Boiling Frogs

>> Friday, June 18, 2010

There's an old anecdote that if you drop a frog into boiling water, it will immediately jump out because of the intense heat. But if you put the frog in lukewarm water and slowly dial up the heat, it will gladly be boiled to death.

What does boiling frogs have to do with digital marketing, you say? Well, I had the pleasure of listening to David Kirkpatrick discuss his new book, The Facebook Effect, the other night and was reminded of this old anecdote. Particularly as he described Mark Zuckerberg, one of the founders of Facebook and its current CEO, you get the sense that Zuckerberg is the master chef, boiling up his tasty concoctions and we, the 500 million of us that use Facebook, are the frogs.

It's obvious that Zuckerberg has a distinct vision for Facebook, and that is to be, in the most pure sense of the word, ubiquitous. Besides amassing shear numbers of people (nearly half of all Americans and one third of the world's online population are users), the desire is to weave Facebook so deeply into our lives that it almost goes away because it's everywhere (kind of like the Internet itself). To forever change what we say, share and do with our friends.

To achieve something so lofty takes ambition and also the resolve to deliver what your users want and need, even if they don't know it yet themselves (as Henry Ford once said, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses"). As we have seen when the news feed was first introduced, Beacon was enabled, the homepage changed, or recently with privacy settings, abrupt changes upset people.

They protest (in the irony of ironies, on Facebook), forming groups and Fan pages asking for things to go back to the way they used to be. And sometimes they are successful in getting features rolled back or removed. But sooner or later, we end up there anyway--it just takes longer and with a more gradual adjustment of the proverbial heat. As Kirkpartick mentioned in a blog post about a year ago, "Facebook has no choice but to keep updating the service as user behavior and the Web evolves rapidly." Evolve or die, yes, but tread lightly when you bring it to the masses.

The lesson here for the rest of us? Oftentimes, we as marketers know what our people want (we've seen the data, mined the insights, sized the market, etc...) but need to deliver it to them in a way that they will embrace, not revolt against. If Facebook has shown us anything, it's that if you turn the heat up too high, the frogs jump out, but warm it slowly and we'll happily stay in the water.


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