Facebook and the Quest for Social Media Domination

The Data Portability blog reports that the recent Power.com lawsuit accuses Facebook of being a monopoly,

“Facebook’s conduct constitutes monopolization (or attempted monopolization, ed.) of the market for social networking website services…”

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been tracking the recent moves by Facebook to control and exploit user data and addition of Twitter and FriendFeed-like features. It wants to be your one and only social destination where you can tweet, blog, share, and heck, even search for content. Regardless of whether you think Facebook + FriendFeed news is all hype or if you’re truly concerned about the future of FriendFeed – one dangerous trend that’s undeniable in this saga, is this move towards consolidation in the social media space.  

For those who argue that it’s all about survival of the fittest, this acquisition is anything but that. Acquisitions of strong startups like FriendFeed stack the odds in favor of the weakest species that no one wants to buy and yet, they continue to exist, even if for no other reason, than to fill the void left by the strongest of the pack. One can hope that a strong startup is replaced by another stronger alternative, but if that startup too gets acquired before reaching critical mass, where does that leave the users?

I think it’s fantastic that talent is recognized and well-deserving entrepreneurs get their turn at the big pay-off. But there’s a real danger that if these acquisition sprees continue unchecked, it will dramatically reduce the choices for users, who are the real losers in this deal. When strong startups are bought out, all that the users are left with are mediocre me-too sites that don’t add any value or goliaths that have too much control over their online data.

The debate around FriendFeed acquisition is much more than just rooting for the underdog and all that fluff. What many are glossing over is the underlying truth, which is – by taking over FriendFeed, Facebook  has just about eliminated the only real competition that the uber-site has today in the social networking space.  

FriendFeed is much more than just a social network. It offers social conten aggregation, social media client, micro-blogging, real-time threaded conversations, and much more, all rolled up into one. Despite the steep learning curve, it trumps other social networks (including Facebook) in richness of features and robustness of the system.

In a short amount of time, it’s gone from a social aggregator on steroids to a feature-rich platform that even the popular sites are copying. By buying FriendFeed at this critical stage in its lifecycle, Facebook no longer has to worry if this site will take off and threaten its dominance in the near future.

Wouldn’t be least bit surprising if FriendFeed is shut down within a year, if not sooner, after Facebook’s ripped off every possible feature and integrated it into the mother-ship.

And why wouldn’t Facebook keep this wonderful community alive, you ask?  Oh yeah…I am sure Facebook would love to retain that passionate and vocal base of users who love FriendFeed precisely because it’s NOT Facebook.

Facebook is hardly the only one who’s been accused of vying for world domination. Google and Microsoft both have had their share of bad PR for trying to monopolize the marketplace. And even if Facebook shut down FriendFeed tomorrow, what’s the big deal? It’s just about million users, a mere drop in the ocean compared to Facebook and Twitter.

As a user, do you really care if there’s just one uber-social network? Should you care? I am sure many of us just love the idea of having just one search engine or just one “great” operating system or how about just one ”perfect” flavor of icecream?! Who needs so many choices, anyway?! Really…

3 Reasons Why Social Media is Not Welcome in the Workplace

Joshua-Michéle Ross from O’Reilly Radar blogged about a real challenge that social media practitioners face and that’s the negative perception of social media as the domain of workplace slackers. Employers have a real concern about the impact of social media on employee productivity but as Ross rightly points out, social media is not the only distraction at the workplace,

The fact is that there are already tons of other outside distractions at work ranging from instant message, email, workplace socializing and the never ending cigarette break – so this is not a new problem – but an old concern applied to a new technology…

That’s a great point, but what makes social media so unique and different from other common workplace distractions is that it’s a highly visible media. One could IM all day long or surf the web and not be subject to any scrutiny but send out one too many tweets and you’re likely to be branded a slacker.

Much of this negativity can be traced back to conventional (misguided) productivity measures, lack of social media training, and company culture.

#1 When managers don’t trust their employees to do the job and use number of hours worked as the key measure of productivity instead of results, there is higher likelihood that social media will be perceived negatively. In such an environment, every minute away from the job is considered a waste and much more effort is expended on “looking busy”. However, at companies where results trump number of hours worked, the case for social media is made much more easily because it’s easier to track productivity when it’s tied to a tangible outcome.

