I was recently asked by the Techdirt Insight group to respond to a request for opinions on using Facebook as a platform for introducing a new ad-supported, web-based service. Here’s my thoughts on this now that they have announced the Facebook platform strategy:
“I asked myself the same question. I’m a 52 year old white male so I have not been their target market. After they announced their platform strategy I went and opened a Facebook account and invited my gmail contacts (nice automated process for that). I was curious whether my circle of friends would respond, have Facebook accounts, send messages, etc. The results surprised me. Several people went and registered with Facebook and sent me messages. Several more already had pages. The response was stronger than if I had simply sent them an email requesting feedback.
If you know anything about viral, you know that it is a double-edged sword. If people detect the slightest hint of bulls**t they will crucify you and it can take place in a very public manner (blogosphere anyone?). We are constantly asked about viral marketing by clients who uniformly believe it is a low budget, ‘guerilla’ tactic. It is not, in fact it can be very costly and very risky. That’s why Facebook intrigues me. It probably offers the ultimate viral opportunity right now if you get it right.
Let’s look at what that might involve. First of all, forget the ads at the beginning. There is almost universal agreement that you build your base before monetizing these days. The logic is that if you offer a truly compelling product that people use and recommend they won’t mind the addition of ads later on. Using advertising from day one will cause a lot of potential users to tune you out without trying the service.
Second, using Facebook for its huge audience is a good strategy but you have to execute flawlessly. This means understanding, at a deep level, how people use Facebook and why they recommend things to others. You have to get into the ecosystem and do your homework. Have everyone you know join Facebook and then look and see how many add widgets and which ones they use regularly, recommend, etc.
Design your widget based on that research, being merciless in paring features and delivering a very strong core service. Don’t waste any time planning upgrades, ‘premium’ services, etc. Focus on delivering something great that works and is attractive enough for people to enthusiastically recommend to their friends. That is, IMHO, the key to taking advantage of a platform like this. ”
For a really fascinating piece on what Facebook is doing (warning, has technical stuff in it) read Marc Andreessen’s blog post on Facebook. BTW, Marc, who built Netscape among other things, has what may be the best new blog out there for tech start-ups- and the fastest growing one in terms of readership.