Small Business Lessons from The Social Network, That New Facebook Movie
We’re sure you’ve heard of The Social Network, this new movie about the founders of Facebook. It opened earlier this month and so far, from what we’ve been hearing, it sounds like this 120-minute thriller-docudrama-comedy will be making plenty of noise at next year’s Oscars.
You should see The Social Network if you haven’t done so yet. Not only is it a thrilling closer look at what went on behind the creation of today’s biggest social networking site; it’s also a really, really good movie. You don’t even have to be a Facebook fan to enjoy it. Directed by David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club), written by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, A Few Good Men), and starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Brenda Song, Rooney Mara, and huge pop musician Justin Timberlake, The Social Network – as Rolling Stone describes it – “brilliantly defines the decade”.
Of course, if you’re a startup, small business owner, or marketer, you also might want to take in the precious lessons that go along the movie.
Product over advertising / marketing: At several points in the movie, there’s talk about how important it was to develop Facebook first – as a world-connecting social tool or product – before thinking of ways to monetize it. Same applies for any business. Unless you’ve already identified the central value or usefulness of your product/service/brand, you might want to save potential “monetization” efforts for later. Those banner ads, subscription boxes, affiliate links, social widgets, Google AdSense boxes, etc.: they won’t work unless you manage to get people interested and engaged in what exactly you have to offer. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg understood this from the very outset – he strived at all costs to keep the site from suffering from service outages – and so by the time he decided to launch Facebook ads, he already had – oh, about millions and millions of users from all over the world.
Say only what you need to: It’s difficult to stand out in a positive way and set yourself apart from the rest of the noise or clutter on the Web. That’s why there’s such a thing as online reputation management. (In the meantime, standing out in a negative way isn’t that hard to do.) So make sure that throughout your Internet marketing efforts, you have a unique and consistent message, a likeable brand personality, and content that’s worth reading and sharing. Otherwise, people will get bored or mad. Or you’ll end up in Google with a negative search result. As a character in The Social Network says, “The Internet is not written in pencil; it’s written in ink.” So leverage the power of word-of-mouth in a way that actually helps, instead of harms, your brand.
Don’t just think of ideas – apply ideas: There’s a scene in the movie where Zuckerberg had to run to his dorm to write programming code for an idea he’d just figured out. That’s kind of how it works these days: because the Web is such a fast-paced world, there’s no time really for procrastination or for any kind of delay. You have to be decisive, disciplined, and real-time responsive to what’s happening out there.
Don’t just apply ideas – protect them: Central to the plot of The Social Network is the protection of intellectual property and business ideas: who really made what, and at what point in the growth of an idea does one begin to ask the question? In these times when angel investors are not uncommon – and the signing of non-disclosure agreements are a lot less common – there is constant danger of business idea theft. Sure, intellectual property (IP) is protected by laws, but IP doesn’t cover, say, the seed of the idea that inspired Zuckerberg to make Facebook. So figure out as early as you can who you can trust, to whom you can disclose, and how you’re going to protect your business ideas.
Exclusivity is sexy: Facebook was meant originally as a social network for Harvard University. Exclusive social network. And then – perhaps precisely because of exclusivity’s sexiness – the site expanded to include Yale, Columbia, and Stanford. And then of course the Facebook user base grew to 500 million – all because, from the very beginning, people saw the site as one that delivered a kind of value that can be best described as “exclusive”. Exclusive, in the business world, is sexy.
Entrepreneurship doesn’t mean unemployed: Don’t get discouraged if something that you’re passionate about isn’t immediately paying off. In the movie, Timberlake’s character – Napster founder Sean Parker – is perceived by a beautiful girl not as spirited and entrepreneurial, but as being “out of work”. Which is, of course, the exact opposite, because by that time he’d already made millions from the music-sharing site. This goes to show that, whatever the conventions are, don’t let anyone lead you into believing that your work isn’t something that can soon change the world.
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