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Facebook and the Frankenstein monster: It’s hard to control the lightning in hype (but best practices help)

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It’s alive!

After all the Facebook IPO hype, how could reality measure up?

As Dr. Frankenstein learned, tapping lightning to create life is full of peril. Creations can take on a life of their own.

Is buzz any different?

Creating life in the context of reality

From an investors point of view, how could a company at various times valued at 80 to 100 times earnings, valued in the stratosphere above companies with years of history and profits, not disappoint? The more sober reaction to the IPO, showed investors were paying attention to value.

While Facebook and engagement should prove valuable over time, investors were saying, hold on a minute, what’s your strategy for increasing earnings? The thing about Facebook is:

Right now, what is most valuable for brands on Facebook is free.

Why would investors speculate on the future of what Facebook might do? In the current climate, post-financial crisis, companies that pay dividends, handsome dividends of three to five per cent have a value that IPOs like Facebook just can’t match.

The modern Prometheus

Hype has a dangerous flipside.

Sure, there’s potential, but potential for what?

While most management teams want buzz for their brand, they might not necessarily want the Frankenstein monster version of it. Remember, the monster spent much of its “life” trying to kill its creator. In the aftermath of the Facebook IPO, lawsuits, finger-pointing, back-stabbing, technical failures, and other endless melodramas splayed across the media, it reminds of the classic Kubrick/Sellers line: “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”

How long before a satirical film’s made out of this story? Think Dr. Strangelove meets Frankenstein.

Dr. Strangebook or Frankenface

It’s obvious that Facebook, Morgan Stanley and the Nasdaq are all suffering reputational body blows. While some private investors made a lot of money on the IPO, does any management team, board, shareholder, or even casual user want to be associated with such a media horrorshow post-IPO? Monstrous hype only amplifies the “is that all there is?” feeling when it goes wrong.

The monster, stitched together and ashen, stumbled into the light of day.

When the hype machine overloads, marketers and public relations professionals have to remember that there’s no such thing as lightning in a bottle. Buzz, at its most extreme, has the potential to lash out in every direction.

When the hype machine creates a monster, it can become the destroyer of brands.

Social media seems like it’s been here forever but is still new. The buzz became a monster. Was there any longer the ability to manage the hype as the Facebook IPO drew near?

The blowback says no.

Fiascos have the potential to incubate revenge. Social media users will engage, but not in the way the brand wants them to. And like the Frankenstein monster, social media users who feel betrayed have a tendency toward revenge.

Brands are sure there’s a way to profit from engagement. It’s this belief that drives Facebook earnings. When GM came out and said that they’d lost faith in Facebook ads, despite criticism of GM’s social strategy, there was a revaluation of Facebook in the marketplace.

Doubtless, there are marketers and public relations professionals that do engagement very well. Social media, is, and will continue to be a tool of engagement where the permutations of dialogue are still being explored and improved.

But it should be part of a well thought out integrated marketing/public relations strategy.

Facebook had been grabbing headlines for a long time. Hype over Facebook crackled with the energy and unpredictability of lightning.

Now, Facebook’s grabbing headlines for all the wrong reasons. Yet again. How does this reflect on the Facebook management team? Marketers are going to re-evaluate the brand and social engagement through it.

It’s value, after a brief pop, has dropped 25 per cent since the IPO despite the underwriters’ propping the stock price up. Argue with that metric.

Facebook has emerged from the laboratory a case study.

One thing is sure: Silly season is over for now.

Luke … I am your father

A characteristic of hype is that it is a lense that distorts. Those who work at brand, engagement, reputation and other features of the marketing and public relations matrix try to tell the story of organizations for the benefit of stakeholders. But practitioners have to remember how many audiences there are these days.

Hype is a bit like Luke and his dad, Darth: There is a light side and a dark side.

Practitioners have to remember that less than best practices have a short shelf life and lead to case study after case study of failures.

Facebook promised the opportunity of the century. It failed to deliver.

This is the chemistry for a backlash.

From a marketing and communications point of view, professionals will get more creative.  But they’ll also get more analytical.

Lurching out of the laboratory: The aftermath

The nightmare of creating a monster like the one that lurched out of the Facebook laboratory reinforces the idea that best practices have to align with business objectives — and they do have to be best practices.

If Facebook’s strategy was simply to make a ton of money for its private investors then it succeeded. But as far as the long-term viability of a brand, of its sustainability, Facebook leaves a lot to be desired at the moment. Is this the image companies want to leave ricocheting around on Twitter or elsewhere?

Facebook will have to spend substantial resources trying to restore its brand and reputation. Future growth depends on earnings, and future capital depends on investors. Reputation either feeds itself or devours itself.

Alienating marketers, investors and users and being held up as a flop by the media, aren’t the kind of brand associations any organization wants. Of course, this leads to many more challenging Facebook’s business strategy.

It’s safe to say that Facebook failed at engaging with its users in the short-term. Facebook has added to retail investors suspicion of markets and valuations. Investors and the general public have tired of creature features. In the U.S., 46 per cent of people surveyed said their trust in the financial services sector had decreased.

Since stakeholders already had many questions to ask of Facebook and user privacy, you’d think that someone involved with the IPO would have been more careful before tapping the lightning that created this latest beast.

The problem with the Facebook parade’s short-term thinking is that stakeholders have long-term memories when it comes to monsters (or buzz on crank). They don’t like the feeling of being had.

Remember, the Frankenstein monster hunted down its creator across continents until it found him dead.

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