With the current number of people signed up to Facebook ranging within the 900 million mark, and with the one billion mark in sight, the company is in pretty good shape to handle this week's upcoming IPO. But while we talk about how many are on the site and how many more people will join, we tend to forget that this success didn't happen overnight, it took a lot of planning and work for the social media giant to reach this point.
On the question and answer site Quora, the question "What are some decisions taken by the "Growth team" at Facebook that helped Facebook reach 500 million users?" was posted with Quora Product Manager Andy Johns providing a detailed response. Johns originally worked with Facebook's user growth team for two years from 2008 to 2010 so he has a in-depth knowledge about what methods the site used to grow.
Culture, culture, culture!
While tactics and planning was important to Facebook success and is part of any successful company out there, it was the site's atmosphere and priorities that made such growth possible. Johns says that the team grew to 30 - 40 people and everything functioned around 'decisions', which revolved around tactics, strategy, hiring and priorities and culture.
The greatest factor, in Johns' opinion, in increasing the number of users on the site was making the site available in as many languages as possible. The reasons behind this is obvious, but Johns says that "Growth was not about hiring 10 people per country and putting them in the 20 most important countries and expecting it to grow. Growth was about engineer systems of scale and enabling our users to grow the product for us." Building the international growth side of the team and then scaling it was vital to this growth, which the video below explains.
Also, there were two main features in the office to keep people focused on the task at hand: the first was displaying flags of different nations which not only represented the company's international workforce, but the global audience it targeted. The second was numerous banners designed to encourage the team to work as hard as possible. Johns mentions two specific signs that hung above the growth team: The first sign read "Go Big Or Go Home" and had a picture of Godzilla next to it (that, according to Johns, made it more awesome) while the other read "Up And To The Right." That along with many other motivational messages were scattered throughout the office to help motivate the different teams.
Their team leader Chamath Palihapitiya says that the key to understanding how growth works can be broken down into two things: The first is a fundamental understanding of your product and knowing why people use it. The second is creating a simple framework for doing your work as making it complicated only makes things harder for yourself.
Because of that, the culture that surrounds Facebook is one that was aggressive, the team pushed as hard as possible to help make the site grow. Palihapitiya was responsible for leading the team and he embodied what the growth team was about: analytical, focused on success, aggressive and unafraid of taking risks and had a deep understanding of consumer technology.
While there are different teams in the company (engineering, programming, growth etc.), no division was ranked above or below the others. As growth was a major part of the company's success, Facebook made sure that it was always considered whenever a change was made or a new idea was suggested.
The aim of any growth strategy is how to increase the number of people signing up to a service. From that certain questions have to be asked, mainly what can be done to increase this number, why do people engage with the site, and how do you keep current members interested? Once you've answered these questions, you can begin to identify how you can achieve these aims.
One member Mick Liubinskas says that deliberately controlling the target customers right from the start is important as social networks are stronger when they're contained. What he means is that you can have all the ambition in the world, but know what areas to focus on so that you have something to build upon. These are the reasons why people will sign up to your service and a good core is essential before you start any strategy.
One example that Johns refers to were the use of mail clients which allowed the site to enable virtually every email importing service out there. Currently, only LinkedIn and Facebook are the only two sites which can do this. Also, taking gambles with certain products and ideas was essential for quick growth, sometimes they didn't always pay off as one such example was Facebook Lite which was a stripped down version of the site to make it faster to load up. While it was discontinued in 2010, it showed how important site speed is for developing growth.
So the qualities that Facebook needed to grow were having a team that will work towards specific goals and create a culture that centers around being successful and have a good strategy that will help you achieve these goals.
Johns summarises his thoughts by saying "A growth team that "crushes it" [achieves their goals] cannot be built in the absence of culture, priorities and hiring since tactics and strategy are made possible by the former." Of course, the first, and most important, step is to create a strong product and know its strengths because if you don't have that, then your product is doomed to fail. Facebook knew its strengths and from that, it was able to grow into the social media behemoth it is now.