The Tragedy of Twitter’s IPO

English: Graph of social media activities

Credit: Wikipedia

There is something quite new about social media, and it is not that it’s providing on a huge scale (of hundreds of millions) volunteer contributors of “content” that in weird and wonderful ways deliver huge sums (of billions) to those lucky entrepreneurs whose projects made it big. Well, OK, it is partly that. But if that is how we are looking at the #socmed phenomenon, we give evidence of something between severe myopeia and locked-in syndrome.

Twitter faces a double problem here. First, because of the tendency to group “social media” together (Pinterest and Twitter have about as much in common as the Stock Exchange and a town hall meeting – oh yes, people, large public rooms, engagement). From one angle it is one of the Big Four, with Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube. But that is the least interesting angle.

Second, because the world of media properties sees social media as just another one, disruptive in its own way, vacuuming up global advertising dollars and offering new channels for content acquisition and delivery, but essentially same old, same old.

These fallacies – for fallacies they are – are shared by many in the C Suites of the aforementioned companies, which may seem odd. But consider: Facebook, the social media property of social media properties, is is run with all the social sensitivity and engagement of Big Oil, or Big Banking. Or, interestingly, the Murdoch news empire (whatever its latest name is). Look at Facebook’s share structure/governance, and at its engagement with its user base (remember the shananigans over voting for changes? o my goodness). It is one of the least “social” companies on the planet.

Point is: There is something profound and new about “social,” but it is as subtle as it is profound, and it has left many of the engineer-innovators who gave us these behemoths as high and dry as that big majority of Fortune 500 C Suite execs who neither understand nor even use it. The point is substantive and cautionary. I do believe social is revolutionary, for business as well as for government. But these are early days, and it’s not easy to demonstrate.

What I was hoping for from the big social innovators was that they would buy deeply into the culture they were helping create. If that had happened, instead of tedious IPOs exposing these complex ecosystems to traditional market forces, we would see the development of innovative models for governance and financing. Sure, let the entrepreneurs be rewarded, and let revenue models emerge for their creations. But within structures of shared governance, whether within traditional non-profit models (a la Wikipedia, and four cheers for the great Jimmy Wales), or mutualization (users are the stockholders), or something smart we have yet to devise. These subtle products of the new economy are simply treated, when the time comes, as old economy entities. Social media cry out to be handled as our supreme social enterprise companies.

As for Twitter itself, on which  have written many times – while it has many uses (and I don’t mind if you want to follow Bieber’s publicist or your favorite brand’s marketing department, really I don’t), at its innovative heart it has developed what I’ve called a “Reciprocal Knowledge Engine” – a core mechanism for handling the explosion of knowledge, at the same time as opening up knowledge networks for much wider participation, to the massive benefit of all concerned. I trust this will survive the handing over of this precious thing to the more rudimentary end of the marketplace.

Twitter Files For IPO – Confidentially – Forbes.

Twitter: The Reciprocal Knowledge Engine

Facebook as the unsocial social network

Five Rules as Facebook Goes Down; and what next?

Image representing MySpace as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

We’ve now had a number of these stories. Is Facebook really on the verge of becoming MySpace? It seems absurd on the face of it, as global numbers keep climbing and any company which can recruit over 1 billion users is in an enormously powerful market position. On the other hand, when numbers plateau or drop slightly – as these latest stats drawn from more than one reliable source suggest – it’s a handy reminder that not even Mark Zuckerberg’s clever creation lies beyond the effect of market forces. And, very specifically, beyond the logic of disruptive innovation.

Five observations, nay, emerging rules.

1.Whether seen as a bubble or not – the current crisis in the U.S. Postal Service offers a slow-motion parallel – Facebook is not forever. It is not “different this time.” True, some companies stick around for many years (though a comparison of top listed companies decade-by-decade is a revealing and sobering exercise). And we do need to face a special factor that I have suggested on more than one previous occasion: that the extent to which a company’s core technology and/or business model is digitally derived, that company will “age” faster. A disruption variable, perhaps. Think Built to Last – and add an accelerant.

2.Of course, Facebook’s very dominance has set it up as a target. Around the time of the IPO, I recall observing that the various global governance authorities in telecommunications, and indeed back of them the governments themselves, are unlikely to sit back while a single American company, controlled Murdoch-like and more by one individual, develops an essential monopoly of a major slice of global communications. Meanwhile, we have begun to see the slow growth of interoperability, which seems to me to ensure the doom of economic profit in social media – at least in so far as the business model depends on “social.”

