Facebook IPO: could investors lose out?

With Facebook’s public IPO just days away, many investors are looking at the online social-networking giant. Much-hyped, hugely popular & with spectacular $100-billion plus valuations, the IPO seems a “ray of sunshine” amidst grey weather.

But is this promise oversold? Will investors achieve growth by holding Facebook shares for 2-5 years? Or, is this at least partly just a ‘pop’ so the smart money can get out?

Apple and Google are the two comparatively recent, Internet/ technology success stories. Investors wish they’d bought in at the ground floor — and would be rich today, if they had.

Facebook seems enormously popular. It has a huge & global user base — over 900 million users — with many checking in multiple times per day. On average, users spend 15½ hours per month. Growth up until 2009 has been exponential.

But, is Facebook really a ripe Apple to be picked? Is it a fresh young Google, just off the starting block? Or is this fruit overpriced, expensive, poor quality and with rot in the middle.

Apple make genuinely nice products, coming from a real commitment to delivering design, experience & features which will delight their customers. This is an amazing company, that delivers growth due to this amazing ethos.

Google provide excellent free search & services with a ‘wow’ factor. Remember the first time you looked at your house, by satellite? Looked at street view? Saw their driverless car? They pride themselves on speed, simplicity & technical quality. Google’s ethos is about delivering free services & improving public life, by unleashing the power of information.

By comparison, when we look at Facebook we see a company without friends, a data-harvesting operation without scruples, & a CEO without any ethical guidelines.

So what? You may say.

But it was their whole-hearted spirit in the services of their customers & users, which made Apple and Google great — and drove that growth. Their users & customers like, trust and sometimes even love them. Facebook, not so much.

Graphs of Facebook user growth show it growing exponentially..  thru 2009. Since then, the rate has fallen off — to a merely linear increase. Saturation could occur as early as 1,200 million users — far from the unlimited prospects of further exponential growth, on which the IPO is sold & priced.

Facebook also has the proverbial “worm in the apple” — in this case, the repeated propensity of Facebook & CEO Mark Zuckerberg to discard users’ privacy, ignore or deliberately change their privacy settings, and publish & sell their private data.

Not once or twice, but repeatedly, Facebook has established a pattern of dishonest & untrustworthy behaviour with users’ data.

Vulnerabilities in the Facebook platform, have also led to a profusion of malicious scripts, account hijacking, spam, viruses & malware. Quality of content has plunged, leaving users fundamentally distrustful.

Facebook’s $100 billion+ valuations depend on advertising revenues yet to be generated. To succeed, Zuckerberg has to turn those eyeballs into money — users who don’t click, are just a cost.

But in a recent CNBC poll, 54% of users didn’t feel safe or trust the Facebook environment at all for e-commerce. Recently, security company ZoneAlarm issued a report finding that 20 percent of news link feeds open viruses – and four million Facebook users are exposed to spam per day.

That means a lot of audience & potential purchasers, are already distrustful and thus unreceptive to advertising. (Viruses, spam & an insecure environment tend to make people feel that way.)

And in the CNBC poll, 59% had little to no trust that Facebook would keep their information private.

Click-through rates for advertisements on Facebook (1 per 2000 impressions) are also far lower than either Google, or the wider internet. Google’s search is highly trusted & very profitable (1 per 250 impressions), but even the average click-thru Internet rate (1 per 1000) is better than Facebook.

Given that advertising receptivity correlates to trust & security, that means Facebook is perceived as less than half as trustworthy & secure as the Internet in general. And last thing I heard, that was pretty much the Wild West.

So, we can probably all expect the IPO to be “successful” — fully-subscribed, and for the stock to rise for a few weeks or months.

But investors who think this might be the next Google or Apple, may be disappointed.

Medium- and long-term, Facebook will have trouble matching the customer- and public-service oriented ethos of the Big Two. Customer love & trust is fundamentally built on the spirit of companies, with FB and Zuckerberg having a long way to go.

Given the now-saturating rate of growth & poor responsiveness to Facebook advertising, as well as the poor environment for it;  revenues will struggle very hard to match the priced-in high expectations.

Where Google and Apple are diamonds, Facebook is not.


WSJ: GM Says Facebook Ads Don’t Pay Off

Forbes: Reasons Not To Buy the Facebook IPO
Facebook Users Don’t Trust Site on Privacy Issues
Facebook Spam Remains Problem for Users;  Statistics Show Fifth of All Posts Have Malicious Content
On the Eve of IPO, New Poll Suggests Users Don’t Trust Facebook
Facebook User Growth Chart:  2004 — 2012
Do you think the Facebook IPO is a good valuation? Add your comment now.

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