Thursday, September 21, 2006

Is Facebook diluting its brand? (And are there lessons for librarians?)

Knowledge@Wharton addresses a concern I've had about the wisdom of Facebook's decision to expand its network beyond the realm of colleges/universities. I highly recommend reading the article Losing Their Cool: The Downside of Expanding Hot Social Networking Sites for an excellent analysis of Facebook's change of direction. The author asks, "Underneath Facebook's expansion plans is a conundrum facing any social networking site: How do these companies expand into new markets without losing what originally made the site popular and alienating their existing customers? This question hit home for me since what I liked about Facebook was the very fact that it wasn't as open as communities like MySpace and I felt like I had at least a little bit in common with members. In fact, as the article points out, sites like Facebook may be losing their "air of exclusivity" that draws in audiences. The author points out that perhaps a "portfolio of brands" model, such as that utilized by P&G could be preferable, "A company like Facebook could do the same thing. According to Bell, the primary brand could focus on college students and a new site could follow young professionals. "That way, there's little concern about diluting the main brand. There are elements of other industries that are analogous to this one."'

The danger here, as I see it, is that Facebook is devolving into a me-too product that doesn't offer a competitive advantage over MySpace. Certainly, companies are entitled to expand their businesses, but the lack of a clear purpose may make it difficult to convince people of the service's benefits, which could result in alienating many current and potential users. Is there a lesson here for librarians? Possibly. With all the talk about how we can make ourselves more Googlesque, shouldn't we instead be discussing what makes libraries libraries? What distinguishes us from other information providers, and why would people want to use what we offer? The answers to those questions should be the driving force behind our service decisions, and not the impulse to duplicate what exists elsewhere. Furthermore, books are not the answer, at least not all of it. The stuff we have is not what we are. We are stewards of information and members of our communities; we create possibilites for people where they didn't exist before. These are the kinds of qualities that will endear us to patrons. Books can be found in numerous places. Opportunities are harder to come by. I consider myself a very open-minded person who seeks service inspirations from everywhere: restaurants, advertisements, car dealerships, psychology and business literature and, yes, Google and Amazon and every other place that makes me consider another way of doing things. As we adapt some of these inspirations to what we do, I hope we'll continually ask ourselves which adaptations dilute and which adaptations distinguish what libraries are. Even better, I hope that we continue to evaluate and improve upon aspects of what we do that are uniquely libraryesque, and that other service providers derive inspiration from how we conduct ourselves.

Categories: must_reads | random_stuff

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