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An open letter to Mark Zuckerberg

Dear Mark,

First of all, many congratulations to you and your colleagues at Facebook  for touching the milestone of 1 billion + members, which only few will ever get to, and yet is only the start of a new journey for all of you.

I saw the ‘Things that connect us’ video, which starts by comparing inanimate objects with Facebook (chairs, air planes and bridges that allow people to get together) and then proceeds to talk about basketball, a great nation, the universe. Carefully chosen imagery, meant to touch emotional cords. Well researched, I am sure – but it never seemed more legitimate.

Facebook has indeed brought the world together. It’s the only place where my family, friends, colleagues, people from my past, and from the present, all happily co-exist. It lets me touch them and lets them touch me.

I have seen it bridge relationships (I am sure the reverse is also true), helped many of us understand why people are who and what they are – and what makes them unique.

When I read Facebook’s mission ‘to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected’, I think sometimes we tend to misread ‘open’ and ‘sharing’ with ‘sharing everything with everyone’. When I read it, I think of how can Facebook make us (,and is making us) open up to new cultures,  make us more tolerant to opinion, and to dissent – when you know people and their motivations better, you might be more tuned to understanding their viewpoint.

I think this is happening because when it comes to people-to-people interactions, Facebook allows for an intimate understanding of each other.

However, as a marketer, and someone who has used Facebook as a channel for brand marketing, I think what Facebook is doing so well for people-to-people – enabling them to gain an intimate understanding of each other; Facebook could do more for enabling a more intimate relationship between brands and their customers and stakeholders.

While Facebook allows for scaling up the engagement, deepening that relationship with one person, or with a smaller group is not that well enabled in the current ‘Page’ structure – of course conversations can be taken into the inbox (or offline) or into a ‘Group’ (which is however not currently linked with the same group of fans, as it is for an individual allowing me to create groups for my ‘friends’, as well as others).

The promise of ‘ intimate conversations’ has somewhere taken a back-seat, with the focus on ‘scale’ by most marketers, and perhaps, by channels like Facebook. While scale is critical for most large brands, the danger is that the social medium, and Facebook, run the risk of becoming like mass-media – overwhelming amount of marketing messages in which some content is sandwiched- that the audience were running away from. ‘Fans’ have ended up being a ‘mass’ rather than an individual or a group of ‘individuals’ that a brand could understand, and connect with deeply.

Many of us marketers, mature brands managers and owners are looking at connecting and engaging with stakeholders in richer interactions.  Allow and enable rich conversations – not only paid ;) – that deliver a better understanding of ‘individual’ and ‘groups’ of customers, users. These insights will make us value Facebook differently from other mediums.

I am sure that the danger of marketers seeing Facebook as ‘another place that advertising can be delivered from’ is not lost on you and your colleagues, particularly after the recent news impact of General Motors announcement  stopping their use of Facebook ads.

Facebook has to stand for something else.

Have a good year.

Rajesh Lalwani

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