Facebook Live is another frivolous toy with profound potential
Have you seen those Facebook Live ads everywhere? The billboards and television commercials?
The first thing that struck me about them was the content they depicted: no, not the powerful, viral genres that drummed-up national attention; but rather, the blithe, light-hearted stuff that barely resonates outside of your social circle. The ad spots contain screenshots of kids smearing cake onto their faces, teens doing cannonballs into pools, pets being cute, etc. Nothing about police shootings, protests, Aleppo, Turkey – for all of which FB Live played a vital role as a transmission mechanism.
That’s really interesting discretion by their marketing team. If you asked me (or anyone) what FB Live’s value is – its Massive Transformative Purpose (MTP) – I’d say it’s the social impact. It’s a tool with the same democratizing potential as everything else core FB has delivered. Yet, like everything else core FB has delivered, management has watched the community leverage FB Live towards such socially impactful ends they could never have imagined… then FB pulled the string, dropping the product into closer alignment with their broader, more pedestrian brand message – like a balloon plucked from the heavens and pulled back down to earth.
What’s that brand message? Facebook is a social networking platform. It’s about connecting people. It’s not social media, not publishing, not news, not politics, business, etc.
Does it make each of our lives a little bit better? Yes.
Does it change the world? No. (At least, not in the way we conventionally regard such inventions and innovations.)
And, there’s nothing wrong with that… but it makes me consider why Facebook so restrains itself from a more poignant nominal purpose? Why does it perpetuate its perception/reality gap…?
We need to look no further than Yahoo in Tech 1.0 and Twitter in Tech 2.0 to find cautionary tales about digital media hubs. From the first, Facebook has treated the media business like a third rail. And, in retrospect, FB’s restraint seems so obvious. ‘We’re not in the media business, we’re in the business of connecting people’, said Zuckerberg time & time again. Yet, not even 12-months ago, everyone thought that FB would swallow the media business whole.
It was fair to assume that was a case of watch what Facebook does, not what it says. After all, FB actually did court several media partners. Perhaps after a number of misadventures – culminating with Fake News – FB continues to proceed with caution, even tweaking its News Feed algorithm to give greater primacy to user generated content.
The economics of news and the politics of editorial are topics for a whole other post. The point I’m making here is that Facebook has a clear marketing strategy with its product positioning: “come for the toys, stay for the tools”. In other words, come use FB Live to have some light-hearted fun with your friends, and while you’re here, you’ll inevitably create or catch something more poignant, more resonant, more world-changing.
The reason it warrants an entire post to arrive at this conclusion is that it’s a truly rare strategy. Facebook’s modus operandi is institutionalized under-promising and over-delivering. We’re used to hype cycles, launch events, and superlatives. We’re not used to market leaders downplaying major product launches, positioning them as frivolous toys, then having them make the news — not just deliver it.
As discussed previously:
users will want a void filled in the FB Live Video UX: in-kind synchronous conversation. I’m sure users will be able to comment asynchronously in text on Live Videos, but there will be a burning desire to barge-in on friends’ videos and converse via video chat. The market will probably pull this feature out of the product; big question is whether FB itself or a 3rd party will build it first.
The question regarding FB Live’s execution is whether or not Facebook itself can stick to the more frivolous-feeling job-to-be-done of social networking — as it has done with some success in the past — rather than chasing more noble-sounding means.