E-Marketing E-ssentials: Facebook's IPO: "Social By Design"

FacebookEven if you’ve been hiding under a rock, it’s been hard to ignore the hype around the recent announcement of the Facebook IPO. It seems the company was holding out before going public in order to control its own destiny for as long as possible. When public, the scrutiny from investors and the press will be magnified ten times more than it already is, and the company will have to be much more transparent about the direction it’s going.

One immediate example is that in the details of the offering, it seems Mark Zuckerberg has maneuvered the arrangement in such a way that he’s still pretty much controlling the makeup of his board, more or less in perpetuity. As long as he continues to have the magic, he’s set himself up as the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. So, his thinking is going to be pretty influential for a long time to come.

That’s why I found the letter that Mark Zuckerberg wrote in the preamble to the IPO worth examining. I found it thought-provoking and decidedly non-corporate. Here’s a portion that I found particularly instructive:

One result of making it easier to find better products is that businesses will be rewarded for building better products – ones that are personalized and designed around people. We have found that products that are”social by design”tend to be more engaging than their traditional counterparts, and we look forward to seeing more of the world’s products move in this direction.

Only a few short years ago, many people were dismissing Facebook as simply a site for twenty-somethings to spout off about what they had for breakfast. Instead, it’s setting the template for an entirely new kind of interpersonal collaboration throughout the world. Zuckerberg refers to it as the “rewiring” of society.

The letter suggests that we’re living in an era in which virtually all customer experiences will be “rewired” to be “social by design.” That means more openness, more collaboration, and more instant feedback. The prior “corporate” approach of top-down control, with tightly controlled messaging and media, gives way to a much more fluid and less controllable dialogue with patrons and customers.

In the arts world, the fault lines are beginning to be more easily seen. Some arts sites have Facebook and Twitter buttons prominently on display (like the City Museum in St. Louis), while others pull their recent feeds right on their sites, such as The Moth and Loft Ensemble. Some organizations have blogs written by insiders in the organization and prominent YouTube videos which offer insights and take comments from the public (like the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra).

And in the arts, “social by design” is meeting “corporate control” inside the venue, sometimes with uncomfortable results. For instance, over the Christmas holiday, I bought tickets to the Alvin Ailey Company’s run at the NY City Center, where there’s a “no cell phone” policy in the theatre. One of the more engaging pieces I saw was Ohad Naharin’s “Minus 16,” in which the dancers leave the stage, fan into the audience, and invite unsuspecting audience members to join and dance with them onstage. What ensues is a completely unpredictable, spontaneous, totally engaging, and unique arts experience.

So, can you guess what happened next? The friends of those who are invited on stage pulled out their iPhones and started recording to capture the moment. Immediately the City Center ushers came by and forced them to turn off their phones — all during the performance and in front of everyone sitting around them (causing far more disruption than the phones themselves).

It’s clear that Facebook’s IPO is a big wake-up call for an era of behavior and technology that’s “social by design.” Every arts organization is going to have to address this issue and decide to what degree it wants to cross this chasm. “Social by design” isn’t merely about having someone post to Facebook once a week; it’s an entirely new mindset. And it’s one that for the organizations that get it right will help them “Break the Fifth Wall” and engage with their patrons in a new and deeper way.

The arts are, and always have been, social by design. I think the Facebook IPO is a welcome and healthy reminder for all of us.

Learn More about PatronManager, the powerful CRM platform that helps you sell more tickets, raise more money, and cultivate stronger bonds with your audience, all in one database.