3.While the lock-in impact which is the obverse of the network effect remains powerful –at least, sans more comprehensive interoperability – the entry of very large numbers of users into a multiplicity of platforms has begun to chip away substantially in this advantage which Facebook the first-mover monopolist has built. So, I was just chatting with my daughter in Google chat. She actually thought she was using Facebook. Whatever.

4.I have argued repeatedly that it is a thoroughly bad thing for Facebook and other social media to have chosen the IPO route instead of seeking innovative governance and financing models which would preserve the integrity of their alignment with their users and with their proclaimed social goals. Market pressures, and – as in this case – the increasingly intrusive and sometimes offensive presence of advertising, now interposed with messages from friends as well as making up that margin down the right-hand side, are substantially altering the Facebook experience.

5.It is of course the case as Facebook and others will argue that Western and some other markets have matured, which is a proper explanation for numbers in a report such as this. This raises various questions. One is whether “maturing” explains the drop in minutes of exposure to the site on the part of those who continue to use it. That is, does maturing mean that our interest has matured and is now declining (that is, we are getting bored)? For other, the success in China of alternative social media in the context in which many Western companies are blocked suggests that network effects are still largely confined to homogeneous language/cultural/social groups.

———————————————————————————

The bubble, at least, is contorting. We may feel for the people at HQ who live under market pressures to grow and grow and grow at a time when, that a remarkably, they have grown and come close to saturating the markets most accessible to them and in which there is a strong cultural match.

Next up?

Meanwhile, some of us expect before very long there to be the kind of services Facebook offers available either for a modest subscription or free of charge from entities designed on open principles for global interoperability, using innovative finance/governance models in which users have ownership, which will replace the flailing US Post Office and much else from the old economy with organizations that do not look as if they were built and governed by the high-tech grandchildren of Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, and Chase.

https://futureofbiz.org/2013/01/15/state-of-social-a-report-card-for-2013/

 

Numbers don’t lie: The Facebook bubble may finally burst | Digital Trends.

Of social skeptics, Business 2.0, and Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal argued that if reason cannot be ...

Blaise Pascal argued that if reason cannot be trusted, it is a better “wager” to believe in God than not to do so. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Within the business community views of the usefulness and potential importance of social media are all over the place. At one extreme are enthusiasts who speak readily of Business 2.0 and Entrepreneurship 2.0, and claim a deep integration between building value in the 21st century and the phenomenon of social connectedness. At the other there is skepticism and – if I understand this right – unease at the extent to which evidence of the impact of social is anecdotal and, essentially, theoretical. But, as so often, to speak of the “spectrum” of opinion doesn’t catch it. So let’s frame the discussion in a triangle.

Here are the three corner positions, or vertices as triangle fans call them.

1. Gangbusters value-building through social.

2. Fringe significance.

3. Here’s the third vertex: don’t know, don’t care, feel threatened, hire kids to handle these things.

What interests and continues to concern me is the extent to which the third option remains dominant, indeed is more dominant the larger the company. As assorted surveys have shown, it is in the largest of our corporations that senior executives are least personally engaged in social. To explain this in essentially generational terms is unfair (not least to those of us who are of that generation and by no means so purblind); but there is no question that the explanation is cultural rather than analytical. That is why it is an issue of such great concern that so many leading business figures, and their organizations, have entirely failed at the most senior levels to engage in the possibilities of these now near-universal applications of novel communication technologies.

When I read these reports, I have in mind Pascal’s Wager. In one of history’s most famous memes, the 17th century French philosopher and mathematician threw down the gauntlet to those who claimed not to believe in God. If God does not exist there is no penalty for believing in him. And if he does exist, and is the kind of being who takes an interest in whether or not he has been believed in by humans (as the Judeo-Christian God plainly does), you will have, as it were, hell to pay if you fail to believe. Ergo: the rational person will believe. (Let’s not go into the question whether such a deity will look kindly upon persons deciding to believe in him as the result of a wager.)

But the point is important, in the context of fundamental shifts in social and cultural patterns which plainly have significant implications for every business (B2B as well as B2C) that go far beyond Web 1.0 catalog-ordering applications (though they should not be despised; the company named Amazon has done rather well off them). The difficulty in part lies in the fact that it is not easy to establish metrics for the effectiveness – beyond a further channel for ads and customer service –of engaging in something so wholly new as social presence. “Social” has been around for some years, and a further curiosity of the situation is the contrast between lingering uncertainty and disengagement at this point, and the very rapid pace of Moore’s-Law driven change at the level of technology. On the other hand, this contrast draws interesting attention to the fuzzy interface between digital and analog, and in particular advances in digital technology and what we may choose to call either the UX or the human dimension.

