The Art of War: Facebook’s Strategic Plan for Ultimate Victory

Have you heard of MySpace? I had, once upon a time. Now, it seems to be off the grid. Facebook on the other hand has been making a progressive march to the sea and is taking no prisoners. In February of 2007, Facebook reported 18M users, up from 7.5M 7 months earlier. (Edited) Toronto claims 1 in 10 Torontonians as Facebook users (approximately the size of the Baltimore City population).

Facebook’s success has not been overnight. When it began, it was created as a closed social network for primarily high school and college students. Users would be able to join Facebook if they had a valid email address from a registerd University or other school. There was a smaller percentage of workplace networks where users could join if they had a valid company email address, but by and large these networks were much smaller due to reluctance of companies to join the social media revolution and risk employee productivity losses.

On the flip side, MySpace grew astronomically to become the world’s largest social network. It boasts over 60M users and caters to a similar, albeit younger crowd. It was, at one time, common to sit in movie theatre or a mall food court and overhear teenagers talking and asking questions like, “Do you have a myspace?” (Which begs the question, what exactly is a myspace? Is that like putting something out on the internets?).

This entry examines Facebook’s strategic moves and how they have put the nail in the coffin of MySpace, who seem to have fallen off the grid. The ultimate strategist was Sun-Tzu who penned the ultimate memorandum on military stragy, The Art of War, so the natural standard to compare Facebook’s strategy is to this treatise. How did Facebook achieve success overnight? What tactics were employed? Let’s examine.

“If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.”

MySpace was an uncrackable entity. They received untold benefits when Technorati began indexing MySpace blogs. They maintained a loyal following of kids who literally lived on MySpace. Anyone could join MySpace, and anyone did. Including plenty of sex offenders. Facebook, on the other hand, maintained a low profile. Their network was closed. They did not let just anyone join. Until September, 2006 when everything changed. Despite initial user outcry that Facebook would become like MySpace, exactly the opposite happened.

“All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.”

When Facebook opened to the public in the fall of 2006, the move was greeted by more than a fair bit of criticism by the existing Facebook user group. The concern for privacy involved in opening the service up to potentially the same dangerous people that plagues MySpace. Real networks of friends feared being inundated by random “friend adds” that diluted the quality of the network. Facebook recognized the potential problem and managed the transition well. Typical searching that is prevalent in other services did not exist in Facebook, and still doesn’t. Users have to know someones email address or name to add friends.

“The general who thoroughly understands the advantages that accompany variation of tactics knows how to handle his troops. The general who does not understand these may be well acquainted with the configuration of the country, yet he will not be able to turn his knowledge to practical account.”

Facebook recognized that the “MySpace Generation” was growing up. High schoolers were becoming college students. College students were becoming young career professionals. Adapting to this changing and unchangeable dynamic placed Facebook in a position to maintain their user base and gain more. MySpace, on the other hand, has failed to adapt to the changing demographics and the tide of public tendency. They have failed to identify with their demographic and adapt to the unchangeable change.

“Adjust the tactical implementation of each strategy to contemporary market conditions (phase, section, pattern, swing level, and volatility).”

Facebook has enjoyed fast growth since 2006. Between July of 2005 and February of 2006, the userbase has increased 280%. The most notable growth has been in Canada where 1 in 10 Torontonians are Facebook users. Toronto users, in fact, outnumber New York users by a ratio of 2.5 to 1. In the major metro areas of Canada – Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver there are nearly 1M users combined.

“In order to carry out an attack with fire, we must have means available; the material for raising fire should be kept in readiness.”

Two weeks ago, the nail in the coffin came to MySpace. The nail took Facebook from competent competitor to “Killer App”. Before the Facebook Platform was released to the public, it was just another social networking site. Users could have profiles. They could import an RSS feed. They could update their status. They could write notes on other peoples profiles (on their “walls”). But there was nothing particularly distinctive in terms of features. That all changed with the Facebook Platform, a.k.a. f8. Watch the f8 keynote announcement.

The key to understanding the proverbial nail in the coffin is a good understanding of what people outside of Facebook can do now. Now anyone can create an application that can be added to any Facebook users profile. At the time of this writing, there have already been 131 external applications built for on f8. Users can add their Flickr photostream, update Twitter, skin YouTube videos and there is even an app to help users find local happy hour hotspots from Unthirsty.

The trend here, in my opinion, is that Facebook is becoming more relevant by offering users more options. There is no poor layout pollution issues that plague MySpace. The sharing of profile changes among friends ties users together more as opposed to isolating users to their own “little corner of the web”. In true social networking style there is not only the “social” aspect, but the “networking” as well. MySpace has never had this and the continued incompetency from MySpace management will further the trend toward MySpace becoming a “fringe service” that is nowhere near as mainstream as it used to be.