Facebook’s Craigslist Competitor Will Likely Bomb (but may be a huge success)

Facebook Pay to Promote Posts

Reports from reliable sources are coming in that Facebook has put a Craigslist-style app on the fast track to be developed and launched as soon as possible. The project, tentatively named Marketplace (not to be confused with the failed app of the same name that was recently shelved) will allow users to socially share and even pay to promote classified ads that people would normally put on Craigslist such as job listings, products for sale, and housing.

I’ll go into the known details shortly, but first let’s take a quick look at my history of predictions over the last 5+ years:

  • 2007: “Facebook will overtake MySpace and become the social network of choice.” – That came true despite attacks that the 250 million user MySpace had too big of a lead over the 70 million user Facebook.
  • 2007: “Twitter is going to be huge.” – Yep.
  • 2008: “Tumblr is neat but too buggy and clunky to grow.” – The bugs are cleaned up. The interface is now elegant. Technically it’s not a miss because they fixed the reasons I thought it would fail. Good thing I claimed some premium names, just in case.
  • 2009: “Nobody is dumb enough to broadcast their location to stalkers. Foursquare will fail miserably.” – Still going strong (and now I’m checking in everywhere).
  • 2010: “Digg will have to appeal to their users like they’ve done in the past or they’ll be dead by 2013.” – Technically it’s still around but for all intents and purposes it died a year earlier than expected.
  • 2010: “Reddit is going to take get huge until they shoot themselves in the foot with inappropriate content and an aging community.” – So far, we’re still on track.
  • 2011: “Google will buy Klout by the end of the year.” – Thankfully, I didn’t specify which year – still holding onto hope.
  • 2011: “Facebook will get into search in 2012 and may buy Bing.” – Nope.
  • 2011: “If Facebook does their IPO before fixing the platform and establishing a mobile-based business model, it will be the worst tech IPO in history.” – Still in the air but so far, so good (or bad, depending on your perspective).
  • 2011: “I know it’s mostly women, but Pinterest will grow in the mainstream in 2012.” – Possibly my best prediction to date though the momentum is definitely slowing.
  • 2012: “Facebook Marketplace will be a bomb.” – We’ll soon find out.

What’s the point of posting this list of predictions? It’s easier to win at roulette than to bet on social media successes and failures sometimes. In other words, take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt…

 

What Will Facebook Marketplace Be?

With Marketplace, users will be able to place ads in their streams. It will likely be searchable and classified in ways similar to a lite version of Craigslist. Businesses will be able to place their own ads as well (though it’s debatable whether this would be a recommended action).

The Daily makes a good point about the one area where there is, in my opinion, a real hope for success with Marketplace:

The jobs board could become the most active part of the new app with young professionals, allowing users to share career opportunities with their friends. Much like housing, the posts can be restricted geographically, but can also be restricted to certain criteria. For example, a job that has certain qualifications, like a Master’s degree, could be shown to only those who have one — or at least whose profiles say they do. Also, like housing, friends can suggest the opening to other users who might not be friends with the one who posted it.

Those looking for a rental property or roommate may find it useful as well. Unlike Craigslist, there will be fewer true strangers that respond. This is appealing as the platform allows for connections to be made via a friend of a friend. This gives the service an added trust factor over Craigslist where connections aren’t transparent; Bob may know Sally who wants to rent from Tom, so Tom can ask Bob if Sally would be a good tenant.

That’s the good news. Here’s the bad…

 

Why it Will Likely Bomb

The biggest challenge that Facebook has is that it’s really good at taking people away from the drum beat of their serious lives, allowing them to immerse themselves in a sea of pictures and videos of their friends and family. It’s engagement at the highest level short of an actual voice conversation and allows users to participate in the lives of people they know without leaving their computer. It’s one of the promises of social networking that has helped the platform reach a billion people.

Many (most?) users hold their Facebook timelines sacred in one way or another. Those who use the site regularly every day are used to seeing what they want to see. They’ve trained their Facebook news feed to show them posts from the right people, opinions from the right friends, and pictures of the right acquaintances in a way that nothing in human history has been able to achieve. Those who use Facebook occasionally still hold it sacred to some extent; they may not be on it all the time but when they do get on it, they want to see the opinions, pictures, and videos of the people for which they actually care.

In other words, useful or not, most users will not want to see classified ads creep into their news feeds.

It may be a “thing” for a short period of time, but eventually it will wear off and go the way of poking, quizzes, social gaming, and questions. All were great when they were launched and became hugely popular for a time, but the trend is always in a state of decadence to the original purpose of seeing pictures of nephew Timmy sliding into third base.

 

The Only Chance that it will be a Huge Success

Nothing is absolute when it comes to social media and Facebook is famous for switching gears while in the middle of switching gears. They regularly make something, then shelve it. They go in a direction then hit reverse. It always comes down to commitment. If they swim passed the half-way mark, they might as well keep swimming to the other side regardless of the pain it causes. When they do this, when they commit, they are able to force users to adapt to them

Timeline is an example. They showed it off and it was accepted. They launched it and the backlash started. By two weeks in, the backlash had ceased and people got used to it. Now, it’s as if there was no other variation of profile display in the past.

The opposite example (other than the ones listed above) was Beacon. Initially, it was brilliant. Big advertisers hopped on board. Then the complaints started coming in and Facebook flinched. They sided against themselves. They didn’t just admit that they made a mistake with it. They basically slapped themselves in their own face for being so silly as to head down that road. “What were we thinking? We should be punished!” (that’s not a direct quote but the response wasn’t far off from that sentiment).

If Facebook commits all the way and makes it work despite complaints, then it has a chance of succeeding. A chance.

The thing is that if they are able to make it work, it will work tremendously. If users are willing to accept the idea and swallow the pill, this could definitely turn into something huge. I hate the term “_____-killer” in any form or fashion but a successful marketplace could actually become a true Craigslist-killer. All of this is unlikely, of course, and I would still bet against them if I was forced to pick a side. However, I’ll be the first to try it and will keep going until it looks like it’s not going to make. It’s my job to test, even if I think it’s going to fail.

Predictions are easy to make when you’re willing add caveats, so here’s the long version of my prediction (for the record):

Facebook Marketplace will be widely hated at first to the point that it won’t be commonly seen in news feeds after the first two or three weeks. Businesses that get involved in an active manner by posting directly to their own wall and their fans’ news feeds rather than as a passive tab on their page will regret the decision at first as it will reduce engagement and may even get them unliked by some of their fans. However, if they can stay the course and continue to promote it through the negativity and beyond the backlash, they may be able to make it fall into an acceptable status in the minds of users, at which point it may end up being a tremendous success.

If there was a more definitive opinion that stayed perfectly on the fence, I haven’t heard it.

Comments

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