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Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg Announces Her Pending Exit from the Company

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Meta Announces the Next Step in its Metaverse Transition

As Meta gradually evolves from Facebook, and focuses on the next stage of digital connection, it will be doing so without one of the company’s key leaders, with COO Sheryl Sandberg announcing today that she will leave the company in the next few months.

In a long post on (of course) Facebook, Sandberg has provided an overview of her experiences working at The Social Network for the last 14 years, with Sandberg coming into the company in 2008, just four years after Mark Zuckerberg created the first iteration of the app in a Harvard dorm room.

Sandberg has played a key role in developing Meta’s business, overseeing the introduction of its ads infrastructure, and acting as a central figure in almost every major update at the company ever since.

The experience, as you would expect, has had a profound influence on Sandberg, who in that time has also raised her children, lost her husband to a freak accident, and released a best-selling book.

As per Sandberg:

“Sitting by Mark’s side for these 14 years has been the honor and privilege of a lifetime. Mark is a true visionary and a caring leader. He sometimes says that we grew up together, and we have. He was just 23 and I was already 38 when we met, but together we have been through the massive ups and downs of running this company, as well as his marriage to the magnificent Priscilla, the sorrow of their miscarriages and the joy of their childbirths, the sudden loss of Dave, my engagement to Tom, and so much more. In the critical moments of my life, in the highest highs and in the depths of true lows, I have never had to turn to Mark, because he was already there.

It’s difficult to gauge the true significance of Sandberg’s influence over Meta, and Zuckerberg himself, with her experience and perspective providing critical guidance for the company through its various iterations and controversies.

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That’s often left Sandberg as a key target for Meta’s many critics, which Sandberg also reflects on in her exit note:

“The debate around social media has changed beyond recognition since those early days. To say it hasn’t always been easy is an understatement. But it should be hard. The products we make have a huge impact, so we have the responsibility to build them in a way that protects privacy and keeps people safe. Just as I believe wholeheartedly in our mission, our industry, and the overwhelmingly positive power of connecting people, I and the dedicated people of Meta have felt our responsibilities deeply.“

In addition to navigating these various challenges directly, Sandberg has also been a sounding board for Zuckerberg, with their desks positioned next to each other for the majority of her time at the company.

In this sense, Sandberg’s influence has likely been larger then signified by her own role, with Zuckerberg being thrust into one of the most prominent a powerful corporate jobs at a very young age.

It’s that guidance and wisdom that the company will likely miss the most, especially as it moves into another era of uncertainty, and challenges in connection. The metaverse holds significant promise, but also huge risk, and Meta will need to get it right to ensure that it doesn’t exacerbate harm in its quest for dominance.

The company doesn’t have a great record on this front, but the lessons that it’s learned over time are embedded in the experience of its leaders, and in this sense, Sandberg’s exit will be a major loss.

“I am beyond grateful to the thousands of brilliant, dedicated people at Meta with whom I have had the privilege of working over the last 14 years. Every day someone does something that stops me in my tracks and reminds me how lucky I am to be surrounded by such remarkable colleagues. This team is filled with exceptionally talented people who have poured their hearts and minds into building products that have had a profound impact on the world.”

In response, Zuckerberg has also shared a similarly long post paying tribute to his second in command, while also noting that Sandberg will continue to serve on Meta’s board of directors after she transitions out of her day-to-day management role in the coming months.

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Zuckerberg says that Javier Olivan will take over as Chief Operating Officer, though the role itself will be reduced, reflecting the significance of Sandberg’s work.

Again, it’s hard to say, as an outsider, what this will mean for Meta moving forward, but Sandberg has, in the majority, seemed wholly driven by improving Meta’s systems, and working to address potential harms where possible, while also navigating a rapidly growing business. That’s not to excuse Sandberg from Meta’s various flaws as well, but again, as with Zuckerberg, Sandberg carries the scars of Meta’s past missteps, which makes her an invaluable business resource, and a big subtraction from its ranks.

So what comes next after leaving one of the most significant roles at one of the most influential companies in the world? Sandberg says that she’ll be taking time to focus on her foundation and philanthropic work, before assessing what, if anything else, is on the cards for her career.

And yes, I have read more than one industry analyst speculating that Elon Musk may look to tap Sandberg to become the next CEO of Twitter, which I don’t see happening, especially given Sandberg’s commitment to the Meta board. But it’s an interesting prospect, which speaks to the respect that Sandberg has earned in her time developing Meta as a business.

Will Meta be the same without Sandberg? Likely not, but right now, in the midst of its biggest shift, seems like the right time for Sandberg to step aside and focus on something new.

