Why Facebook Ignores Higher Ed

Rachel Reuben seems to have hit a chord on EduGuru with an article questioning whether or not Universities should put a lot of eggs into the Facebook basket when Facebook clearly pays no attention to even its ordinary users and advertising customers, much less the niche market of Higher Ed.  I commented much of this on her blog entry, but I thought it was worth its own post.

Facebook is in a place that the technology marketing folks call “The Tornado,” – the period of time in which the mainstream market moves to adopt a new technology. By nature, the mainstream market is pragmatic, which means they think “oh fine, I’ll go get one of those thingies” and they typically pick the visible leader, called “the standard,” which is obviously Facebook for Social Networks/Media.

Now, if you read the book “Inside the Tornado” by Geoffrey Moore, you’d part see a stroke of genius and part vomit on yourself. There are a few rules to being a company inside the tornado, according to Moore. One of them is “Ignore the Customer.” Seriously, I’m not joking. It’s a rule.

The reason? Another rule: “Just Ship.” Meaning, just grow, grow, grow, and put all your energy focused on growth. Facebook believes this so much there’s even a VP of Growth and a whole Growth department.

Why get so many customers if you’re just going to piss them off?

Well, the reality is that pragmatic customers will typically pick the standard (because they fear if they pick a loser, they’ll end up with something sub-par and miss out on the standard bandwagon), and they will eventually forgive the standard for being a jerk once they figure out things like documentation, help, customer service, etc, (a concept called “whole product”).

I had a sit down with Facebook’s head design strategist, Aaron Sittig, during which he said “having a start-up is more about the art of what NOT to do than what to do.” As a start-up, there’s a million things you need to do, and a million good ideas, sometimes the infinite possibilities feel overwhelming and get small teams disoriented and unfocused.  As a start-up, carving out what’s less important and throwing all of your weight into what is important happens to be an art that many start ups fail at.  And because of that, they die, end up just mediocre, or have to sell to some media conglomerate or private equity firm the eventually sucks the life out of the organization in an attempt to make an ignorable cash cow.

So, it means that I have to crawl all over my peeps that work there to wrest control of the city of Ft. Lauderdale’s fan page from a bunch of teenagers, and even none of the Facebook employees knows how to get this accomplished.  It means that every time something goes awry in Higher Ed, Brad Ward and I get emails saying “Do you know how to get Facebook to….”  It means that every friend I have in every industry calls me up to talk “Facebook Strategy” whenever they get assigned New Media because they’re under age 30.  And, it means that Facebook might accidentally make your page or group go missing because something they did late on a Tuesday-night push broke something (and that’s Facebook’s philosophy. BTW, read more on If you’re not Breaking Things, You’re not Moving Fast Enough).

Higher Ed, don’t despair.

This also means that Facebook is not going anywhere as a company. You don’t need to worry about another “fad” taking hold.  Facebook has won the Social Network market, clear and simple.  And if you don’t believe me yet, wait until they’re adding a million users a day in places like Uganda and Malaysia, and the new growth segment in the US is women above the age of 45, because almost everyone else in America already has a Facebook account and logs in at least once a day.  Oh wait, that’s already happening!

And Higher Ed, you need not panic.  In all this corporate, solipsistic technology marketing doctrine, there’s a ray of hope! Another rule: “Design in Partners.” Facebook made a conscious decision to not develop special relationships with Higher Ed, specifically because they knew companies like would use Facebook Platform to build things like Schools on Facebook and THEY would focus on learning enough to actually serve what Facebook considers a niche market, and deliver a whole product with customer support, documentation, user help, etc…. Our investors, Founders Fund, backed us in part because our mission was to figure out Facebook for Higher Ed. And, we’re starting to get there: see our posts on Facebook in Higher Ed here.  More about the best Lifecycle Engagement Platform on Facebook here.  And subscribe to our blog about covering things like Social Media for Colleges and Universities if you want to participate in our conversations.