Remember the bit in “Alien” where Ripley makes her last stand against the invading space creature, staring it down with a look of abject terror in her eyes? She’s trapped in a chaotic environment. No one’s there to help, familiar systems and routines are broken, and the consequences of inaction are catastrophic or worse.
Sometimes, when organizations find themselves in this predicament, they put on a brave face and don’t look terrified. Should they?
Let’s take Facebook as an example. Their situation looks scary enough, to viewers at home. The company has lost key revenue streams. They face probing questions about users’ mounting defections to other media, about privacy, and about technological colonialism. There’s a fusillade of regulation aimed right at the heart of their industry.
Yet Facebook’s CEO doesn’t look scared like Ripley. Called to account before more than 40 Senators, Zuckerberg barely broke a sweat. What’s his secret?
Taking a deeper look at Facebook’s strategy reveals some key behaviors. First, they keep their focus on the bigger picture, enabling them to weather criticisms and even financial headwinds. There have been plenty of stories about the fact that less than a third of Facebook’s audience is now comprised of under-30s. But over 90 percent of Americans aged 13-29 are on the platform. Facebook has done an amazing job of market penetration with its key clientele—no matter what the headlines tout. Their strategic focus has resulted in 50 percent more users than their nearest rival… and more users than television.
Second, Facebook doesn’t cling to antiquated revenue streams. It uses today’s revenue to invest in tomorrow’s technology strategies. There’s no doubt that Facebook makes money hand over thumbs-up fist in mobile advertising, but that’s not where it’s placing its biggest future bets. Their Connectivity Lab is an entire division dedicated to, in Mark Zuckerberg’s words, inventing “drones, satellites and lasers to deliver the internet to everyone.” All of the sudden, the world’s largest entertainment company is also an agile hardware and software company. The mission of the lab is breathtakingly simple: invent things that will increase connectivity 10-fold while reducing cost by a factor of 10.
Third, Facebook’s investments are clever, and they serve to position Facebook well for the Global Mesh. In a few short years, the Internet as we know it will be replaced by connectivity everywhere, for everybody, in every thing. This will happen thanks to the work of Facebook and its peers, aided and abetted by changes in consumer behavior and regulations. No longer will service come through your Internet provider and be dependent on strong enough Wi-Fi or cell signals. In addition to lofting solar drones to carry WiGig bandwidth into new nooks and crannies of the globe, Facebook just launched an open-source shoebox, OpenCellular, to bring interoperability and additional access. This is a quintessential tech-winner move: Thinking ahead about future opportunities and investing boldly in them, instead of burning money and daylight to solve today’s problems.
So should Zuck be worried? We think so. Because there’s one key “monster” in the corner that he is missing: Consumer ownership of the network. Facebook’s business model relies on people being turned into product—and when people own the infrastructure of the network instead of big ISP monopolies, they might no longer be so keen on having their data dismembered, scraped, and sold to the highest bidder.
Technology-driven decentralization is radically reshaping many industries. Transportation, lodging, banking, and more. Is social media next?