"Hang on," you're saying to yourself right now, "Isn't this the same Kaila Colbin who, not three weeks ago, predicted Facebook would kick Google's posterior?"
Why yes, it is. Facebook has all the habitual strength of Google, turbo-boosted by the inexorable pull of everyone we love. In the battle for ownership of our online attention, that's a powerful advantage.
So why am I arguing the opposite today? Well, to cover my predictive bases for one -- but, more importantly, because the opposite view is potentially much more interesting. We have here the possibility to observe a theory unfolding to which I subscribe wholeheartedly: namely, that companies with a strongly articulated sense of purpose, that adhere to a shared and authentic "why," will over time outperform those that don't.
Inspirer of visionaries John Marshall Roberts talks about the "how, what and why" of business: the what, for example, might be making lots of money, the how is by selling goods or services, and the why is the driving force that gets us out of bed every morning.
The authentic why is the part of what we do that transcends words -- meaning it's also the part that's virtually impossible to fake. The "whys" of Google and Facebook sound similar on the surface: Google's, to organize the world's information and make it universally useful; Facebook's, to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. Nonetheless, I believe in Google; I believe in the authenticity of its core purpose. Discontent with the search giant seems more tied to its sheer size than anything else. "No company should have access to this much information about us," we say, "They've been okay so far, but who knows how they'll behave in the future?" We're more bothered by their potential behavior than by their actual behavior.
Facebook's mission, on the other hand, seems tacked-on by investors and grown-ups, long after a 19-year-old Zuckerberg described the kids sharing their information on his site "dumb f***s" for trusting him. To be sure, the vast majority of the social network's 400 million users will never hear about the exchange. And the majority of those who do hear about it --- myself included -- won't abandon our profiles based on a silly comment from a teenager. What we will do, however, is add this straw to the growing pile on our camels' backs, on top of the straw named Beacon, and the one we added after the company defaulted our settings to "public" without asking us, and the ones that got tossed on after Facebook unilaterally decided we wanted to share our data with Yelp, Pandora and Microsoft Docs.
The "authentic why" is so often the deciding factor in long-term marketplace victory because what's underneath gets revealed over time, in a thousand different ways. Even though our day-to-day usage of Facebook isn't predicated on us liking Mark Zuckerberg, it can't be healthy for any company to have so many customers repulsed by the behavior of the chief executive.
Roberts isn't the only person talking about the what, how and why of business; the concept of core purpose and values was articulated by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in the book "Built to Last," and repeated by Simon Sinek in his recent TED talk. But usually, we're looking retrospectively and designing a theory to fit our survivorship bias. In the case of Google and Facebook, we have two companies that both dominate an aspect of our online behavior. It's just that one of them has treated its customers with a reasonable amount of respect while the other hasn't.
Will the why theory prevail? I can't wait to find out.