The Facebook Effect
by David Kirkpatrick
384 pages, Virgin Books, 2010
Facebook is a tool used by millions and probably soon, billions. While there are many users, not many people know the true story of the social giant, how and why it came to be, or how Facebook became the one social network to rule them all and not go the way of so many others.
Now, you may think recent blockbuster, The Social Network, answered that question for many users. But while the movie gets the basic timeline of events and some facts correct, it does focus largely on the court cases that have little to do with Facebook’s evolution. Not to mention a Hollywood storyline.
The Facebook Effect is not what the movie was based on (for that you need to read The Accidental Billionaires) but is a true version of events, or at least as true as we can hope for until Zuckerberg writes his own book. The book is by David Kirkpatrick, who regularly met Mark Zuckerberg from the very beginnings of Facebook as part of his work for Fortune magazine. In order to get a truthful picture of events, Kirkpatrick interviewed numerous Facebook employees, both top-level staff and the code monkeys, mostly without PR supervision. Even when there was a PRO in the room, Kirkpatrick states Facebook employees were encourage to answer all questions; Facebook also neither requested nor received any rights of approval.
So what does this seemingly unbiased book, featuring interviews with Mark Zuckerberg, Sean Parker, Chris Hughes, Dustin Moskovitz and plenty more, tell us about the evolution of Facebook? Which of these are useful to us in PR and business?
Hacks and projects
Of course the book starts at the beginning, where we meet a young Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard University. It does not take long to realize Mark Zuckerberg was a bit of a geek; dragging a whiteboard into your university dorm room would be a rare site at most British Universities.
We also find out much of what The Social Network showed us was true. Yes, Zuckerberg blogged about a girl, yes he live-blogged whilst creating Facemash, and yes he was brought to the disciplinary Administrative Board for this little project. But we also find out that Zuckerberg had many projects, around 12 in his first year. This also plays down the significance of claims from the Winklevoss twins that Facebook was their idea, stolen by Zuckerberg in the creation of Facebook.
Companies and CEOs
While the beginnings are interesting, and great to learn from, the lessons are much of the same as with the operating software of Apple and Microsoft; the window of opportunity to create the world’s greatest social network has passed. However, the book can give you the drive to run with your dreams and passions. The next chapter on Facebook is how the company developed, and this is useful to any PR student wishing to reach the top one-day.
Anyone who has watched Mark Zuckerberg talk at events, or perform that awkward skit on Saturday Night Live, will notice that he is not a born CEO. What is promising is that you can learn the skills needed, just like he has been forced to do, and the challenges you will one day face have challenged the brightest men of our time in just the same way. Learning that Zuckerberg would sometime faint, or once broke down in tears is a sobering reminder that we can relate to people we admire, and there are always challenges in the road ahead.
Money and growth
Facebook wanted to avoid becoming Friendster. This was the social network during the time Zuckerberg created Facebook, but due to inadequate servers, the service experienced numerous blackouts and failed to remain successful. Zuckerberg, with the financial help of Eduardo Saverin, made sure there were always enough servers to handle 10 times the number of users actually on Facebook (which is very over the top considering Facebook was invitation only at this time).
Start-ups are thriving in the current climate, a strange thought, but everyone wants a piece of the social media pie and angel investors are everywhere. Qwiki is performing excellently with the investment of Eduardo Saverin. Quora also experienced massive growth over the holidays, a social network created by ex-Facebook top engineers Adam D’Angelo and Charlie Cheever.
Start-ups need to use PR just like any other company (and in a more cost-efficient and effective manner), so understanding how a start up works can help you understand what type of company you will be working for, and the challenges that both it and its employees face in becoming a recognised force.
The Facebook Effect is not just an interesting read for those with a passion for social media, it also provides us with valuable lessons in how companies grow, how individuals can take on challenges in order to be successful, and ultimately how being focused, passionate and doing something you love can be so good you would turn down a million dollar offer from Microsoft while just in your early twenties. I’d have taken the money – then regretted it.
David Clare works at 33 Digital and also edits the PR and Social Media section of Behind the Spin. You can catch up with him on Twitter.
If you’re interested in writing a book or film review for Behind the Spin, get it touch with the section editor Clare Callery via email: cs.callery @ gmail.com (no spaces)