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Is Facebook too big to fail?

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When Facebook, now Meta, announced its third-quarter earnings, its revenues were about $29 billion, compared to $21 billion during the third quarter of 2020. The company appears poised to grow 35% in 2021 for the full year –- an enviable surge for any public company, but a result nearly beyond belief for one with a baseline of over $80 billion in revenue.

When Facebook went down for several hours in early October, I kind of chuckled and thought, “OK what will I do with these minutes of my life otherwise spent in fatuous doomscrolling?” or “Guess I won’t be reading that chain letter from my elderly aunt tonight.”

But after a few minutes, many of us were probably thinking about all the real potential consequences of the outage: all the organizations, small businesses and charities that are completely reliant on Facebook, and what were they going to do if this outage became permanent (rumors of which circulated on the web)?

And by the way, that outage also cost Facebook a chunk of change, considering it makes about $13 million in revenue every single hour. Is Facebook “too big to fail”?

Facebook is too big to fail without loud, material and, for a time, a horrific and awesome impact on society in three areas.

First, tens of thousands of small businesses and organizations from Mumbai to Manchester have Facebook as their only presence on the web. Today that web presence is as important to your business as the phone was 30 years ago. These businesses, without that Facebook page, essentially cease to exist.

Second, marketers and advertisers also are wholesale reliant on Facebook. It captures approaching 25% of the digital marketing and media spending in the US. Without it, marketers and businesses can’t reach customers or drive the sales they rely upon.  

While Facebook has dominated digital media for the past decade, it also has twisted the media industry into an agonizing conflict between agencies, marketers and its own organization. Buyers are dismayed by its dominance, arrogance and appearance of breaking the public trust with consumers.

Meanwhile, marketers recall well-publicized media measurement errors in Facebook’s favor, and most recently the federal government has aimed its ire on the giant.

Finally, Facebook’s impact on the social psyche is only beginning to become apparent. Facebook’s homegrown system of “engagement” creates havens for perverse norms, aberrant ideals and affirmation for parochial, polarizing and deviant means of thinking that will have an impact on society that will last for decades to come.

Those of us disheartened by the extreme polarization and toxicity in civic discourse, which seems to have sapped our collective enthusiasm for American ideals, are starting to wonder what role Facebook may have played.

Moving forward, how do we dispense with the monolith?

For businesses and organizations, try available alternatives for building your business online. There are some great ones. Think Squarespace, Wix or Wordpress.

Even Google Maps has increasingly sophisticated tools, if you aren’t fundamentally opposed to behemoths. Organizations and charities can use the same tools.

These other platforms may not have the social connectivity and networking and amplification tools of Facebook, and that’s a gap that the digital industry will need to heal around. However, tools that extend social networking capabilities across domains exist and should evolve. Think about platforms like Angi and Yelp.

For human beings, here’s a couple of suggestions. Drop the doomscrolling and pick up the phone. Anything you wouldn’t ordinarily say to somebody live, you probably shouldn’t be typing into Facebook unless you’re paid to do it. You may have fewer deeper “relationships,” but you might just like that.

Also, when you comment, think not Red, not Blue … just smart. Truth and empathy can work together in thoughtful and respectful discourse.

Is Facebook too big to fail?

Yes, today it appears that it is.

Nevertheless, it’s important to recognize the lessons we learned from its outage and the everyday impact -- good and bad --  it has on businesses and individuals.

It’s a monolith that is best decommissioned without the destruction of our best most durable institutions.

 

Mike Woosley brings over 15 years of executive and operational experience in the technology industry to his role of chief operating officer at Lotame. Previously, Mike was part of the founding management team of Videology, a video advertising platform for converged TV across screens. During his tenure with Videology, Woosley oversaw the company’s growth from zero to over $200 million in annual sales. Prior to that, Woosley was chief financial officer of Advertising.com from its founding, and contributed to its rapid growth and sale to Time Warner in August 2004.