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TikTok Scales Back Live-Stream Commerce Ambitions, Which Could Be a Big Blow for the App

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TikTok Expands Test of Downvotes for Video Replies, Adds New Prompts to Highlight its Safety Tools

TikTok’s facing a significant reassessment in its business expansion plans, with the company forced to scale back its live eCommerce initiative in Europe and the US due to operational challenges and lack of consumer interest.

TikTok has been working to integrate live-stream shopping after seeing major success with the option in the Chinese version of the app. But its initial efforts in the UK have been hampered by various problems.

As reported by The Financial Times:

“TikTok had planned to launch the feature in Germany, France, Italy and Spain in the first half of this year, before expanding into the US later in 2022, according to several people briefed on the matter. But the expansion plans have been dropped after the UK project failed to meet targets and influencers dropped out of the scheme, three people said.”

TikTok has since refuted some of FT’s claims, saying that the reported timeline for its commerce push is incorrect, and that it’s focused on fixing problems with its UK operation before expanding, which is still in its roadmap. But the basis – that its program is not going as smoothly as planned – is correct. 

TikTok’s UK shopping push has also faced internal problems due to conflicts over working culture and management.

Last month, reports surfaced that TikTok’s parent company ByteDance had been imposing tough conditions on its UK commerce staff, including regular 12-hour days, improbable sales targets, and questions over entitlements.

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Now, it seems like the combination of challenges has led to a new growth dilemma for the app – which once again underlines the variance between Asian and western app usage trends.

Social media and messaging apps have become a central element of day-to-day life in several Asian countries, with apps like China’s WeChat and QQ now used for everything from purchasing train tickets to paying bills, to buying groceries, banking, and everything in between.

That spells opportunity for western social media providers, with Meta, in particular, looking to use the Chinese model as a template to help it translate the popularity of WhatsApp and Messenger into even more ubiquitous, more valuable functionality, which could then make them critical connective tools in various markets, solidifying Meta’s market presence.

But for various reasons, Chinese messaging trends have never translated to other markets.

Meta’s Messenger Bots push in 2016 failed to gain traction, and after its Messenger app became ‘too cluttered’ with an ever-expanding range of functionalities, including games, shopping, Stories, and more, Meta eventually scaled back its messaging expansion plans, in favor of keeping the app aligned with its core use case.

Meta then turned to WhatsApp, and making messaging a more critical process in developing markets like India and Indonesia. That expansion is still ongoing, but the signs, at present, don’t suggest that WhatsApp will ever reach the same level of ubiquity that Chinese messaging apps have.

Which then leads to TikTok, the world-beating short-form video app, which has seen massive growth in China, leading to whole new business opportunities, and even market sectors, based on how Chinese users have adapted to in-app commerce.

The Chinese version of TikTok, called ‘Douyin’, generated $119 billion worth of product sales via live broadcasts in 2021, an 7x increase year-over-year, while the number of users engaging with eCommerce live-streams exceeded 384 million, close to half of the platform’s user base.

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Overall, the Chinese live-stream commerce sector brought in over $300 billion in 2021. For comparison, the entire US retail eCommerce market reached $767 billion last year.

Given this, you can see why TikTok would view this as a key opportunity in other markets as well – but as noted, Chinese market trends are not always a great proxy for other regions.

The decision to scale back its eCommerce ambitions is a significant blow to TikTok’s expansion plans, not only from a broader revenue perspective (and worth noting, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance recently cut staff due to ongoing revenue pressures), but also in regards to revenue share, and providing a pathway for creators to make money from their efforts in the app.

Unlike YouTube, TikTok clips are too short to add mid and pre-roll ads, which means that creators can’t simply switch on ads to make money from their content. That means that they need to organize brand partnerships to generate income, and on Douyin, in-stream commerce has become the key pathway to exactly that.

Without in-stream product integrations as an option, that will significantly limit creator earnings capacity in the app, which could eventually see them switch focus to other platforms, where they can more effectively monetize their output.

Which may not seem like a major risk, but that’s exact what killed Vine, when Vine creators called for a bigger share of the app’s revenue, then switched to Instagram and YouTube instead when Vine’s parent company Twitter refused to provide such.

Could TikTok eventually face a similar fate?

TikTok, of course, is much bigger than Vine ever was, and is still growing. But limited monetization opportunities could end up being a big challenge for the app – while it also continues to face scrutiny over its impact on youngsters, and the potential for it to be used as a surveillance tool by the Chinese Government.

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In isolation, it may not seem like a major move, scaling back its eCommerce ambitions just slightly as it reassesses the best approach. But it’s a significant shift, which will slow down TikTok’s broader expansion. And it could end up hurting the app more than you, initially, would think.

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