I met with Bob Pittman the other day and had a great conversation about the dynamics of consumer behavior. Bob knows quite a bit about consumers, having served as CEO of MTV and COO of AOL during their massive growth phases in the eighties and nineties, respectively. His thesis about consumers was as follows:
“Changes in consumer behavior are glacial. Major consumer change occurs over periods of 20 years.”
When I asked him to comment on how Facebook fit this thesis, he provided me with a simple answer. Facebook is part of a broader trend of consumers shifting communications online. AOL started this trend with instant messaging and email. This trend continued with the ‘social network’ approach to communications introduced by Friendster. Then, along came Facebook – delivering the ‘right’ packaging that accounted for consumer needs. So, in this light, the social communications trend has been developing for nearly 20 years. I know it seems obvious. But in my mind, the most brilliant things are. After our conversation, I started to think…
What ARE the big consumer trends driving social media today?
1. The desire to observe and understand the behavior of others
2. The need to validate our existence with proof of experience
3. The need to maintain lasting relationships through communication
If you look at Facebook in this light, it is obvious (in hindsight things often are) as to why they have been such a hit.
IMHO, the main use of Facebook is (1). People cite ‘stalking’ as the number one activity on FB. Clearly, FB has made it much easier to do (2) by creating simple tools for users to post and share their photos, videos and more. And finally, (1) and (2) have made facebook a great tool to achieve (3) more easily. By observing others we can more easily create a relative ‘position’ for ourselves in the social ecosystem and communicate that value to create and maintain more lasting relationships.
In short, FB is pitching right into the strike zone from the consumer behavior vantage. Their only mounting issue is how to position the company to combat the inevitable problems that will arise from their own success. (this always happens) As they build their platform and products, they have increasingly invested in a centralized product paradigm. This makes sense. Ease of use delivered through a truly integrated experience is a staple of the FB value proposition. This is not unlike AOL was back in the days of the downloadable client. That being said, Facebook will be subject to the same Innovators Dilemma that AOL once faced. They are clearly anticipating this, but time will tell on how they execute against their strategy.
More to come (as usual). Thanks for stopping by. 🙂