Lessons from “The Social Network”

November 29, 2010 at 12:15 am | Posted in Other, Social Media News | Leave a comment

The Social Network

It’s impressive and slightly alarming how many times I’ve referenced The Social Network at work as of late. It’s particularly alarming because I know that this is not an actual history of Facebook, nor was it meant to be an accurate representation of social media 101.

But, life often imitates art, and I think that we can learn much about life in social through The Social Network.

The Social Network: Why bother?

First off, I highly encourage anyone even remotely interested in social media to watch this movie. The acting is unexpectedly good and the story telling is simply phenomenal. The director used his artistic freedom from the facts to spin a tale that’s still believable but extravagant at the same time.

Moreover, it puts a lot of social media elements into a fresh perspective, some of which is what I want to point out here.

And just for the sake of online etiquette: Fair Warning – SPOILER ALERT. Please stop reading right now if you wish to watch the movie with a completely blank slate later. I suggest watching this comedy classic video instead.

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The first thing I want to point out is an ongoing theme of the film. Eduardo Saverin (the finance guy) wanted to monetize The Facebook almost immediately. Mark Zuckerberg protests this idea for the majority of the film, because of one simple reason:

“It’s cool right now.”

That phrase has a lot of meaning behind it, as Justin Timberlake’s character, Sean Parker, later explains in the film. The explanation is that as The Facebook was starting, it already had a ton of users and was growing at an exponential pace simultaneously being the cause and effect of making it “cool”. Monetizing it – running third party advertisements, selling to investors, getting acquired – would only destroy this momentum. In short, making money off it would indirectly make it not “cool”.

I honestly think that Mr. Parker was right. Not necessarily taking it to the extremes that Facebook did, but focusing on making the product “cool” – usability, service, value-added, rather than how to make money off it will ultimately pay off in the end. It’s certainly a strong natural argument: people want accessibility AND value for free; if they can use something awesome without having to pay a dime, they will more than likely not only go for it, but ALSO tell their friends to do the same as well (viral!). This is also part of the reason on why social itself is important. Talking to people naturally, getting them to join your “club” and get perks for free for doing so, builds up your reputation, brand and ultimately, the all-important your user base. There’s a lot to be said about the difference between 100 users and 10,000 users… or, in the words of Sean Parker, 1 million dollars to 1 billion dollars. (I still feel sorry for that story about the owner of Victoria’s Secret by the way….)

The other thing I want to point out from the movie is more related to social media and involves what the love interest, Erica Albright, says to Mark near the end of the film.

“When you write something on the web, you don’t write with a pencil or a marker – you write with ink.”

Aside from stunning me for a good 5 seconds for the awesome delivery of the line, I would argue that this single line is the entire lesson of the movie. In the story, Facebook all started when Mark thrashes Erica on his blog after Erica dumps him. True to the statement, the result of that post obviously cannot be denied: Facebook’s subsequent success and the irreparable relationship he has with Erica (I’m 100% certain that friend request he makes at the end will be denied… sorry Mark.)

Taking this to a more real life perspective though, public entities left and right are still making the same irreparable mistakes with the social media ink. Notable examples include Domino’s desecrating their pizza and Astrospace destroying their credibility. Even if the legal ramifications are meted out, the perpetual nature of information in the Internet ensures that someone, somewhere will still read this article and draw negative thoughts out of it.

In a sense, this is what makes social media that much more dangerous than saying something in real life. If you liken saying something to “hearing the tree fall in the forest”, posting something online would be “leaving a $1 bill on Wall Street” – someone’s bound to pick that up. Hearing something happens in that moment, and is prone to being forgotten. The Internet on the other hand is a ruthless, impartial and everlasting biography of half the planet.

Now, what can people working in social do about this? I’m certainly not arguing to be overly meticulous of your tweets from now on; that’s both impractical and counterproductive (you’re more likely to make a mistake when you overthink). What I am arguing is that as representatives of yourself or your company, mean what you say and be proud of what you say. This is a very general and simple value, but unfortunately rare with all the dirt going around online.

Think about it this way: If you’re sure that you want to say something any why you want to say it, then even if the message backfires, you’re that much more ready to defend yourself.

After all, that’s truly what we get paid for, right?

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