Every year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sets himself a challenge, a New Year’s resolution of sorts that he plans to commit himself to, in addition to running the company. In 2009 it was to ‘wear a tie to work every day’, in 2015 it was ‘read a book every week’, in 2010 it was ‘learn Mandarin’.
But this year, after a couple of tumultuous years for The Social Network, Zuckerberg is changing tack. Instead of setting himself a personal challenge, Zuckerberg says that he’s taking “a longer-term focus.
“Rather than having year-to-year challenges, I’ve tried to think about what I hope the world and my life will look in 2030 so I can make sure I’m focusing on those things.”
Along this line, Zuckerberg has outlined five key areas of focus for Facebook, which he sees as critical to the future of the platform, and the role it plays in society.
And they point to some relevant shift for Facebook business – here are Zuck’s five key elements, and what they could mean for the future of the company.
1. Generational Change
As per Zuckerberg:
“When I started Facebook, one of the reasons I cared about giving people a voice was that I thought it would empower my generation – which I felt had important things to say and weren’t being listened to enough. It turned out it wasn’t just my generation that felt marginalized and needed more voice though, and these tools have given power to lots of different groups across society. I’m glad more people have voice, but it hasn’t yet brought about the generational change in addressing important issues I had hoped for. I think that will happen this decade.”
I mean, that’s not exactly why Zuckerberg founded Facebook according to previous reportage, but the substance of the point still stands – Zuckerberg says that, while providing a platform for connection seems like a good idea, in theory, it may actually have caused even more division, as argument around elements like, for example, climate change, seem to have ramped up due to Facebook debate.
This is the core of Facebook’s argument about its role in exacerbating political division – while Facebook says that its ads, its data targeting capacity, and the misuse of its platform by foreign-backed groups are not to blame for political shifts, an argument can be made that Facebook, by boosting content distribution based on engagement, has created a media eco-system which is incentivized to stoke divides and prompt societal debate. The more divisive a headline is, the more Facebook engagement it sees – and given that Facebook is now a more prominent source of news content than newspapers, its influence in this respect is significant.
Zuckerberg says that such shifts will change over time anyway, as younger generations become more influential, and that as this happens, Facebook will work to provide a platform for younger entrepreneurs, scientists, and leaders to enable change, facilitating more positive, progressive shifts.
Whether that’s possible under its current system, given the noted division, is hard to say, but Facebook’s scale does provide it with significant opportunity to drive such through relevant changes.
2. A New Private Social Platform
Zuckerberg also highlights the shift to smaller, more enclosed network activity, and away from public posting.
This is evident on almost all platforms – initially on social media, people were excited to be able to share every aspect of their lives with everybody, and public sharing was the order of the day. But as various celebrity scandals have since highlighted, that also means that there’s a permanent record of every one of your out-dated, misguided views and thoughts.
That’s lead to more people turning to private messaging and groups, which Zuckerberg says will continue to be a focus.
“For the next decade, some of the most important social infrastructure will help us reconstruct all kinds of smaller communities to give us [a} sense of intimacy again. This is one of the areas of innovation I’m most excited about. Our digital social environments will feel very different over the next 5+ years, re-emphasizing private interactions and helping us build the smaller communities we all need in our lives.”
This will be a relevant area to keep tabs on for social media marketers – as more conversations shift to private spaces, it will alter the effectiveness of existing outreach strategies.
3. Decentralizing Opportunity
Zuckerberg also points to the capacity for Facebook to give people better ways to build their own businesses, and facilitate common tasks.
“In the last decade, the fastest growth in the economy has been in the tech industry. In the next decade, I expect technology will continue to create opportunity, but more through enabling all of the other parts of the economy to make better use of technology and grow even faster.”
Zuckerberg says that functions like facilitating small business, or enabling funds transfer online, can significantly level the playing field for people from all backgrounds, and provide new opportunities.
“If we can make it so anyone can sell products through a storefront on Instagram, message and support their customers through Messenger, or send money home to another country instantly and at low cost through WhatsApp – that will go a long way towards creating more opportunity around the world.”
This aligns with Facebook’s efforts to facilitate on-platform payments through its own cryptocurrency, which will slowly merge into greater eCommerce potential. Such programs are already well underway on Facebook’s platforms (through the crypto project seems to be sputtering), and they’ll soon become key to maximizing new opportunities within the app.
“At the end of the day, a strong and stable economy comes from people succeeding broadly, and the best way to do that is to make it so small businesses can effectively become technology companies.”
The implications of this one are huge for digital marketers.
4. The Next Computing Platform
Zuckerberg also touches on the future of digital connection through AR and VR, areas where Facebook is already investing big.
“Augmented and virtual reality are about delivering a sense of presence – the feeling that you’re right there with another person or in another place. Instead of having devices that take us away from the people around us, the next platform will help us be more present with each other and will help the technology get out of the way. Even though some of the early devices seem clunky, I think these will be the most human and social technology platforms anyone has built yet.”
Facebook is already working on its own AR-enabled smart glasses, and its Oculus VR platform is steadily advancing. Zuckerberg doesn’t give any hints as to pending changes on the horizon, but he does note that the future of these technologies will be about far more than games and face-altering effects.
“The ability to be “present” anywhere will also help us address some of the biggest social issues of our day – like ballooning housing costs and inequality of opportunity by geography. Today, many people feel like they have to move to cities because that’s where the jobs are. But there isn’t enough housing in many cities, so housing costs are skyrocketing while quality of living is decreasing. Imagine if you could live anywhere you chose and access any job anywhere else. If we deliver on what we’re building, this should be much closer to reality by 2030.”
5. New Forms of Governance
Zuckerberg’s final point of emphasis once again points to the company’s challenges around its role in political campaigning and debate, and fueling societal division.
“One of the big questions for the next decade is: how should we govern the large new digital communities that the internet has enabled? Platforms like Facebook have to make tradeoffs on social values we all hold dear – like between free expression and safety, or between privacy and law enforcement, or between creating open systems and locking down data and access. It’s rare that there’s ever a clear “right” answer, and in many cases it’s as important that the decisions are made in a way that feels legitimate to the community. From this perspective, I don’t think private companies should be making so many important decisions that touch on fundamental democratic values.”
To address these issues, Zuckerberg calls for greater regulation in these areas, enabling technology platforms to operate under one set of rules, rather than each making their own calls on each aspect. Facebook has previously pointed to proposals like the Honest Ads Act, which would institute formal, independent regulation of campaign advertisements online by online companies.
This is likely what’s needed – evolution of the existing frameworks is required to ensure that modern data usage and ad targeting processes are uniform, and that each digital platform is held to the same standards to ensure adequate compliance.
That would likely mean more headaches for Facebook, and definitely more costs, but by formulating a more specific, dedicated set of rules around what digital platforms can do in this respect, it would eliminate much of the concern around misuse and manipulation.
It wouldn’t solve the problems entirely, and there’s a lot to go through to establish the right boundaries, but Zuckerberg says that he expects to see progress on this in the next decade.
It’s an interesting set of priorities from Zuckerberg, the man who’s built an empire on the back of capitalizing on all of the noted issues he highlights. Of course, Zuckerberg saying these things is nothing in itself, but it does provide some interesting pointers as to where Facebook is headed, and what we can expect to see on its platforms as a result.
You can read Mark Zuckerberg’s full list of focal points here.