Who would have thought that 120 years later, that famous quote by a 19th century author would be so relevant for a decidedly 21st century company?
Many have repeatedly warned of the imminent demise of Facebook — whether as a social media network, media company or ad-tech firm. However, time and again, these naysayers have been proven wrong. Whether you love him or hate him, Mark Zuckerberg continues to steer a company that has become a chameleon in what I call our “neo-media” world.
As recently as last week, eMarketer asked, “Does Facebook have an Identity Crisis?” The question was posed in the context of answering how Facebook can survive.
People have been presaging the death of Facebook as a social network since the emergence of newer social platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. Alternative facts were often presented to prove that young people were flocking from Facebook.
The reality is that the percentage of teens on Facebook isn’t on the decline. In fact, a study by the UBS Evidence Lab reports that teens’ daily usage of Facebook is increasing. This is partly due to the fact that Zuckerberg continually innovates how the network can be used (think Messenger, 360 video and Facebook Live). Facebook is still far and away the most used social network both in the U.S. and globally.
As a media company, Facebook has become the face (pun intended) of fake news over the past year. A quick Google search on “Facebook Fake News” returns almost 73 million results. No other media outlet came close.
Some of the accusations are fair, others perhaps not. But either way, Facebook is now a media company — the most powerful one, some would argue. While Facebook tried to deny it early on, Zuckerberg was finally forced to acknowledge the power of his network to disseminate — and, in some instances, control — the news.
Despite cries from all sides of the political spectrum, Facebook continues to be a main source of news for the majority of Americans as reported in a Pew Research study, which found 62% of all Americans report getting their news from Facebook. It is decidedly a media company, and a successful one at that.
The other definition of Facebook is as an ad-tech firm — and it is in this category that tFacebook may finally meets its demise. A most telling sign is Facebook’s recent moves to chip away at the walled garden. It took Facebook five years to finally turn a profit in 2009, finding real success in creating value for the data it collected from its users and turning that into ad revenue. The value in that data came from maintaining complete ownership.
That has been shattered recently through a number of exposures of mismanagement of the information. Some call it fraud, Facebook calls it technical glitches. In a gasp for survival, Facebook has, through a series of small, yet bold moves, begun opening up its garden.
Only after Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at P&G, announced at the annual IAB Leadership Meeting that as a company it will not do business with any digital vendor who does not adopt MRC-accredited third-party validation, did Facebook agree to do so.
For a long time, advertisers have been willing to play along with the walled garden approach. Zuckerberg’s decision to open up the kimono, even if ever so slightly, is not so much a recognition of an advertiser’s right to access — but recognition, as he said in his “manifesto,” that “Facebook is not just a technology or media, but a community of people.
As Rimma Kats noted in the eMarketer story, Facebook’s future depends on its usefulness as a utility for maintaining relationships, not as a content platform.
Mark Twain lived another 13 years after those initial death reports.