By now we are all aware of Facebook’s most recent addition to the News Feed: Facebook Stories. Notably, Facebook have been ostensibly unapologetic in their not-so-subtle plagiarism of Snapchat’s most popular feature. Does this ‘copy-and-paste’ formula signal an innovation crisis for Facebook? Or is this approach innovative in its very rejection of innovation?
Notably, it is not just the Facebook Stories feature that has been commandeered from another platform. Consider the other most recent additions to the Facebook app: reactions on Messenger taken from iMessage and Slack, or live location sharing copied from Instagram Live, which in turn was lifted from the likes of Periscope. It is therefore clear that this notable lack of originality from Facebook is not new. They have been hijacking innovations for some time now. In this post we discuss whether this indicates an innovation crisis or whether Zuckerberg is playing a much smarter game.
An innovation crisis?
Let’s first consider whether Facebook has hit an innovation wall. The most obvious stance to take is that this ‘copy-and-paste’ formula not only signals a lack of original ideas but also an inherently lazy attitude towards innovation. Although this approach may have worked for previous features, it is not a fail-safe long-term strategy. Harbouring a culture of plagiarism is not healthy in terms of successful innovation output. Facebook need to start offering features that users cannot find elsewhere. People will eventually need a reason to use Facebook over other platforms and copy-and-paste may not be enough.
“Facebook is in a segment that needs continuous innovation and reinvention. Without that, Facebook has no growth. Period… Some of these Snapchat features may help them stay hot for a while but they need to continue to feed the fire.” – eff Kagan, Independent Industry Analyst
Although Facebook is generally considered to be the most established of all the social media platforms, it does not necessarily mean that users will prefer to use it for Stories. Millennials in particular have grown used to Snapchat as the platform on which they share ephemeral content. We doubt that many will stray from this. Users typically have a smaller audience on Snapchat and people may not want to share such personal and informal content with their hundreds, or thousands, of Facebook friends.
Or a stroke of genius?
On the flip side, Facebook could be onto a very savvy business model. Sitting back and letting other companies trial new and potentially risky features is a smart way of mitigating risk. Facebook are in the rare position of having two options. Either they undergo an acquisition of the company with a proven success (a la Instagram and Whatsapp), or failing that, they simply copy and adapt (a la Snapchat) with the aim of pushing the original innovator out of the market.
When you are an innovator, that’s awesome. Just like Instagram deserves all the credit for bringing filters to the forefront. This isn’t about who invented something. This is about a format, and how you take it to a network and put your own spin on it… Innovation happens in the Valley, and people invent formats, and that’s great. And then what you see is those formats proliferate…” Kevin Systrom, Instagram CEO
By combining an already established platform used by 1.86 billion people with a feature that has been a proven success elsewhere, Facebook has developed a powerful formula for reinvention. It may not be executed in the traditional sense of innovation but then isn’t innovation about new and controversial approaches? In a way, it is Facebook’s very rejection of fresh and original ideas that makes their copy-and-paste mentality so irritatingly innovative.
Nevertheless, just because something works on one platform does not mean it will work on another. Snapchat has built its entire platform around personal and ephemeral content; it’s a USP that people love and are likely to remain loyal to. The Stories feature has already proved to be a success on Instagram but has been a bit of a flop on Whatsapp. Only time will tell how it performs on Facebook and it will certainly be interesting to see how people react to the new feature.
How long Facebook can keep up its copy-and-paste formula is something only Zuckerberg and his team of merry men and women know the answer to. We hope to see some more original ideas from Facebook in the near future but in the meantime we will be watching with keen interest as to how this new type of innovation will pan out for the social media giant. Will Facebook achieve the ultimate goal of pushing Snapchat out of the market by hijacking their innovation output? We’re not so sure.