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Three lessons from the story of Facebook’s digital transformation journey

Facebook digital transformation journey is 'only 1% finished'

I recently had the opportunity to visit Facebook’s Dublin HQ for a deep-dive immersion session. The objective was to up-skill everyone in the latest thinking and best practice in digital and mobile marketing from a Facebook/ Instagram perspective and over two days we covered a range of topics, from the rise of mobile video to the evolution of communication.

All of the presentations provided some really interesting and valuable insights, however it was the opening presentation that covered Facebook’s culture of innovation that really struck a chord.

At first I assumed this would comprise mainly of corporate propaganda, a list of reasons why Facebook is the #1 channel for marketers and ultimately an unassailable force for social good. Whilst there were inevitably elements of this there were also some interesting insights into a company that is a living and breathing example of digital transformation at its most powerful.

Here are three themes that that we can learn from and integrate into their our own digital transformation strategies:

1. We’re now in the fourth industrial revolution

To set the scene Facebook highlighted that we are now living in what the World Economic Forum calls the fourth industrial revolution:

The first industrial revolution used water and steam power to mechanise production, the second electric power to create mass production and the third electronics and information technology to automate production. The fourth industrial revolution builds on the third and is characterised by the fusion of technologies that blurs the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres.

Compared to previous industrial revolutions the fourth is evolving at an exponential rate, with current breakthroughs occurring at lighting speed, resulting in the disruption of many industries across the world. This has been fuelled by a global population connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity and unlimited access to knowledge.

The evidence for this can be seen in the use of social media to connect, learn and share information (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat), the growth in artificial intelligence (self-driving cars, drones, virtual assistants), and the emergence of new business models, such as those seen in the sharing economy (Uber, AirBnB, Zipcar).


As with many Silicon Valley companies Facebook see themselves as a ‘mission-driven organisation’, which is evident within their 10-year roadmap and articulated as part of their three horizons:

Facebook have first understood and are now leveraging the opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution, taking advantage of the disruption we’re seeing across multiple different sectors, the continued rise in mobile adoption and a young, socially-driven and tech-savvy workforce.

What can we learn from Facebook?

The message is simple: you cannot rest on your laurels. Technology has revolutionised many aspects of business and it’s never been more important to build a culture of continuous learning and development to stay ahead, or even just keep up, with the competition.

In the words of the World Economic Forum:

“The shift from simple digitisation (the Third Industrial Revolution) to innovation based on combinations of technologies (the Fourth Industrial Revolution) is forcing companies to re-examine the way they do business. The bottom line, however, is the same: business leaders and senior executives need to understand their changing environment, challenge the assumptions of their operating teams and relentlessly and continuously innovate”.

What can you do?

  • Be clear on your digital transformation roadmap and where you’re headed in the next year, 5 years and beyond. Smart Insights’ digital transformation toolkit includes resources including a digital transformation guide and channel roadmap template to help frame your thinking
  • Develop a thorough and ongoing understanding of the competitive landscape and the potential opportunities and/ or threats for disruption

Source: Kantar 2015
  • The digital world is anchored around mobile so ensure you have a compelling mobile-first offering for your business. What are you doing to stand out and create a meaningful experience?

2. Be bold, be open

Facebook’s hacker culture and commitment to being bold and open is not a secret but it was interesting to learn a little more about how this works in practice.

For example the Dublin HQ itself is designed to be a really open space where employees can mix, chat and catch-up in multiple different places, be that in the restaurant, gym or one of the many different candy stations scattered throughout the building. The idea of designing for serendipity isn’t new but it really made me think about how any business can optimise workplaces to encourage the right types of collaboration to generate creativity and new ideas.

Facebook also talked about their approach to recruitment and the importance of bringing in people with new ideas and points of view. This is reflected in the 1,700 employees based in the Dublin office, who have an average age of 32 and come from 72 different countries around the world. With an average tenure of 2.2 years there’s clearly a lack of legacy, meaning the established systems and processes you often find in larger, more established organisations doesn’t exist and thus encourages new thinking and a confidence to challenge the status quo.

We heard a story about someone once commenting after visiting the Dublin HQ that the place felt like the ‘best-funded start-up’. Despite being a multi-billion dollar organisation this is exactly the type of culture Facebook is trying to engender, from the young, idealistic workforce to the non-hierarchical open-plan office space.

What can we learn from Facebook?

The open, diverse group of people Facebook have brought into the company is partly down to their commitment to challenging their current way of thinking and culture. In other words, avoiding ‘groupthink’. And I believe this is something we can all learn and benefit from, i.e. don’t hire people just like you.

Whilst this is something many businesses are already facing it was nevertheless interesting to hear about how Facebook have recognised and are positively tackling this issue. They are putting this into practice and are reaping the benefits by creating an energised and mission-driven group of employees with a clear and common goal.

What can you do?

  • Create an atmosphere of collaboration. This can be through designing serendipity into the physical working environment or the creation of cross-functional teams with shared goals to prompt new thinking and ways of working
  • Build a high performing team by bringing in people with different backgrounds, experiences and attitudes. The team you build will be critical in the development of the culture you are trying to foster

  • Share and gain buy-in for your company’s bigger mission and purpose. Whilst this may not be as ambitious as Facebook’s goal to make the world more open and connected, there is evidence that Millennials are looking for a sense of meaning and purpose in their work

3. Focus on impact

The Facebook length of service and the number of hours employees work is secondary to the impact and results they bring to the business. By building this into their culture and way of working, ‘Facebookers’ are encouraged to prioritise the tasks and opportunities that are most likely to deliver the biggest impact for the company.

Whilst I admit this sounds simple and obvious (what company doesn’t want to encourage impact?) it’s surprising how often most of us get bogged down in multiple tasks in our day-to-day activities and lose sight of what’s really most important. Facebook has recognised the waste of time and effort this causes and have made it an explicit expectation of everyone who works for them to prioritise effectively.

What can we learn from Facebook?

The leadership Facebook have shown in outlining their vision, values and goals has helped shape a strong, collective sense of belonging that was evident among everyone I interacted with during my time in Dublin.

The company’s call for employees to focus on impact means that like the business itself, people cannot relax or take anything for granted. The world is moving fast and unless they keep one eye on the future in everything they do there’s a risk they’ll be overtaken and become resigned to history (just see how quickly the likes of MySpace, Yahoo! and Blackberry have fallen from grace within the last ten years).

What can you do?

  • Test, learn and continually build for the future. Don’t be afraid to experiment and fail, and encourage your team to push the boundaries of what’s possible
  • Re-evaluate the usual metrics of success for employees. For example, I really like Moz’s thoughtful approach to performance reviews and the transparency of the whole process
  • Learn to be comfortable with uncertainty. In the fourth industrial revolution the world is moving very quickly so you’ll need to build a team of capable people who can make good decisions based on limited information and willing to cut their losses when failure arises

By Gavin Llewellyn

Gavin Llewellyn (LinkedIn) is an independent consultant. He is a Chartered Marketer who specialises in digital marketing, specifically in social media, SEO and online strategy. Gavin blogs at One Too Many Mornings where he offers advice, guidance and ideas on how individuals and companies can use digital marketing effectively to get found online, build engagement and generate conversion. You can Follow Gavin on Twitter and Google+.

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