience (people also complain about privacy issues, constant interface changes, and lack of fan service, of course). Facebook is something different for everyone yet even some of the biggest fans have trouble describing what keeps them hooked.
The business gurus out there profess that you have to be really great at and focus on one thing to stand out.
What is Facebook really good at?
Better yet, consider what is unique about them. What does everyone come to Facebook for? The answer is: there is no answer.
Facebook has been fortunate that it built massive momentum and had a niche with great influence and activity. Facebook is still rather viral because even us doubters (and haters) get sucked in by our friends.. It is, after all, where practically everyone is at!
If Zuckerberg had not been filled with angst and dismay, the initial momentum would not be there. His emotion kept him pushing on day after day. 36-hour programming sessions, constant team expansions, and ongoing tweaks kept him busy.. And kept Facebook fresh and remarkable for early adopters. Back in 2005 (and even 2004 for the early adopters), almost all the geeks I knew at least heard of Facebook.
Mark Zuck saw great urgency in keeping on, even when he was not concerned with the business side and did not really have any specific direction.
Sometimes we do ourselves a great disservice by over-thinking things. We want to work out all the details before executing. It’s understandable.. I’ve done it plenty of times! Perfection is a myth but it’s a nice thought.
The Facebook team had very little in terms of a plan. They knew they wanted to expand to more schools and countries, but each idea came to them as they went along.. Almost completely by what seemed to be dumb luck, or at least The Social Network leads us to think so.
In one scene, Mark is approached by an acquaintence that asks him if he knew if a certain girl is available. Mark then responds by saying that people do not have signs on them showing their availability.. Then it dawned on him: the “AHA” moment.
Mark Zuckerber rushes to his man cave to add a new feature: relationship status. Now, with that in mind, Mark made it clear that Facebook was not a dating site nor was it an alternative to MySpace, Friendster, or even HotOrNot.. Yet the striking similarities were all there.
The brilliant thing here is that adding relationship status aligned really well with the whole college community aspect. College students go to school to learn but mostly it’s the social aspect they care about: partying, dating, and sleeping around (hey, it’s true). Now the relationship status made it easier for people to play the Facebook game. Facebook became a full-fledged lifestyle product, for better or worse.
The Facebook: The Game
While Facebook has changed a lot since those early days, it’s still very much a game.. Yet the rules are different for everyone. Some try to get the most “friends”, others try to get the most likes or shares, and then there are the poor souls that get sucked into the cookie-cutter Facebook games. d’oh
The game mechanics in Facebook are brilliant, even if they weren’t really intentional. The most avid fans and active users are playing the numbers game, seeing if they can show up on more sidebars and walls.. And maybe even do something useful and get paid.
We can learn a lot from Facebook beyond what I’ve touched upon here. I’d say that the platform is really good for showing people what you are about or into at a glance.. But who really checks other people’s walls consistently and without real reason?
I’m not the biggest advocate for Facebook but I don’t see this social network going anywhere in the near future. They will continue to grow and hit one billion “active” users.. But I reckon 60% (at best) will be truly consistent Facebook users and even less will stick around for the long haul.
Sean Parker was a particular interesting character in the movie The Social Network. It makes me think of how there are people with ideas, people with skills, people with money.. And then the people that make it all come together. It can be argued that Sean Parker really helped Facebook become the huge brand it is today.
There’s something to be said for the entrepreneurial mind set. We see opportunity where most see insanity. Timing is not an issue for us: we always have new avenues to explore. While Sean Parker himself admits his character was exaggerated, it’s really fascinating how they depict him in the film.
The Social Network teaches us more than business and marketing lessons. It’s a glimpse into human nature and just how volatile relationships can be, even in a connected world. I’d like to say more about the film and what resonated with me but I guess we should take this conversation over to the #NJAB (Not Just Another Business) podcast and see what everyone else thinks!
Now it’s your turn to rant and rave about “The Social Network”!
What are YOUR thoughts on Facebook? Is the hype deserved or is it just a fad that has out-lived it’s shelf life (Dino Dogan says 5 years is the optimal life of a social network and I tend to agree)? What have you learned from using Facebook or the history behind it?
For some poops and giggles, check out this article about the other side of Facebook. It’s pretty spot-on, though it’s a bit rough in it’s assessment of Facebook fans. Haha