Zuckerberg, of course, has done much to make sure his
pronouncement would come true -- effectively forcing users to share
more and more by tweaking the Facebook interface and its privacy
policies, as well as by signing deals with the likes of Spotify so
that Facebook-user activities would be automatically shared.
But it turns out that there's a law that trumps Zuckerberg's
Law: the Law of Diminishing Returns.
certainly sees it that way, given that it announced it was pulling $10 million of its paid
advertising from Facebook just before the social network IPO'd,
citing the ads' lack of effectiveness. Facebook has been scrambling
ever since to counter that bad bit of publicity, notably releasing
research report last week from its partner ComScore suggesting
that , gosh, Facebook ads do work. Really! As my colleague Cotton
Delo wrote, the ComScore research was intended "to show that
exposure to earned-media impressions -- or content that a brand's
fans or their friends might see organically -- results in more
purchases. It also said premium Facebook ads result in more
The ComScore report had to be taken with a grain of salt -- it
was commissioned by Facebook, after all -- but was certainly a
welcome hit of good PR for the social network, especially given the
data that ComScore had released just a day earlier. Facebook's U.S.
uniques, said ComScore, creeped up just 5% in April,
year-over-year, vs. 24% year-over-year growth in April 2011 and 89%
in April 2010. Obviously, Facebook is reaching market saturation in
much of the First World.
But that 's OK, right? Because Facebook can keep on making more
and more friends at the corporate/partner level with the right sort
of people -- like Tim Cook, Apple's CEO. Last week, Apple
announced that the forthcoming upgrades of its mobile and desktop
operating systems would more tightly integrate with Facebook.
Whether you're a heavy or light Facebook user, that 's supposed to
make your life easier/better.
But as ZDNet Editor-in-Chief Larry Dignan put it in a post last week titled "iOS 6 Facebook
Integration: A Frictionless Sharing Nightmare," the promise of
getting to "log in to Facebook once and share away" without having
to worry about launching an app, will soon result in way too many
people who will "forget they're oversharing and ultimately have a
cringeworthy event. ... Unless you manage Facebook closely, you'll
wind up sharing more than you want. Aside from the obvious
battery-life issues, the integration may encourage people to stay
logged out of Facebook."
Zuckerberg might argue that the concept of "cringeworthy"
oversharing is meaningless to digital natives, and that personal
privacy/boundaries are fuddy-duddy notions that will diminish as
everyone gets more comfortable with their lives becoming open
(Face)books -- and as old fogies who still care about
privacy/boundaries shuffle off this mortal coil. Fine. Maybe that
's true. And maybe a lot of people won't log out of Facebook on
their Apple devices for fear of oversharing.
Then what? Well, that 's where the Law of Diminishing Returns
comes in. Because a massive flood of new Facebook "shares" from iOS
users will become a nightmare in another way: The noise will
increasingly drown out the signal.
As Ad Age reader Jeff
Greenhouse put it
a comment on AdAge.com last week, "From my own perspective, if
my friends share twice as much content on Facebook, I'm not likely
to spend much more time than I do now looking at it. There's a good
chance that all that extra content will just flow past me
unnoticed. I'm not convinced that there is much extra untapped
time/attention out there."
I already feel that way now every time my glance falls on a
Facebook friend's automated Spotify notification telling me what
song they're listening to. I think, D'oh! Facebook just
kidnapped my eyeballs and wasted another second of my life! Damn
See, I've got a mix of close friends and acquaintances on
Facebook. But even if I had only legitimately good friends on
Facebook, well, I can tell you I definitely don't share musical
tastes with most of them. For me, the idea of forcing us to all
live in an ecosystem that turns our mobile devices and laptops into
persistent tattletales is not only useless but maddening.
Automatically disseminating/publishing certain information at mass
scale -- like what your "friends" are consuming at any given time
-- is simply a waste of time and bandwidth.
And to brand marketers: Good luck trying to get noticed amid the
How is it that Mark Zuckerberg, obviously a smart fellow, cannot
see all this? How could a guy who has focused quite intently on
some things in his life -- like building Facebook -- could not be
aware of the limits of consumer cognition and human attention
spans? How could a guy so brilliant not understand that his
increasingly overshare-y Facebook is diminishing our collective
capacity to focus on the stuff we really might care about in social
media, let alone advertising messages?
I blame it on what I call Zuckerberg's Bubble -- not a reference
to the current (and rapidly deflating, thanks to FB's IPO) tech
bubble, but to the social bubble Zuckerberg has been living in
since his Harvard dorm-room days, when he started monomaniacally
coding Facebook into existence. When you're in college, and still
trying to figure out your identity, you're almost hardwired to feel
like you're being left out (especially if you're a nerd) of all the
coolest stuff that 's going on, both on and off campus. So you
convince yourself that you actually care what all your
friends and acquaintances are doing at all times.
And then you graduate from college and get a real job and start
building your own family, and you suddenly realize that there's
more to life than obsessing about what everyone else is doing.
The other thing about Zuckerberg's Bubble is that it's obviously
a place where there is scant knowledge of the history of effective
sponsored media, which is about gathering together like-minded
audiences around compelling, worthwhile content, and then selling
advertising against that content.
It's not about strafing people with undifferentiated minutiae
and doubling the amount of it every damn year.
Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist
Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter
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