Zuckerberg is transforming Facebook, will he succeed ?
After all the photos, instant opinions, jokes and micro accomplishments are shared, why does Facebook still seem empty? There are billions connectedâ (nearly 2 billion people), on the world’s largest ego resonance platform. It feels empty and is veering towards hate content, fake news and negative propaganda. Mark Zuckerberg understands these challenges and is therefore pivoting the platform. This is the largest pivot in its history.
In his annual letter to stakeholders in February he first talked about this change, it was dismissed as a knee jerk reaction to the issue of hate content. The change is to make the platform more meaningful by converting Facebook groups into communities. Zuckerberg is taking it forward byte by byte. Facebook will build its meaningful groups into communities. AtÂ we have been building just this for more than three years at localcircles.com . When LocalCircles was started Reid Hoffman founder of www.LinkedIn.com had advised us that contextual social media which can solve real life challenges is the future. LocalCircles was therefore built to solve real problems. Now LocalCircles is the largest community platform in India across 200 cities and with participation of central, state and city government. Facebook should succeed as it will really change the world. It’s sheer size and presence in the social media space means that it will transform society. Hence, it should be aware of what the challenges are before it.
What is a community-Â a set of people not in your address book? Its defined either by geographical area, or united by an issue (good schools), cause (climate change) or a challenge (corruption). Zuckerberg talks about the bigger issues that will attract people- climate change and global terrorism. Causes and issues are powerful ways of building communities. Media and politicians have been doing this for aeons. Facebook as a platform needs to understand its involvement and engagement with these issues. Engagement is dependent not just on content generated or shared but on action and solutions. Facebook will also have to define where it stands and how will it build common ground. So everyone can all move forward together. It is uncharted territory for Facebook it can either become the most powerful representative of global citizens or a rant and rave passive platform. Both the options exist.Â It would depend upon Zuckerberg which directions he pivots.
Â To understand communities better people living in Menlo Park, San Francisco belong to a geographical community but they do not know each other. They maybe neighbours but they may not be friends and will not be connected via mobile or Facebook. Why would these neighbours come together and what will they do once they form a group on Facebook. If Facebook tries to build these groups it will have to change many things beginning with user identity. A community becomes one when real people are there. People connect with real people to build a community.Â Facebook currently does not insist on real identities. This is another pivot for the company. It has many repercussions. One, real identity mean that fake identities will be cleaned, which means total number users of Facebook will drop dramatically. Facebook valuation and that of most other social media company is based on growth in user base. The valuation will be much higher and more sustainable with real identities.
Building a community, even a geographical one is not easy it would need interventions as we have learnt in LocalCircles. Unlike the past where users would invite friends and family to join Facebook.Now the platform would actively work towards adding or matching users to communities, adding content to communities etc. This means several changes in the algorithm. The software changes are minor compared to organisational changes needed. Introducing viral content will not be enough.
Moreover, communities survive or engage digitally if they are united behind common challenge, cause or an issue. To participate in it there has to be a compelling problem or challenge. Currently, user don’t come to Facebook for this. Users come to see How many people liked my photos? How many people shared my posts? The top right hand section is the most important area in the interface. This is Facebook’s strength and also its challenge. Engagement in communities is about solving problems. Problems that can only be solved if people come together. Some of these problems can be solved within the community by sharing information A larger proportion relate to administration, government or organisations. Who only listen to a problem if they are represented by many. This collective problem identification is the digital community.
Is Facebook ready to address this challenge. Democratic institutions do not listen to individuals they listen to the voice of many. The vociferous demands of many are projected as a majority and accepted.
Facebook groups by themselves cannot always evolve into communities if they just rant about problems. After some time the negative energy is too much that nobody wants to come back on the group. Unless it’s a hate group that gets traction on negativity but even that wants to promote a negative action like bombing a victim or place. Giving direction to a Facebook group in a positive action is again an intervention from the platform, is Facebook ready for it.
Â As the groups become active will Facebook accept the impact that it will have on governments at all levels. For instance, if a large community on Facebook starts influencing action on climate change policies in a country. How will Facebook handle this? LocalCircles learning has been that itâ€™s a balancing act between purpose and people.
Is the organisation ready to deal with it. In the last five months Mr Zuckerberg from his public appearances and speeches is certainly getting ready for it.
K Yatish Rajawat is the Chief Strategy Officer at , India’s largest community network , Localcircles , can be reached at yatish @ localcircles .comÂ