The more I look at this Facebook situation, the more I am convinced that the fatal error came in attempting to change user bases, not in the poor advertising decision. I wrote this in June about coffee shops:
Some customers are better than others, and it’s those customers who are always right. They can’t all be because they don’t all want the same thing. With an alarming regularity the needs of one group collides with another–the choice then is whose side to take? I say you take the ones who will make you the most money. You don’t keep it quiet because it’s the “right thing to do,” you do it because that’s what the customer is demanding.
They traded their core audience, college students, for the press and hype of the tech crowd and then were surprised that there was no loyalty. The TechCrunch 50,000 has been on Facebook for 6-8 months–they don’t have anything vested in the network. They’re not even the ideal usergroup for the service. So of course they turned against it and of course they’re trying to kill it now. One of comments on the last post was right, the backlash against Facebook within the college community is far less. It doesn’t matter, ultimately, because they’ve made the switch and left those people behind.
Tucker for instance is working with a company that can turn the Rudius collective into a social network. But that creates a deeply troubling problem: How do you maintain the community that you got you there in the first place? Undoubtedly, he could significantly increase the messageboard traffic if he lifted the draconian moderating process and let people post whatever and however they wanted. In the process though, he’d lose the loyal and talented people who built the community with him. In this case, the original audience is also the customer that is “always right” and they should be listened to. Those are the ones that make you the most money–because they actually care. And in a future where the physical costs of switching are a mouseclick, caring is all you have.
Note: I’m not sure you can fault someone for swapping a long-term, sustainable strategy [which I would also tag as “meaningful” and “real”] for a $15 billion dollar valuation. That’s his price and it’s probably a lot higher than most of ours.