I have gone on record numerous times stating why Facebook is a sleeping giant within retail. Facebook’s 2 billion-plus social community is beyond compare, and it has the technical know-how, deep pockets and smarts to invent an end-to-end social commerce platform that takes consumers from discovery to buy in nanoseconds.
Yet, every time I posit this argument, I am besieged on social media by detractors, claiming that Facebook could never become a retail giant because Facebook does not have enough “trust” with the public.
Are these detractors right? Are they wrong?
First off, “trust,” in and of itself, is an amorphous word. It ebbs and flows, especially in retail. It is hard to know what it really connotes. Think back to the 1990s. Did people trust Walmart? Do they now? Or how about Amazon? This idea has never stopped people from buying what they need, where they most want to get it, and at the best prices and in most the convenient manner possible.
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Second, how does “trust” translate across borders? Is it right to think the “trust” issues identified within the United States are the same everywhere else, like say in Asia, where online peer-to-peer marketplaces are quite active and where Facebook is testing some of its most forward-thinking commercial applications, like live video shopping?
Third, is “trust” in Facebook the same as “trust” in Instagram? Consumers and brands think about these two entities differently, but ultimately the revenue and profits all roll back into the Facebook parent company.
And, fourth, and perhaps most importantly, what I find odd about the “trust” argument is that it says nothing about whether Facebook does or does not have the actual capabilities to give Amazon, Walmart, Alibaba and others a run for its money. The “trust” argument says nothing of Facebook’s actual capabilities.
It is far harder to build a heavily used social network than it is to mimic the commercial capabilities of others, especially in a world where marketplace commercial infrastructures and technologies now enable retailers like Amazon to provide the backbone and to take a cut of third-party activity, without playing the traditional role of “retailer.”
No, instead, it is time to call it like it is and to proffer solutions to the “trust” issue. Facebook has the capabilities to be one of the most formidable retailers going. “Trust” may indeed be a problem in the short-term, but there is an answer.
Facebook could easily restore American public opinion—and it must, so people can get back to talking about what they should be talking about: the overwhelming beauty of Facebook’s business model for commerce.
Here are my quick-step recommendations:
Step 1: Facebook Needs An Editor
The biggest issue with Facebook is that it lacks no measured point of view. As is evident from everything my mother-in-law posts, Facebook has become the modern day, supercharged, Barry Bonds equivalent of the supermarket tabloid newspaper.
Instead of being barraged with stories of mysterious crop circles or the fakest of fake news about celebrities only while paying for produce, now tabloid media is so rampant on Facebook that people can gorge themselves on this and other types of propaganda until the cows come home, day or night, and not just while standing in line at the grocery store.
Over time it becomes difficult as a consumer to know what is real and what is fake. That is why Facebook needs to establish an editorial arm, an arm that the Facebook-using public can look to as a source of truth day in and day out. Grocery shoppers always know the smut on the shelves of checklanes is suspect, but, in one’s Facebook feed, smut and Pulitzer-prize winning journalism run side-by-side, often times with smut coming across far glossier and with better eye-catching headlines too.
The only way to reverse this issue is for Facebook to hire an editor, say someone of a Ben Bradlee-type ilk. Someone of unflappable integrity and with a track record of objective journalism. Once that happens, then Facebook can get to the brass tacks below of how to put that person to work.
Step 2: Set Up A Facebook-Run News Outlet For The Public Good
Some of my favorite sayings are “for every trend, there is a countertrend” or “what was once old is new again.” That is exactly what is going on with the backlash against Facebook. The current issues with Facebook remind me of a great case study in business school surrounding the turmoil at NBC News when it was purchased by General Electric. Many point to this acquisition as one of the seminal moments when news went from being a public good to a money-making endeavor.
Fox News, CNN, etc. all have their place, but the public also needs a place where it can go with confidence. There is a void to fill, and Facebook has the potential, far greater than anyone else, to fill it admirably.
Facebook’s distribution position is secure. All it really needs is more credible content, content that brings back a Walter Cronkite-like magnanimity to daily American life—i.e. an even-keeled approach, with no inflection in the voice, no political position on the content, and just an unqualified, straight up reporting of the news for the public’s good.
Step 3: Hire Credible Journalists And Plan The Content
Here is my favorite part: Facebook could establish a news outlet without actually producing any of its own content. Its editor and reputable staff of journalists could simply curate the best of the best in daily news that is out on the internet any given day of the week. There are many outlets trying to do this already even, just none of them are a Facebook-owned property with a prominently displayed Facebook-promoted position within America’s social feeds.
A who’s who of journalistic integrity could be employed to read and react to content that is already out in the mainstream media, catalog it, and then determine how to disseminate it, just like it was regularly scheduled programming into which everyone could tune, much like the nightly news of yesteryear.
The public could then like, comment, and/or vote stories up or down as it saw fit. “Facebook News” (my quotes) could simply put the content out there, and then it would be up to the public to determine how far it goes.
Step 4: Make the Facebook-Using Public Play An Active Role
Facebook’s users should also have a responsibility for the public good effort. If Facebook users are willing to say when they are in a relationship with someone, then they should also be willing to denote themselves as Facebook News subscribers.
There should be no qualms about peer pressure playing a role here. Peer pressure is what makes Facebook tick already. It is time now to turn it in the direction of civic pride.
Posts and shares should be tagged as being from Facebook News or from other sources of origin. People should be able to discern quite clearly what their Facebook News friends post vs. what their agenda-seeking tabloid friends share and be able to take action to see less of their friends’ so-called news if they desire.
In the end, fashion doesn’t come from within one’s own closet, nor does enlightenment come from the five most active users within one’s social feed. It comes from taking an active curiosity in new points of view, from credible sources, put up for debate, for all the world to see.
Facebook isn’t something new. In fact, it is the oldest of the old. It is, in essence, a media network, like NBC, ABC and CBS before it, only far more powerful. That is the beauty of it. Facebook has the capability to reimagine the old, not the new, and the profundity of that statement alone, if you let it take hold, is itself inspiring. Media, commerce, and more can all be revitalized to shape the true public good, if harnessed correctly, in a way never before at the world’s fingertips.
So, does Facebook’s potential lie in “trust?” Yes, it does.
But it is a trust well within Facebook’s grasp, a trust not in where the next newfangled toys and technology will take the world, but a trust in something Americans once held so dear—in the worthwhile investment of news as a public good. That is the, “on paper” and near-term, non-ROI generating investment Facebook needs to make on all its users’ behalves that will lead to long-term salvation.
That is the root by which Facebook can find its footing again and the root by which one plus one will one day equal three in the world of Facebook commerce too, for the foundations of trust — reliability, transparency, integrity — are just as important in commerce as they are in news.
The latter in this case just happens to be the essential stepping stone for the former.
Date: January 10, 2019