Facebook as Online Ad Nirvana?
So Fortune writer David Kirkpatrick, in his weigh-in on Facebook’s potential shakedown of Bill Gates’s wallet–as reported, Microsoft is apparently thinking of investing in the hot social-networking site at a ridiculous $10 billion valuation–called my analysis of the company and its possible shortcomings “glib.”
OK, so I looked up the word in the dictionary, and it turns out it means: “readily fluent, often thoughtlessly, superficially, or insincerely.”
Thanks, Dave! Given my long history as someone who has been pretty bullish on the Web, it’s unusual for me to be the irksome tsk-tsk voice of reason about the bubble being blown up here, so I am glad to be thought of as superficial!
How can you put a price tag on the future? That’s what any investor in Facebook would be doing.
“There’s no way the company is worth that kind of money today, despite the 43 million active users it claims. (The Journal reports that private Facebook this year expects to make $30 million profit on $150 million in revenues.) But that is not the same thing as saying that somebody would be insane to buy a small chunk at such a valuation. (For a glib and contrasting view from Kara Swisher, see AllThingsD.)”
After that, he goes on to call the service the Internet equivalent of the second coming of Google, except with its people-centric, six-degrees-of-separation vision called a “social graph” by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
(Calling AOL! Some kid hijacked your old vision and is about to make bank with it!)
More importantly with all this relevant interconnectedness, posits Kirkpatrick, Facebook is apparently the promised land of advertising of the future, which is all about giving the consumers ads they actually want!
Ads as a service! Ads as a benefit! Ads not as an intrusion!
I don’t mean to be glib, but this kind of ad cheerleading has been trotted out by AOL, by Yahoo, by every dot-com start-up I ever met and its promise has always been more, shall we say, bloated than its delivery.
And even now, with all the advances in online behavior-targeting–which I like to call “consumer-stalking”–it’s mostly still just a lot of marketing blabbery that is good for flimflamming the media buyers at Procter & Gamble and little else.
Other new buzzy phrases in this genre include: claiming consumers want to be “brand ambassadors” for a wide range of products (I suspect that list is quite short); declaring all advertising as needing to be “viral,” which should be enough to make buyers ill; and even claiming that ads are content (so far, only Apple’s Mac/PC commercials seem to rate in this department).
While Facebook is certainly a very good place to test all these theories, perhaps even the best place at the moment, a smarter investor might want to use such money to play all over the Web, testing out all sorts of new ad formats.
And spending hundreds of millions to get a small stake in this game in just one company–which is still No. 2 in the market, lest we forget about rival MySpace–seems like a recipe for disappointment.
That is especially true if what GigaOm’s Om Malik writes about government pressures to make the service safer for young people comes to pass–which could land Facebook into a miasma of controversy.
To Kirkpatrick’s credit, he is quite right when he writes about the drive of Zuckerberg, pictured below, who appears to be very confident, thoughtful and hard-charging, although I am not so sure his comparison of Zuckerberg to Microsoft’s Bill Gates is a good one to make.
Zuckerberg shouldn’t be a wannabe of him, given that company’s history of bullying domination, any more than he should try to pattern himself after the arrogant brainiac style of Google.
If I were him, if he has to be like anyone, I would act more like Steve Jobs, whose iconoclastic style has left a lot of possible market power on the table in the past, but whose single-minded devotion to product excellence has made Apple a brand for the ages.
Steve Jobs even took money from Microsoft, but it was only when he had no other choice. Zuckerberg does have a choice, a lot of them, which is often harder than having none.
So, by all means, dream big. By all means, run as fast as you can to grow what we can all agree is a great platform. By all means, take the money if it means it will help you get there.
But I don’t mean to be insincere when I say too: For all your promise, think hard about what you can actually deliver.