Lets stop bashing Facebook for five minutes. Its easy to talk about the mistakes of the company, and everyone is. I want to take a look at what the company has done right since making those mistakes. I also want to draw a comparison between these mistakes and those made by now biggest tech company in the world, Apple. Through this I will show you two simple lessons in what has transpired for both companies, stay close to your roots and be nimble.
In a blog post today Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, announced that Facebook was releasing new, simpler, privacy controls as a result of “lots of feedback” the company had received. The fact is that there has been a wave of negative backlash against Facebook recently for sharing too much information with the outside world. People have been threatening to drop the network and send it the way of MySpace. Have people gone mad? Have they forgotten that the information they were posting is on the internet? The answer is no. People reacted the way they did because Facebook broke the cardinal rule, sticking to their own ideals. Facebook forgot where they came from, and what got them to where they are.
Technology, especially web technology, seems to be a great area of business to see this concept in action. One great example many will remember is Apple, the poster child for why sticking to your roots matters. Apple changed the world when it introduced the first Macintosh, it also rose quickly to be one of the hottest tech companies around. The reason for the rise is that Apple introduced something unique, different and high end, a successful formula for the company. This success did not last forever, in the late 80’s Apple lost its way. It began releasing vague product lines with little differentiation. The company tried to compete in the low cost computer market. The formula was broken and the founders that had brought the company to success were no longer there to help find the way.
However, Facebook and other businesses can learn from what happened next… Apple once again found its way. In 1996 they brought back Steve Jobs, the leader that knew what made Apple different. In 1998 they released the iMac, in 2001 the iPod, in 2001 they also introduced OS X. On and on the hits have kept rolling, all because Apple has decided to not stray from what it does right. There is no denying that this company has rediscovered what made it successful.
So what does this have to do with Facebook? Facebook must go back to the roots that made it successful. The reason people liked the network to start with was the exclusivity it offered. Originally the social network was only available to college students and as a result, a certain kind of privacy was built-in to the model. Only your peers could see anything about you. Now the social networking company is mired with this privacy backlash. Newspaper stories of people being fired for Facebook pictures, parents spying on children, corporations using it as a background checking tool, all have pushed the Facebook users closer and closer to the edge. When Facebook lent a helping hand to the privacy problems by opening up more information without user interaction the members of the community saw it as an affirmation that Facebook had no interest in keeping things the way it originally intended, between peers.
What has Facebook done right? Simple, they’re quick on their feet. In just a few days they went from huge mistake to public solution. Mark Zuckerberg posted his blog about the fix, did interviews around the fix, did everything in his power to show that Facebook is a company that listens and reacts. This will be met with applause by the community so close to giving up. Time could end up showing that it all turned out to be a positive for Facebook because of how quickly they reacted. I know I’m happy to see that they took these steps.
In the business world of technology there are two lessons here, focus and speed. Find what works, focus on that, and do that better than anyone else. Once you have that one thing down like there is nothing else, then think about expanding your offerings. When you do find yourself down the wrong path get back on the right one as quick as you can. Do this by listening to your consumers, listening to your peers, and most of all, listening to your company’s soul. Some kind of peer board of advisers you could turn to might be helpful in times like these. I wonder if there is some company around that can help you when you need unbiased advice and guidance.