Chrys Bader, a former YouTube and Google+ Product Manager wrote a piece on his blog, TakeASwig, that tackles a very common prognostication, but with an articulation that fluff pieces lack. I saw his article, The End of the Facebook Era, on Quibb, and like many read it - agreed with some, disagreed with some but went back to thinking about Facebook's in the near term - namely, its stock, whether my wife still uses it, and how it performs from an ad platform standpoint.
Sandi Macpherson, the founder of Quibb, asked for the communities' feedback. I didn't plan on writing, but as a marketer, the dichotomy is interesting. For marketers, Facebook is starting to hit its stride, so to think of it as flawed and underperforming does not jive with its current business reality. But then again, that's part of the criticism, it being a business. That's not the real complaint, though.
Where the Kids Hang Out
The real macro knock is that Facebook was cool. It's not cool anymore, and that consequently Facebook has a real problem on its hands because the next generation of users aren't using Facebook. No new users, no built in source of growth.
For marketers, asking the importance of being where the kids hang out is a weird question, because only a handful of brands can make money marketing to kids, and almost none in the customer acquisition space can. Nothing says no thank you quicker than hearing, "Hey, we have millions of teens and tweens."
What we're talking about is not 12 to 24 month issue for Facebook, but 36 to 60 month potential hit. Then again, the place that has the teens today might not have them when they are older; and even if Facebook had a way to get them, it's not a given they could keep them.
Do They Need the Kids
Facebook needs growth, and you can grow in two ways - yield (which they have at least 2x) and user base. And, it's the latter where the talk of the kids come. The big reason they aren't coming according to conventional wisdom is because their parents are there, which of course is why marketers love Facebook and Google.
It's really hard to appeal to kids and adults in a single brand. It's also really, really hard if not impossible to bet on owning the kids and having them transition to you as adults. Habits transfer, like a preference for Coke or Pepsi. Emotions transfer, such as those that Nike instills. Parents who drink Coke don't make Coke less appealing for kids. Similarly, parents who wear Nikes don't make it less cool for kids to wear Nikes. Utilities like Google fall into a different category.
The concern is that they are more like TV - a habit and way of life for one generation but not a lasting habit that transfers to future generations. They are a piece of technology susceptible to major disruption. A buggy whip manufacturer on the dawn of the age of cars. AOL at the time of the broadband revolution. But guess who loves TV, marketers. So, declining TV audiences is not a wonderful thing either.
It's funny to me, because the walled garden was the initial appeal of Facebook and a source of power, but now it's being touted as an achilles heel. Talk to those smarter than us marketers, and they make it sound like the original AOL or pre-Apple smart phones - thanks for keeping us safe, but now you're too restrictive.
I think we all knew that Facebook wouldn't be brought down by a direct competitor the way it took down MySpace and MySpace took down Friendster. We knew the same of Bing that it wouldn't make any real dent in Google, only fight to maintain its share. But, as a marketer, I'm not ready to call for Facebook's demise. When a platform works for business, you have a strong motivation and a big pool of people fighting to see it work. That's a nice ally. It may not make you cool, but it's nice to go into to battle with.
Where Does Snapchat Fit
The easy thing when it came to assessing Google vs. Yahoo (circa 2002) is that you had two companies doing the same thing and one of them had a better product. It was by no means a sure bet, but it wasn't a stretch to see Google as the air apparent.
As Facebook was never going to be taken down by a direct competitor, we just don't know what, if anything, that will be. My barometer for Facebook is my wife. So long as she still uses it, I believe in it. She's a lurker, but an active one, and she's a very valuable ad impression - a member of the same audience that has allowed Zulily to be a multi-billion dollar commerce company.
I haven't yet heard anyone suggest that Facebook's unsuccessful bid for Snapchat might become akin to Yahoo not wanting to pay enough for Google in 2007. Most point to Snapchat's hold on the younger demographic as (I above and others have beaten over the head) simply emblematic of Facebook's longer terms issues. Why Snapchat said no, only the founders and the board's of both companies know. I suspect that Snapchat's refusal speaks less to any inherent flaw with joining Facebook (Instagram's success would make me hopeful) and more to Snapchat's own issues and challenges.
Whether it's Facebook's lack of appeal to youth or its appreciation of new platforms, that it was willing to spend 20%+ of its free cash to hedge, is a powerful datapoint. It could be a meaningless one too, like AOL buying Bebo. Ok, that was a low blow.
Can You Have It All
When I think of Nike, their defining moment was Nike Air. Michael Jordan aside, when you first put on a shoe with "Air," it was so far and above anything else. It created a lasting impression upon which they have built an enduring brand. Their products have to be good, but a good product doesn't make Nike, amazing marketing does. The same holds true with Coke and so many other consumer brands.
In some ways the brands have it easy. They need to figure out how to use technology to get their message out, but they are rarely beholden to any one technology. What if Twitter is no longer cool? Nike will find another way to handle its RSVP system. That doesn't mean each new communication platform doesn't pose real pain in the ass challenges for brands, but their issues are very different from a company that has been the platform.
Google has and will continue to go through this. Apple too. Even TV will prevail.
I remember when many were predicting Google's demise as the web went mobile. Instead of crumbling, Google still sits in an enviable position - it maintains its cash machine while also being at the forefront of future innovation - be it the mobile operating system to wearables. It wasn't Bing that was going to threaten Google, it was change and staying relevant.
No single consumer brand has had to try and figure it out at a scale that Facebook faces. It's easy to say they need to become a tentpole brand, which they've started to do with Instagram. It's a practice perfected by the movie industry whose domestic blockbuster ticket sales account for a mere 20% of a big picture's total revenue. But saying and doing are different things, as you don't know in advance if the pole you just planted is in solid ground or likely to slide away and drag the rest of your tent down with you… or at least distract you and eat your cash when the real winner comes. I'm sure NewsCorp felt good it didn't buy Friendster. Is Snapchat the Facebook or just the Friendster / MySpace?