Jul 23, 2012

The Future of Facebook with Jason Falls

LEAP is introducing a new series to our blog portfolio, where we invite other industry experts and friends of LEAP to join us in responding to a series of industry appropriate questions. 

To launch this series, we've invited Jason Falls of Social Media Explorer to participate in a Q & A session. Falls is an author, speaker and CEO, the latter of Social Media Explorer, a digital marketing agency and information products company. From client strategies to industry research reports to SME’s signature Explore events, Falls spearheads efforts to bridge the gap between professional communicators and business owners and the strategic use of digital marketing and technology. An award-winning social media strategist and widely read industry pundit, Falls has been noted as a top influencer in the social technology and marketing space by Forbes, Entrepreneur, Advertising Age and others. He is the co-author of two books: No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing (Que 2011); and The Rebel’s Guide To Email Marketing (Que 2012), due in September 2012. Falls was recently named to Business First's 40-Under-40 list in Louisville. It was a pity vote. He is 39.

Over the course of the year we will infuse these guest blogs with the whit and insight of a variety of professionals from the region. We look forward to sharing these unique and sometimes conflicting point-of-views with you.


Topic: Facebook < or > AOL?

Since becoming public in 2012, Facebook has been on a tear, changing development functions, altering layouts, and acquiring Instagram. All of those changes haven't saved them from the IPO fiasco that has their stock shares falling $8.00 per share since launching in May 2012. With 900 million active users and revenue coming primarily from advertisements, is their future bound to mimic AOL's disaster? 

AOL once had more than 30 million subscribers and was a powerhouse of the Internet revolution. Now they have below 4 million registered users and is worth significantly less than the $226 billion it once claimed. If we compare AOL and Facebook, are they destined to share the same fate? We engaged Jason Falls of Social Media Explorer to participate with LEAP in a conversation about Facebook's future. 

Do you see similarities between AOL's post IPO and Facebook' post IPO?

JF: Not really. AOL's problem wasn't that the public didn't have confidence in its ability to make money. It was that it didn't innovate fast enough to keep up. Facebook certainly hasn't done that. Facebook's major issue is an uncertain business model backed up by a seemingly wasteful acquisition (Instagram is worth $1 Billion? Come on?!). But they'll fix that. Because they innovate.

LEAP: Facebook is in the business to connect people and they succeeded by 900 million users and counting. Now, the problem is that they have no sustainable business model and they are looking to fix that in all the wrong ways. By allowing brands to post content on an individual’s page, they are helping corrupt the organic dialogue that exists between users. AOL fell from their empire by changing the experience (and cost) associated with their product. If Facebook isn’t careful with how they allow businesses to interact with consumers through Facebook, we believe they will see a shift in popularity (and market share) as well.


What other social media outlets do you see nipping at Facebook's market share? 

JF: I still think Google+ has an opportunity to do so, but not if they maintain their closed-platform stance. By not allowing third party applications (like a HootSuite or similar) to post to its platform, Google+ does force users on its site to use it, but alienates hyper users and influencers who post to and host multiple platforms for their communities. I have an active audience on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, but I can manage them all from one place. I can't manage Google+ there, so I have to stop, go to Google+, interact, then go back to my other networks. It's cumbersome and as a result, my G+ content is lacking. Hopefully, they'll see the error of their ways soon.

But Google+ has the best shot because of a broad user base and the X-factor for businesses - Google+ content is now weighing in your search engine results. That alone will drive business use.

LEAP: Google+ is a definite contender. Twitter has traditional media behind it and it could easily chip away some of the market share. The true growth is in two places. First is in niche social connections. Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are mass communication (although Google+ has tried to stem that with Circles) tools. However, that does not fit every situation. Opportunity exists for content specific social media networks to appeal to those users looking for more in-depth, meaningful discussions. Second is in technology we haven't seen yet. There are a lot of companies, Path, Circle, highlight, which are trying to break into the space. New technology, driven by mobile, will be the biggest danger to Facebook.


What would you advise brands to do on their FB properties to keep a positive engagement with current and new consumers?

JF: I hate to sound contrite or simplistic, but there's only one way to drive engagement: Write and share compelling content. It's not a hard concept to grasp. It's not easy to always deliver on that promise, but if your content makes people say, "Holy Smokes! That's awesome!" you will win. Every time.

LEAP: Facebook needs to be put in perspective. It is not the 'inexpensive' alternative that will make or break your business. Brands need specific goals for Facebook and to tie it into their overall marketing mix. No one should recommend dumping an entire advertising budget solely into TV – neither should they in Facebook. Understanding your audience and how and where to reach them remain the marketing tenets brands should adhere to when deciding how to engage consumers.


Should brand's start to decrease their dependence/interest in Facebook as a communication tool?

JF: I'm not sure I would say decrease, but I would definitely say they have got to stop ignoring other channels at Facebook's expense. If you give up on your corporate blog that wins search results and drives traffic to your website because there are 900 million people on a social network (focused on interpersonal connections, mind you, not engaging with brands), you deserve to lose business. That's just stupid. Pulling back from a more META perspective, if you're giving up your focus on traditional advertising, direct and other methods of communications to only focus on social media? Same thing ... you're stupid and deserve what's coming.

LEAP: Brands treat Facebook like the Holy Grail of marketing. It’s not. Just like the behemoth media outlets of yester-year (the WSJ, NYT and Oprah), one should never put all their eggs in one basket. Any media outlet, social or otherwise, is only a good fit if it reaches your audience and gets them to engage with your product. Our advice…don’t build a strategy around Facebook, build Facebook into your digital strategy. And even then, spread the wealth. Any brand that already depends on Facebook to give them the big win is kidding themselves. To quote a good friend “that’s just stupid.”


If you had Zuckberg's ear, what advice would you give him on how best to maintain Facebook's status in the industry?

JF: Keep doing what you're doing. Like it or not, the public is becoming more and more dependent on Facebook as what it was originally billed to be ... a social utility. Keep baking in video, text and other communications mechanisms into the platform, especially the mobile platform, so Facebook continues to be THE place people go to communicate with others. And screw the marketers ... if they can't produce compelling content to get into the streams of their fans, they should pay you for better placement in sponsored stories and promoted posts. Those that understand good content will be just fine.

LEAP: Understand mobile/tablet user engagement and capitalize on it. If Facebook can improve and expand upon mobile/tablet offerings, it can corner the market in these areas. Facebook also needs to understand the data it is collecting and how to mine it. There is a lot of room for innovation in this space and if Facebook can lead, then monetization becomes easy and very lucrative.