Facebook's earnings call was illuminating on several fronts. However, two pieces of information stood out the most. They both in my opinion represent the future of Facebook. Everything else matters less.
1. Mobile monetization will be through sponsored stories.
That's smart and insightful. No mobile experience can truly support a variety of ad formats. Mobile banners are certainly not the right approach for Facebook. And their own other ad units will significantly degrade the mobile experience. Sponsored stories is the only ad format that doesn't do that . Sure there are privacy questions that remain with the use of sponsored stories but if there's any type of advertisement that I'd be willing to accept amidst limited real estate that 's a cell phone, it would be a sponsored story telling me about actions that a friend or a brand has taken. This will scale up in time especially when you throw in location specific sponsored stories (not just on the targeting end but localizing the sponsored stories based on where you are.)
2. Investors and even many marketers still don't understand the potential.
The second key takeaway for me was that most investors do not understand the potential of the Facebook social graph. In my mind, it's like the intangible brand value associated with iconic brands. You have to put a dollar value on its very existence as it can be monetized in ways yet to be reflected in the marketplace. Mark Zuckerberg seemed to hint at this issue when he said,
"Imagine a day when you buy a new car and log in to the car's computer with Facebook and it lights up with [music, friends' addresses and retail locations] targeted to you based on your friends and interests," he said. Then he added, "Our vision for the platform is bigger than most people perceive."
Can you put a valuation on this potential today? Do you think many investors are thinking about this? Probably not but that 's what's going to be at the heart of Facebook's future because 1) no one else can create social experiences in a similar fashion without access to the Facebook social graph and 2) as the generation that 's growing up with Facebook starts to have real spending power they are going to expect their social graph to travel everywhere with them...into their cars, refrigerators, televisions and hotel rooms. I'd suggest that marketers don't understand this potential completely either, otherwise more of them would be thinking about creating Spotify-type applications on the platform and leveraging the social graph in more unique ways.
What does all of this mean as a digital marketer thinking about Facebook?
Well first and foremost, I was hoping for more details on the Facebook advertising products and how the company plans to further evolve them. Lawsuits aside, Facebook continues to bet heavily on social advertisements even though that may limit its revenue growth. That's a relief. The last thing I would want is for Facebook to over-monetize the way MySpace did and degrade the experience for users and advertisers. The downside to this is that these are ad units that the marketing ecosystem isn't too familiar with. A lot more education and measurement will be required as a result. No surprise that the Facebook headcount has gone up dramatically. I suspect a lot of the new employees are sales people who will probably share the details of the evolving Facebook advertising strategy in 1:1 meetings.
Secondly, a lot can be gleaned by what a company doesn't say on an earnings call.
The company didn't talk about why the Fortune 100 advertisers aren't spending more on Facebook and what the company is doing to address that challenge. It maybe early days for this but I'd love to see Facebook be more transparent in how their advertising machine is performing and what the major barriers to driving more advertising growth are. I loved hearing about the three brand examples. I think that 's really an important step to transparently demonstrate the impact that Facebook advertising can have. I want to see more and more specifics though and a much deeper Nielsen partnership. Maybe even something tied in with Catalina or an SymphonyIRI. I also want to understand why a few advertisers are choosing not to invest significantly on the platform. Talking about the brand studies is valuable, but it isn't enough. More is needed.
Lastly, Facebook is being coy in how it plans to use the data it has about its users and its advertisers.
Along with the social graph, I believe this data trove is one of Facebook's most valuable assets, an asset that can be monetized as a research product for brands (with anonymous data of course). This data could help governments, businesses of all sizes, researchers, students and scientists. How my brand is talked about relative to competitor brands on FB can be a leading indicator of brand health and sales in a way no other measure maybe. How people live their lives as reflected by their online conversations with certain friends is massively powerful insight for companies. Facebook has access to that data. The earnings call pointed out that Facebook is no rush to open this data (anonymously of course) to marketers. That's a pity.