If Facebook’s Not Cool, Brands Don’t Have To Be Either
Christmas comes round every year and so, it seems, do discussions about whether or not Facebook is still cool and/or whether it is being abandoned by teens. On a recent earnings call, Facebook’s Chief Financial Officer, David Ebersman, seemed to suggest that maybe younger audiences had started to tire of the social network:
We are pleased that we remain close to fully penetrated among teens in the U.S. Usage among U.S. teens overall was stable from Q2 to Q3, but we did see a decrease in daily users, specifically among younger teens
Many took this as a sign that the sky was falling. But, since then, Facebook has made a number of pretty convincing statements to suggest this isn’t the case.
It’s not that teens aren’t using the service. It’s more that, particularly on mobile, Facebook is just one of a number of services they use. (This may explain why the company supposedly bid $3 billion for Snapchat, an offer which was rebuffed.) But Facebook still plays an important part in the lives of teens, and it’s one that Mark Zuckerberg has long targeted: that of a utility.
This quest to provide value through utility, rather than chasing every ephemeral fad, is one that many brands would do well to mimic (though Facebook isn’t entirely guilt-free in that area). The simple fact is that there are very few brands that can realistically and authentically claim any sort of coolness. Nike, Apple, Red Bull & Coke are a few that spring to mind — and that’s not just because of the products they make, but also thanks to years of clever and thoughtful positioning and marketing.
In a world where people have better BS detectors than ever before, it’s nigh on impossible to just project this sort of image onto your own brand, which makes providing some sort of utility a much smarter move. This fact has been recognised not just by Mark Zuckerberg, but also by serial entrepreneur Evan Williams (co-founder of Blogger & Twitter) when he said that the internet is simply:
“…a giant machine designed to give people what they want… (and is) connecting everyone and everything, every event and every thought, in multiple ways…”
With this in mind, brands are almost certain to find it easier to provide utility than to be the coolest kid on the block, and social media is often the best way of ensuring that utility is one that a large number of people find out about, just as they provide the best way of sharing great stories, as demonstrated in my last post.
So, it could be Nike providing you with a way of tracking your runs, Red Bull providing an easy way to showcase your best Instagram shots or eBay providing a tool to make it easier to buy Christmas gifts. It might be Heineken providing the perfect companion app for Champions League Football, InterContinental Hotels creating iPad travel guides or Starbucks allowing you to gift a coffee with a tweet.
What it probably isn’t is brands posting pictures of kittens in a short-sighted effort to game Facebook’s algorithms. That might drive links, but it’s not going to push any long-term connection or association of your brand with utility or service, which are two of the killer apps in the modern world of marketing.
What, then, of Facebook? Well, as mentioned above, Facebook is the platform that ensures enough people find out about your great product, service or utility. Because as Professor Byron Sharp highlights in his (must-read) book How Brands Grow, great marketing is nothing without scale and Facebook, like all great utilities, is built for scale.
Disclosure: Nike & InterContinental are current clients of Mindshare.
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