The Most Important Company of the Decade
They built an internet empire, helped pioneer digital advertising, redefined brand strategy, and a whole lot more in the 2010s
At the start of the previous decade, Facebook had just come off one of its most eventful and challenging years in its short history. While some may argue that Twitter was the champion of 2009, it was Facebook that became the #1 social networking site in the world (overtaking MySpace), added 200 million new users, and raised $200 million in funding.
2010 marked the start of Facebook growing from an online portal for college kids to a portfolio of technology companies impacting everything from the family restaurant down the street to the presidential election.
2010: Year of Mark
The start of the decade catapulted the then-26-year-old Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg into the limelight. Facebook was just six years old and it had already taken pop culture by storm.
In October 2010, Sony Pictures released The Social Network, a biographical movie that tells the story of the founding of Facebook at Harvard and sheds light on the controversy surrounding the Winklevoss twins, Eduardo Saverin, and all the lawsuits.
While the real Mark Zuckerberg says a lot of the movie is fiction, the film did $225 million at the box office and won three Academy Awards.
Zuckerberg’s personal celebrity also rose with several recognitions from the media. He was named as the most influential person in Vanity Fair’s annual 100 most influential list. TIME magazine honored him with the Person of the Year, noting that:
“Facebook has merged with the social fabric of American life, and not just American but human life: nearly half of all Americans have a Facebook account, but 70% of Facebook users live outside the U.S. It’s a permanent fact of our global social reality. We have entered the Facebook age, and Mark Zuckerberg is the man who brought us here.”
2012: Deal of the Decade
When Kevin Systrom sold his photo-sharing app to Facebook for $1 billion dollars in April 2012, he thought he was getting a great deal. After all, his startup was only 18 months old with 13 team members and 30 million users. He probably was making the right decision. But, Facebook may have been the real winner.
As of June 2018, Instagram was estimated to be worth $100 billion according to Bloomberg.
Although Facebook was the dominant social network, they were struggling in the area of mobile (the original Facebook mobile app launched in 2010). The acquisition of the fledgling Instagram helped Facebook get into the hands of more people and prepare the company for the public markets.
A month later, Facebook went public valued at $104 billion, and in October reached 1 billion active users.
2014: Writing bigger checks
In order to continue building out its mobile suite, Facebook made its largest acquisition to date buying messaging app WhatsApp for $19 billion.
WhatsApp helped Facebook continue to fulfill its vision of worldwide connectivity; the service was used heavily in developing economies that didn’t have as good internet connectivity, and this gave Facebook access to these markets.
2016: Black and white and red and blue and… gone.
As Instagram kept rapidly growing its user base during the years following the acquisition, it had to appeal to a wider audience than teens and students, so they underwent some major changes.
They changed from their classic blue palette, to a simple black and white colorway:
Two months later in a highly-controversial move, Instagram introduced Stories to the platform. It was a clear copycat of Snapchat and I specifically remember friends posting protest stories on their Instagram account saying “Add me on Snapchat” with their handle.
Statista shows there were 500M daily active Instagram Stories users in January 2019 and 190M daily active Snapchat users in Q1 2019. Quite the flip.
Facebook was also involved in some hot water regarding the 2016 election. One issue was the spreading of fake news on the platform. Zuckerberg stated that “Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic.” Fundraising was another topic of discussion. According to Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign’s digital director, Facebook helped garner the bulk of their online fundraising.
2018: Zuckerberg the Villain
2018 was a bad year—both for the platform and for the prophet.
In January, Facebook admitted to the United States Senate that the site recommended Russian propaganda content to some users.
In March, a whistleblower revealed that Cambridge Analytica exploited Facebook to gather information on 50 million accounts and developed personality profiles to be targeted. The firm shut down in May 2018.
The next month, Zuckerberg testified in front of Congress on questions of the privacy of Facebook users. It was weird.
What Facebook means for brands and everyday products
Through its flagship product and suite of applications, Facebook has completely changed what it means to be a consumer brand or retail storefront today (it’s even become one through Oculus and Portal).
Before Web 2.0, pretty much the only way for a product to get into the hands of customers was being on a retailer’s shelf or website. With tools like Shopify, social media, and Facebook and Google ads, people can go from idea to customer in minutes.
Retailers like [insert name here], and even Amazon, have had to shift their strategies to adapt to a proliferation in new food, apparel, mattress, shoe, and cleaning companies who can now sell directly to their audience.
Instagram has become an e-commerce giant itself. In early 2018, it introduced shoppable posts so that influencers and brands could peddle their goods directly from the app. A natural move for the platform that became popular in part due to people being able to post beautiful photos from their phone.
Entire brands have been built on Instagram alone, and businesses have been built on top of that. One such agency, Red Antler, has become a household name in the “Instagram aesthetic.” Their simple ads are seen on billboards and in subways.
Facebook has clearly made waves in the operations and functions of many different industries, and will continue its experiment in VR, AI, drones, and more.
Here’s to the roaring twenties.