Too Big to Fail: Why the Facebook-Google Scuffle Means Nothing
The major takeaway from the Facebook-Google fiasco, the one nobody is talking about, is this: It doesn’t matter. And that may make Facebook unique among the brands of the world.
That’s not to say Facebook acted properly (or even with maturity) when it paid a PR firm to plant disparaging stories about Google’s new Social Circle product in the press. Nor does it do much to explain the reasoning behind that bizarre move to begin with. What we can be sure of is Facebook will pay no lasting penalty for this, at least as it means reduced use of its service, either by private, personal users or by advertisers.
Facebook attempted to smear Google by alleging it is violating users’ privacy. This is an accusation with which Facebook is familiar, of course, so the irony of it all can’t go unmentioned. For many brands, the underhandedness of the activity and the brazen pot-kettle-black dynamic would incite a negative consumer response – usually resulting in decreased sales or use of the service. Facebook will likely not see that effect.
For some time, Facebook has acted like a brand that is above the troublesome complaints of its customer base. The above-mentioned privacy concerns over its service have been a simmering issue for years. For the record, I personally feel many of those concerns are over-blown, but a prudent company would still show more action to alleviate those concerns than has Facebook.
The reason Facebook has never reacted is simple – the marketplace isn’t telling them to change their ways. The number of Facebook users continues to grow, outpacing even its bad press. Which means it will still be a coveted space for advertisers and marketers. Which means it will continue to make money. Even unannounced changes to its functionality or plugins – the bane of the existence of many a Facebook marketer – usually prompt complaints only for about a day or two, before being widely tolerated then accepted.
Facebook spent the early years of its existence focusing on creating an irresistible product. And for many, they’ve succeeded. (In some cases, all too well.) People use Facebook not just for staying in touch with family and friends, but for so much more. It is becoming the default outlet for almost anything we find interesting or compelling, and we generally have a very high threshold of offensive behavior before renouncing such a product. Perhaps most telling: many of the first articles I read on Facebook’s covert op I found…on my Facebook news feed. So yes, people take to Facebook even to complain about Facebook.
The most ironic thing? I probably know more about Google’s Social Circle product now than I ever would have. This effort has backfired for Facebook in every conceivable way, and adds to the list of PR blunders that includes their relative indifference to privacy concerns. But clearly Facebook has the tolerance capital to spend – and it’s fortunate for them they do. The question is, for how long?
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