Is Facebook afraid of its future?

Facebook has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons lately.

After building the biggest social network in history, it has continued to tweak and evolve its algorithm to the point where it more closely resemble an ad network. It has effectively cut all organic reach from brand pages to consumers who, meanwhile, are getting blasted with ads in their tightly controlled and overly manipulated feeds.

Everyone is frustrated. Brands are lashing out. Engagement is down. Young people, in particular, are moving on to other platforms while brands are rethinking whether it's worth it to them to be on Facebook at all.

In light of this, everyone seems to be asking the question -- is Facebook doomed? I think it's pretty obvious. If it doesn't change course, it is. So maybe the better question is -- why doesn't it seem to care about its future?

Why does it seem to be self-destructing? Why is it forsaking its users? Why is it turning its back on brands that have spent years (and millions of dollars) building a fan base?

Well, what if the answer was actually really simple?

Maybe Facebook isn't actually apathetic about their future at all. Maybe it's just scared.

Think about it. 10 years ago, iPhones didn't exist. Neither did Twitter, YouTube, or many of the things we can't imagine life without.

Facebook knows how fast the digital space can move. It knows it's one digital disruption away from irrelevancy, just like MySpace, AOL, and dozens of platforms before it. And just like those platforms, Facebook was never built to last.

Because Facebook doesn't have a purpose. It doesn't have a greater good.

Conversely, Google has always played the long game. Google's search engine is simply a tool that deciphers user intent. And it's really good at it. But more importantly, it is relentlessly focused on relevance to their users.

More so than revenue. More so than market share. The long-term play for them is simple. Better organize the web and help users find what they're looking for (see my previous post about Google versus Facebook).

Amazon is another great example of a brand with purpose and vision. These two firms will likely dominate our digital lives over the next decade, regardless of what digital disruptions emerge.

But without that sense of purpose and vision, Facebook is a dead brand walking. And it has been for a while.

When the company went public in 2012, investors didn't load up on Facebook stock to build the business or solve the world's problems. They did it to get an amazing return on their investment.

So what if, instead of finding their purpose and trying to build a great company, Facebook leadership decided to monetize everything they could, in every way they could, before they join AOL and MySpace as "has been" tech giants?

That would mean extinguishing brands' abilities to communicate with its fan base and forcing them to pay to promote content. Which it has done.

It would mean getting as many ads in front of as many users as possible, regardless of its impact on user experience. Which has happened.

It would mean milking the user base dry for a long as they possibly can.

What else would you expect from Facebook? At its core, it's still the firm that was founded in a rather shady manner, run by a person who hacked into email accounts, and that launched a less than transparent IPO. In short, Facebook still is what is always was: a company built on short-term wins and profit rather than connecting its users to the world.

Would it really surprise anyone if they monetized the heck out of their community, forgetting UX, forgetting their users, forgetting the core reason for their existence, on their way out into the digital oblivion?

I hope I'm wrong, and that Facebook's leaders right the ship and get back to being a fun-to-use social network first, and an ad network second.

It would be a shame if it really ends this way. Facebook's potential is still there. The need is still there. People want to connect. People need to connect. I'm just not sure Facebook will be how they do it in the near future and beyond. And it doesn't seem like it's too sure either.

Brian Easter is the CEO at Nebo Agency.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet. Follow Brian Easter at @WBEaster.

 

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