“Move fast and break stuff.”
That’s Facebook’s mantra. While unconventional, there’s no denying that it’s this unorthodox approach that has helped the social giant amass nearly 1 billion users worldwide and claim the title of consumers’ network of choice. With a much-heralded IPO looming (any day now), and a rumored valuation of $100 billion, it’s worth taking a look back at how they got here, reflecting upon the critical decisions that they’ve made along the way. The following are 5 principles that have helped shape Facebook over the years, along with key takeaways that can be applied to nearly any business hoping to realize success in the age of social commerce.
1. Move Fast, Break Stuff
Most companies are afraid of change. This could never be said of Facebook. The company’s “hack” culture and willingness try new things (and fail) has fueled development of the features that make up the Facebook that we know and love today. You may recall the outrage when Facebook initially introduced the News Feed, a feature now central to the Facebook experience. Rather than extensively focus-grouping new features, Facebook rolls them out, listens to feedback, measures engagement, and makes them better.
“Breaking stuff” is a scary concept but, taken in context, breaking stuff means not being afraid to try new things. You must be constantly experimenting in order to find the unique mix of social tactics that will work for your brand. A “broken” experiment along the way is fine, but only if you’re able to quickly identify what’s not working and why. Too many brands simply cannot measure the impact of their social efforts and, as a result, are not seeing the social success that they’d expect. A powerful measurement platform, one that can accurately track how users are engaging (or not engaging), and link engagement to key metrics (e.g. traffic, sales), is critical to realizing ROI in social.
2. Make it Easy
When Facebook launched, plenty of similar social services existed. Harvard had its own social network, as did Yale, Stanford, and a slew of other schools. Facebook differentiated by putting user experience first in every decision they made. Zuckerberg didn’t overbuild the product, as evidenced by Facebook 1.0 (TheFacebook.com), where a user could do little more than create a limited profile and “friend” other users. It was mind-numbingly easy to use and it was this simplicity that led to critical mass adoption in the social network’s early days.
Put user experience at the core of everything you do and don’t overcomplicate functionality. Make it easy for users to understand and interact with site features and effortless for consumers to contribute social content (reviews, questions/answers, comments, images/video) and share this content with others. The benefits of on-site social content have been proven time and time again and the more content you possess, the better equipped you’ll be to reap these benefits.
3. Be Real
Facebook, unlike “competitor” networks like MySpace, was visionary in requiring a user to provide a real identity in order to create a profile (originally verified by university email address). In requiring real identities, Facebook added a level of authenticity and “social responsibility” to its content, giving it credibility among users and differentiating the site from other networks overrun with fake users and irrelevant content.
Establish credibility wherever you can in your site experience to help users feel confident that your content is genuine. Where possible, provide user profiles and give contributors the option to verify their identity with Facebook. The more information you can provide about a user the better. Profile picture, personality info (e.g. “avid cyclist,” casual photographer”), name, location, and badges (e.g. “Verified Buyer,” “Top Contributor”) all help to further establish the credibility of your content, and create a bond with consumers that will give them the confidence needed to make a purchase.
4. Reward Engagement
What keeps users coming back to Facebook? Those little red alerts indicating a new friend request, message, “like,” comment, or otherwise are much more powerful than they often receive credit for. As humans, we’re predisposed to react positively to acknowledgement and rewards. Our friends reacting to our status updates, pictures, and other contributions is a reward in and of itself and, let’s be honest, it’s exciting to be notified of a new comment or like. It’s this acknowledgement that keeps us regularly contributing content and, more importantly, logging back into the social network to check other’s updates and see if there are any new “rewards” to tend to.
Apply rewards and game mechanics to your own site experience, rewarding users for taking meaningful actions on your site. Rewards can take the form of points assigned to various actions, levels, badges, or leaderboards where users can see how they rank relative to other users. By simply placing value on a desired action (e.g. purchase, share, answered question), you’re acknowledging a user’s contribution, which they’ll appreciate. Reciprocation will take the form of greater engagement with site features, and create an emotional investment that sets a user on the path to long-term brand loyalty.
5. Keep the Web Open
Social Sharing Options on Step2.com
With the launch of the “Like” button and Open Graph, Facebook redefined the way we share by allowing users to easily interact with the social network across the web. As the Like button saw greater adoption, Facebook saw an influx in the content being shared, and “Like” button adopters saw new, qualified visitors… lots of them. This vision of an open web, the ability to freely share and interact with social content off of Facebook.com, has played and integral role in shaping the social web that we know today.
Make sure your content is free of limitations that could prevent it from being freely shared or interacted with across the web. Give consumers the ability to share content (products, reviews, articles) and meaningful actions (answered a question, voted, purchased) every step of the way. Additionally, proactively team up with partner websites to share complementary content. The more places your content appears, the more impressions, clicks, and purchases you’ll ultimately see.
Whether you’re a small start-up or mega-corporation, we can all draw inspiration from the Facebook story. From dorm room experiment to social powerhouse, Facebook has succeeded in building a product that people love. At PowerReviews, we have the same vision, emulating Facebook’s success and holding similar principles at the core of everything we do. In the products we build and company we keep, we’re constantly testing, learning, and improving as we go. Sure, we may have “broken” a thing or two along the way, but without this experimentation we could have never built The Essential Social Suite or the features that our customers (and customers’ customers) love. With risk often comes reward and it’s the risks we’ve taken, and bets we’ve made, that allow our customers to realize success in social today.
As we draw ever-closer to Facebook’s first day as a public company, how is the company commemorating the momentous occasion? The pioneers in Palo Alto are staying true to their roots with a company-wide, all-night hackathon… building (and breaking) stuff right up to the toll of the opening bell.
Free Download: Want to learn how to use Facebook and social content to drive more traffic and sales? Download our Free Facebook Commerce Survival Kit (webinar/eBook bundle) today!