What Facebook learned from Apple and what we can learn from Facebook

Lets stop bashing Facebook for five minutes. Its easy to talk about the mistakes of the company, and everyone is. I want to take a look at what the company has done right since making those mistakes. I also want to draw a comparison between these mistakes and those made by now biggest tech company in the world, Apple. Through this I will show you two simple lessons in what has transpired for both companies, stay close to your roots and be nimble.

In a blog post today Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, announced that Facebook was releasing new, simpler, privacy controls as a result of “lots of feedback” the company had received. The fact is that there has been a wave of negative backlash against Facebook recently for sharing too much information with the outside world. People have been threatening to drop the network and send it the way of MySpace. Have people gone mad? Have they forgotten that the information they were posting is on the internet? The answer is no. People reacted the way they did because Facebook broke the cardinal rule, sticking to their own ideals. Facebook forgot where they came from, and what got them to where they are.

Technology, especially web technology, seems to be a great area of business to see this concept in action. One great example many will remember is Apple, the poster child for why sticking to your roots matters. Apple changed the world when it introduced the first Macintosh, it also rose quickly to be one of the hottest tech companies around. The reason for the rise is that Apple introduced something unique, different and high end, a successful formula for the company. This success did not last forever, in the late 80’s Apple lost its way. It began releasing vague product lines with little differentiation. The company tried to compete in the low cost computer market. The formula was broken and the founders that had brought the company to success were no longer there to help find the way.

However, Facebook and other businesses can learn from what happened next… Apple once again found its way. In 1996 they brought back Steve Jobs, the leader that knew what made Apple different. In 1998 they released the iMac, in 2001 the iPod, in 2001 they also introduced OS X. On and on the hits have kept rolling, all because Apple has decided to not stray from what it does right. There is no denying that this company has rediscovered what made it successful.

So what does this have to do with Facebook? Facebook must go back to the roots that made it successful. The reason people liked the network to start with was the exclusivity it offered. Originally the social network was only available to college students and as a result, a certain kind of privacy was built-in to the model. Only your peers could see anything about you. Now the social networking company is mired with this privacy backlash. Newspaper stories of people being fired for Facebook pictures, parents spying on children, corporations using it as a background checking tool, all have pushed the Facebook users closer and closer to the edge. When Facebook lent a helping hand to the privacy problems by opening up more information without user interaction the members of the community saw it as an affirmation that Facebook had no interest in keeping things the way it originally intended, between peers.

What has Facebook done right? Simple, they’re quick on their feet. In just a few days they went from huge mistake to public solution. Mark Zuckerberg posted his blog about the fix, did interviews around the fix, did everything in his power to show that Facebook is a company that listens and reacts. This will be met with applause by the community so close to giving up. Time could end up showing that it all turned out to be a positive for Facebook because of how quickly they reacted. I know I’m happy to see that they took these steps.

In the business world of technology there are two lessons here, focus and speed. Find what works, focus on that, and do that better than anyone else. Once you have that one thing down like there is nothing else, then think about expanding your offerings. When you do find yourself down the wrong path get back on the right one as quick as you can. Do this by listening to your consumers, listening to your peers, and most of all, listening to your company’s soul. Some kind of peer board of advisers you could turn to might be helpful in times like these. I wonder if there is some company around that can help you when you need unbiased advice and guidance.

Category: Innovation Leadership Technology

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Vistage Staff About the Author: Vistage Staff

Vistage facilitates confidential peer advisory groups for CEOs and other senior leaders, focusing on solving challenges, accelerating growth and improving business performance. Vistage member companies grow 2.2x fa…

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  1. Great post Andy– you draw interesting parallels between the two companies. I agree Facebook has taken a step in the right direction by responding so quickly and publicly about their mistake. Bravo to them for that. However, hopefully they will also learn that in the future, they need to be more transparent and forthright BEFORE they change things rather than after the fact. Simply asking their customers what they want and don’t want would have saved them a lot of trouble. Big learning experience there, but for the most part, I’m satisfied with their reaction.

  2. It amazes me how alluring “getting off the path” can be for companies, even though history has tuaght us time and time again that trying to shift operations, product, idenity, and or ideals without (and sometimes even with) a great deal of consideration has and most likely will spell dooms day for many business success stories. and Apple will recover. However many do not. I know mine did not. I will remember that lesson for the rest of my life.

    I also think (and would be interested to here Andy’s thoughts) that Yahoo has made this same mistake, in a sense, with microsoft. Though I think a deal with microsoft or other search engine would have been a good idea the one that they agreed to was… well there is no going back for them. They have killed what made them. I think they could have gotten a much better deal.

    Say what you want about Bill Gates but I sure as heck would not want to be at the other end of a poker table if he was playing.

  3. Todd

    June 1, 2010 at 10:55 am

    Love the post. And I feel we have become a nation who mistrusts anyone or thing that is successful. In short: BP, Toyota, even Brittney Spears. We like to see them fail for some reason. And the bigger they are, the harder the fall.

  4. Emily

    June 3, 2010 at 3:41 am

    Love the post. And I feel we have become a nation who mistrusts anyone or thing that is successful. In short: BP, Toyota, even Brittney Spears. We like to see them fail for some reason. And the bigger they are, the harder the fall.

  5. Amy

    June 6, 2010 at 12:05 am

    Love the post. And I feel we have become a nation who mistrusts anyone or thing that is successful. In short: BP, Toyota, even Brittney Spears. We like to see them fail for some reason. And the bigger they are, the harder the fall.

  6. Mrs. Bauer

    June 9, 2010 at 7:38 am

    Great post Andy. I think you’re right about Apple. However, Facebook users continue to have a disconnect about what putting information on the internet means. No matter how “private” it seems, one needs to realize it is still in a public forum. I agree companies need to consider their consumers and keep them informed of important changes, but I think consumers should be more aware of their choices and the potential consequences.

  7. Michelle Templin

    October 27, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    Great Article Andy – CocaCola should also come to mind when reflecting on campanies that have learned from their mistakes. Remember when they released New Coke? Customers hated it! But CoaCola resonded quickly to the needs of their customers and brought back Coke Classic!

    The old saying “The best time to change is when it seems least necessary” is relevent here. CocaCola could afford to make a mistake and recover. Had they waited until they were on their deathbed to try a new product line they would never have had the resources to rebound. Now Coca Cola has Dasani water, Minute Maid OJ,  etc… continuing to meet the changing needs of the customer.  

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