#2 The second challenge is related to lack of understanding of social media and related training. The best analogy is email, which is a great productivity tool for employees who know how to use it, but there are others who are overwhelmed by it quite easily. Without formalized social media training, employees are much more likely to waste time on social media networks because they don’t know how to balance social media engagement with their core job function.

#3 Last and most important challenge is that a social media-centric culture requires a mindshift that has to be driven from the top. Here’s where senior management must set an example. In many companies, the senior  management  doesn’t pro-actively engage in social media, thereby fueling the perception that social media is for slackers and not for busy professionals.  When a highly visible executive starts engaging in social media, it paves the way for rest of the organization and provides an example of how to manage social networking efficiently in the workplace.

Company cultures and attitudes don’t change overnight but understanding the barriers will go a long way towards to bringing them down.

Why Companies Struggle with Social Media Engagement

Here’s one key finding from the recent Brand Engagement study by popular industry thought leader, Charlene Li (Altimeter Group) that caught my attention,

To scale engagement, make social media part of everyone’s job. The best practice interviews have a common theme — social media is no longer the responsibility of a few people in the organization.

I agree wholeheartedly that social media shouldn’t be the monopoly of any single functional group and it should be dispersed across the organization. While cross-functional social media engagement may be a best practice, the reality is that  many enterprises still struggle with this and here’s why:

#1 We are what we do: At most companies, employees are hired for their roles based on their skill set/expertise/experience/interest (Granted, interest is a stretch, given the current economy…). While, there are plenty of geeks/technical folks who are exceptional bloggers but that doesn’t mean every engineer is cut out for social media engagement. As a result, folks who typically end up blogging and/or engaging in social media for their companies are from marcomm or PR because they are the “communicators” by virtue of their role.

#2 That’s not my job: In highly siloed organizations, outside of the traditional marcomm and PR roles, the company culture doesn’t encourage  direct interaction with customers even with traditional channels, let alone social media. So again, it’s left to marcomm and PR team to continue engaging via social media sites/tools as they did with the old media because it’s part of their job. Plus, there’s no financial or other incentive for employees from non-related functions to engage in social media so it’s not all that surprising that they shy away from it.

#3 What’s up with the time, doc?! I had previously blogged about an enterprise social media discussion panel, where in the post-discussion Q&A, Ken Kaplan from Intel emphasized that getting employees to engage in social media continues to remain a challenge. The reality across companies, regardless of size, is that there are fewer people to do the same amount of work.  With the onslaught of harsh layoffs, more is expected of the employees who are left behind. And unless you’re in denial or clueless about social media engagement, it won’t come as a surprise that social media needs significant time commitment. So, if it’s not part of their job description, there’s no motivation for non-PR or non-Marketing employees to spend any additional time blogging or tweeting.

#4 Are you being “social” or slacking off? There’s still a disconnect between reality and perception of social media as a productive use of time. It goes back to #3 – when there are limited resources, managers typically want their staff to focus on their core function. Across companies, there are trailblazers who are passionate about social media and spend hours after work – blogging, tweeting on their own time. It’s great to see the passion but in the long-run, it’s just not sustainable and once the initial enthusiasm wears off, social media engagement also languishes.

#5 Is that my neck on the line? Many corporate social media sites and user accounts have fine print aka legal disclaimer attached to it, that exempts the company from any liability arising from the employee’s social media activities. So in other words, companies have taken advice from the so-called experts in “trusting” their employees to engage but don’t necessarily stand behind them when these employees screw up in the line of duty. Anyone else see a big problem with this?!  

Bottomline: Companies need to start walking the walk when it comes to social media, not just talk the talk. Here’s how smart companies encourage social media engagement across their organization:

- Pro-actively seek out employees who have great product knowledge and/or are exceptional at engaging with customers, regardless of which functional area they are from.

- Team up the SMEs with communicators and PR professionals to create cross-functional cohorts that offer customers a well-rounded perspective not just fluff or technical jargon.

- Assign clear goals for social media activity tied to the business  objectives and make it part of the employee’s role.

- Align compensation with social media goals to recognize excellence in customer engagement.

- Integrate social media into business and organization goals so that it’s not something that employees do on their lunch hour.  

- Provide extensive training to these employees and stand behind them when they make a mistake, not hide behind legalese.

- Last but not the least, encourage employee culture where social media is not just hype or a campaign but rather a customer-centric state of mind.