There’s been a lot of buzz about the Facebook IPO and its underwhelming reception. While there are certainly financial and possibly even legal issues at play, we can’t help but notice the story problem. Facebook, following in the well trod footsteps of many tech companies, seems to have purposely cultivated a kind of gold-rush mentality in the days leading up to their offer. While playing on the audience’s desire to get rich quick has often been enough to launch a tech stock into the stratosphere, it doesn’t seem to have been enough to help Facebook reach escape velocity.
Why is that? Well, from a story perspective, we believe it’s because of an inherent dissonance between the gold rush mentality and the meaning of the brand.
A historical anecdote to illustrate the point: In the late 19th Century, Seattle and Portland were both growing, but their development was powered by two very different stories. Portland was settled by people who came over the Oregon Trail to homestead, while Seattle was settled by people who were on their way to Alaska to hunt for gold.
Today, the two towns–while geographically very similar–are culturally quite distinct. Portland has always thought of itself as big small town; Seattle considers itself a hot, up-and-coming young city. Portland is currently hip, in a quiet, self-effacing way, with an appealing sense of community. Seattle, which has lived through many cycles of boom and bust, is experiencing both a lot more action and a lot more traffic.
Facebook was trying to tell both stories at the same time. The social network is about community and connectedness, while the public stock offering was all about getting rich quick. Of course, every successful brand has a human story and a money story living side by side.
The question is, do the two stories complement each other in some interesting way, or do they cancel each other out? The answer to that question can apparently be worth billions of dollars.