Back to point: the vertex of the triangle heavily filled with Fortune 500s even in 2013 is an oddity. It is also, potentially, on the assumption that there is some serious value to be gained from social technologies, an enormous area of opportunity; oil reserves that have yet to be explored, let alone valued, let alone exploited.

There are other ways into this debate. But I’d say to business leaders, first, don’t confuse your confusion with analysis (know your vertex!);l and, second, spend a little time thinking about Pascal.  No-one is asking you to bet the farm (or build a 747). Just to consider whether a rational position might not be somewhere along the line between the two rational vertices. And, to my mind, to consider it well worth a serious bet that it lies at least near enough to the business 2.0 enthusiasts there may be serious moolah to be had.

Cucumbers and asparagus: LinkedIn Is “Preferred By Executives” – Forbes

LinkedinAnswers

LinkedinAnswers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here we go again. Another social media beauty contest, this time among execs who are of course perhaps the least social media savvy group of any.

Problem is, to twist a cliche, we are comping plums and mangoes. Despite its best efforts (cringe), LinkedIn – preferred by the exec class – is a very different kind of animal from Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and so on. There may be some interest among headline writers in how many hundred million users this or that site has. But the totting up becomes effete as soon as interesting questions start being asked. LinkedIn keeps trying to break out of its two useful roles (self-updating rolodex and job-hunt machine), but it will no more turn into Facebook (phew) or Twitter than a food truck.

Curious thing, this continued desire to comp stats for social media usage. It’s yet another example of the fallacy of the new normal (OK, that’s all in my next book).

Far more interesting is the fact that fully 60% of respondents use “social media” as a whole for less than one hour a week.

LinkedIn Is Preferred By Executives – Forbes.

Unsocial Networks

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg (Wikipedia)

Facebook’s decision to draw back from one of the few evidences in the governance of social networks that they understand that social is actually coming to mean for the future of the corporate effort is perhaps no great surprise. For a company whose governance is designed top-down like that of a 19th century steel magnate (or, to be fairer, well, 21st century News Corp), the anomaly of leaving users free to make actual decisions, always open to being “exploited” (aka used) by users actually interested in said decisions, could not long endure.

But the question is raised, yet again: when will it be that companies in the ever-broader “social” space will evolve governance (and financing) models that are actually suited to social?

None of the major players has given that thought much thought, so far. The Facebook voting thing being nixed was a vestigial organ from an earlier, pre-IPO, day when the visionary aspects of the company had more logic than they do now (though, for my part, I have no reason to believe that MZ believes them any less). Something much bigger, and strategic, is needed for these companies to align their social mission with their social identity as vast networks of users. The future will not lie with playing cat-and-mouse on privacy and imposing corporate policies from (in Fb’s case) unbelievably non-diverse boards. And for future read profit.

I billion and rising. Well, we shall see. Think Kodak and RIM and HP and (ouch, ouch) Apple for curves whose rise is halted.

My take? MS soldiers on; Apple crests very soon in all respects; Fb is close to its zenith. MZ, like SJ and BG, has earned his place on Mount Rushmore. What interests me is what, and who, come nest; and how they manage to align their corporate efforts with their users. Hint: it may involve actually engaging this thing we call “social.”

Oh, and Twitter? As a company, it is in the balance, for just this same reason. Its daily users include some of the very smartest minds on the planet – from @rupertmurdoch down. The interest of the Twitter high command in what they/we think is somewhere around zero.

Facebook to users: Please vote to abolish your right to vote | Internet & Media – CNET News.

Three Digital Fallacies Holding Back our Top Companies

Andrew McAfee Talk at the Berkman Center

Andrew McAfee Talk at the Berkman Center (Photo credit: Berkman Center for Internet & Society)

Make no mistake, a fundamental embrace of the revolution just beginning in digital communication is core to every company planning to be around in more than a couple of years. Not many (any?) of them really get it. Here are three key reasons.

1. The “social” fallacy. We use this term, yet it merges, blends, squishes together many divergent phenomena – from the chit-chat/cat pic end of the data explosion to what are still generally Sears-catalog marketing efforts – to what we are really talking about. Andrew McAfee recently explained why he coined the term “Enterprise 2.0” and avoids the term “social” with “hard-headed” C-Suite types, as it suggests something soft. I’m not suggesting we can give it up, or that “2.0” language (itself now, well, jaded) will answer. But we have a big branding problem here.

2. The digital/IRL fallacy. Someone tweeted today that in a year or two 25% of business will have a Chief Digital Officer. O boy. The “social” revolution is not about segmenting off yet another slice of the dispersed responsibilities of the C-Suite; it’s about integration. And now, I suppose, we await a new fad: the Chief Integration Officer. Integrative thinking comes very hard to “functional” people and, in a fundamental way, is rendering them systematically dysfunctional. There are a lot of people in high places in these organizations who need to check out their golf swing.

3. The generational fallacy. OK, there is a certain utility in throwing around “digital natives” language, but it’s getting not just passe but dangerous. The depressing lack of engagement of CIOs in social media (now well-documented) is nothing to do with their age. It’s to do with their inability to flex, to roll with the continuing punches of innovation, to grasp a rising level of risk as a friend, to grab the keys to organizational transformation – and value creation.

I’ve argued before that the neglect of social, side by side with a far more long-standing refusal to bring women into the top echelons, reveals a deep-seated death-wish on the part of U.S. business. What we need above all is to reframe the questions raised in the search for value, and rebrand the resources of the 21st century economy. Now.

What Sells CEOs on Social Networking.

Earth to Twitter: Social Needs Stakeholder Governance

twitter y macworld

twitter y macworld (Photo credit: juque)

Twitter‘s latest blow to developers and users, the source of lamentation as I write and we all tweet, brings into fresh focus a simple, 3-fold, claim.

  • social media are uniquely positioned to benefit from high-level stakeholder engagement
  • it is in the interests of all involved for them to move toward stakeholder governance
  • yet our lead social media companies are among the least “social” of contemporary corporations.

Mark Zuckerberg has led the social pack with his high (and I believe genuinely meant) claim for a social purpose for social media. At some point someone will decide to work on alignment between such goals, the culture and practices of the organizations themselves, and their governance and funding structures. Some deep innovation in the latter will be needed before “social” settles down as the substrate of our C21 lives.

Facebook Crashes:

https://futureofbiz.org/technology/facebook-crashes-my-5-questions/

 

New API severely restricts third-party Twitter applications | Ars Technica.

 

$1.3 Trillion from Social, Says McKinsey. BUT . . . .

English: McKinsey matrix as described in McKin...

English: McKinsey matrix as described in McKinsey Quarterly Español: Reproducción de la Matriz de McKinsey según se describe en McKinsey Quarterly (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This looks a very interesting projection. The value is mainly to be found from better productivity that will come from better collaboration using social tools.

All this may be true. But the wild card lies in what I term strategic social – not incremental tools for biz collaboration (which are important) but the much messier and so far little engaged possibility of public social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook. In general companies have seen presence in these media to be useful for advertising and customer relations efforts, and delegated that presence way down then line. The prospect of values alignment between customers, employees, and the corporation; and the ready flow of information via relationships across the organizational boundary; have been little tapped and not that much noticed. My sense is that the value lying there is in fact much greater, as it can, should, may, drive innovation and culture change within the company. Culture change/innovation is where, prospectively, all the value lies – in the context of rapid change.

Evidence of very low levels of hands-on engagement with social in the C-Suite suggests this value is a long way from being realized.

McKinsey Says Social Media Could Add $1.3 Trillion to the Economy – NYTimes.com.

Most Organizations Still Fear Social Media

Aside

From Gartner via HBR comes another handy report on how major organizations are responding to social media. Despite the alliterative categories (sorry, not into that) there’s great data and analysis here, although it is focused on the tactical and not so much the strategic value of social.

The “fear” term is interesting. Seems to me that fear requires a level of (perhaps mis)understanding that the failure of the CEO/CIO class to engage personally with this new world is somewhat OTT.

My recipe stays the same. A serious immersion in social for every member of the C-Suite and the board. Best time/money spend any major organization could make; and let’s start tomorrow.

The grim details: 14/500 CEOs tweeting . . . .

https://futureofbiz.org/2012/07/13/the-grim-details-on-ceos-and-social-14500-are-tweeting-for-example/

Most Organizations Still Fear Social Media – Anthony J. Bradley and Mark P. McDonald – Harvard Business Review.

Facebook user satisfaction plummets- MSN Money

Aside

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook

Mark Zuckerber (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nuff said.

But if I may add: The cause is attributed to three factors: Privacy issues; the constantly changing interface; and what HuffPo describes as “in-your-face advertising.”

Which takes me back to a theme I keep harping on: Our leading “social” company is among the least engaged on its own behalf in social media; despite being uniquely well-placed, it has chosen to disconnect itself from its user/customers and take continual decisions without consultation.

The context here is fascinating, since it is not simply that Facebook, “the social network,” does less well than G+ and Twitter; as a whole social companies score far worse than traditional (and traditionally unpopular) companies such as airlines and utilities.

Hard to make this up. And truly remarkable that these companies seem to be among the least able to grasp the impact on business/consumer relationships of the technologies they have mastered.

It’s also dire news for Facebook investors.

Facebook user satisfaction plummets- MSN Money.