What makes Facebook tick?

Andy McKeon has been enlisted to help make Facebook work for business in a challenging social media environment.

A former Apple employee talks of his journey inside the social media giant.

Two years ago, when Facebook prepared for its initial public offering (IPO), there seemed no end of questions.

Yes, it was a company with a vast number of users, but could it translate that into profit for both the company and its advertisers? More importantly, could it adapt to a world increasingly dominated by mobile users?

Revenue from advertising soared 82 per cent to US$2.27 billion in the first quarter compared with last year and, of that revenue, about 59 per cent was from mobile advertising.

When he released the results, Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said: “We’ve made some long-term bets on the future while staying focused on executing and improving our core products and business. We’re in a great position to continue making progress towards our mission.”

That mission is, of course, to contribute to a more open and connected world – the company’s tagline for the future. It’s an undertaking Andy McKeon is more than familiar with.

The Australian advertising creative “checked-in” (yes, Facebook folk really do use that term) almost two years ago as global customer marketing lead. He instructs brands including Walmart, Visa, Chanel, Nike, Amazon, Starbucks and Microsoft how to leverage their influence using the Facebook site. His job is to help bridge the gap between what clients want and what Facebook’s engineering teams are building, he says.

McKeon and his team devise new ways for large brands to participate in the social media conversation – beyond just advertising on users’ pages – and in doing so, engage consumers.

This can include developing creative practices in the Newsfeed, right through to app guidance and platform integration.

“In a nutshell, we ask what the business objectives are, then recommend the best tools to achieve them,” McKeon explains.

“We may be jamming on a project for Visa’s sponsorship of the Winter Olympics or Walmart’s back-to-school program or a phone launch for Samsung. We also have meetings with the engineers and product marketing team to find out the latest and greatest products or to suggest things our clients want to see.”

At last count, Facebook had 1.28 billion monthly active users, but a big challenge lies in turning that significant number into a profit.

“Technology is changing fast and it’s hard for a lot of companies to keep up and really take advantage of what’s available on Facebook,” observes McKeon.
"There’s a company policy of stay focused, keep shipping, everyone’s head down, bum up." – Andy McKeon

Facebook makes headlines almost daily – for new acquisitions or app roll-outs. In February it shocked the market by acquiring mobile messaging platform WhatsApp for a whopping US$19 billion.

In April it launched FB Newswire, a joint project with social media content discovery outfit Storyful, which is effectively a newswire that makes it easier for journalists to find and embed content from Facebook in the media they produce.

Facebook has grown exponentially since Zuckerberg started his enterprise 10 years ago in his Harvard dorm room. Anyone who wasn’t paying attention a decade ago most likely is now.

McKeon, 45, says the company retains the feel of a start-up while being a sophisticated organisation packed with great resources, scope and reach.

The Palo Alto, California, headquarters are like a sprawling university campus, with an onsite medical centre, dry-cleaners – and a disproportionate number of computer engineers per capita. McKeon and other casually clad employees roam its vast and inviting grounds, grouping in restaurants, the video arcade or the barber.

It’s not uncommon for curious, famous faces to drop by FB HQ. US President Barack Obama, rapper Jay-Z, chess champion Garry Kasparov, Prince William, CEOs and chief marketing officers of many of the world’s biggest companies have popped in for a tour and to learn more.

For McKeon to find himself working here, among some of the brightest minds in the world, is not surprising. He has always lived by the mantra: “Put it out there and it may just happen.”

It’s that way of thinking that, at age 27, secured him a job at US advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy, the outfit behind the Nike Just Do It tagline and “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign for Old Spice.

An economics graduate from Monash University, McKeon studied advertising and in his early 20s contacted the three best agencies he knew of in the world: BBDO New York, Wieden+Kennedy and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.

“I asked if I could come and work for them for free for a week. Amazingly, they all agreed, so I took a three-week ‘working vacation’ to the US,” he says. “I wanted to be in the middle of the action working with the best and the brightest. Everyone wanted to work at the best agencies in town. I wanted to work for the best agencies in the world.”

As a marketing and communications director at Apple, McKeon helped launch the iPhone, iPad, iMac, iOS and OS software, remarking that, “You felt like you were working in the future.” But he left Apple after just 17 months to join Facebook.

Andy McKeon

Andy McKeon

“Facebook had been on my radar for a few years,” he says.

“A great friend was an early employee and I visited their old office when they were just taking off. I was always looking for a role there.”

Despite the constant media interest in the company and its young founder, “There’s a company policy of stay focused, keep shipping,” says McKeon.

“Everyone’s head down, bum up,” even when something big is happening. “I was impressed that the Friday of the IPO was the same as the Monday after the IPO – everyone’s hustling to change the world.”

McKeon says he was lured by Facebook’s guiding mission: he, too, wanted to contribute to a more open and connected world.

“Since I was a kid I’ve always enjoyed thinking creatively – questioning the norm, doing something new or solving a challenge in a different way,” he says.

“Facebook has been one of the biggest influencers in the world for a couple of years, so it’s really refining what we do, making it better, more seamless and really shaking things up. It has a great energy, a lot of blue sky and it was a unique time in history, so I thought, ‘let’s do it’.”

It didn’t take long for one of his contributions to get noticed.

“In my first week I had one of those ‘wouldn’t it be cool if …’ ideas,” he says. “I shared it with the team, they liked it and roped in the appropriate engineers to explore it further. That’s pretty exciting. To be able to come up with an idea a billion people could use.”

McKeon’s co-worker Beth Horn, who is Facebook’s retail business lead for global marketing solutions, says the company is a magnet for overachievers and McKeon is one of them.

“Andy was brought in to provide the point of view from his past, having been at Apple and [done work for] Nike, and how he saw Facebook’s ability for passionate and authentic storytelling that would drive business results for our clients,” she says.

“When I think about Facebook culture and what makes this place really special it really is about openness, trust and authenticity. One of the reasons why I think Andy has been so successful here is he’s a happy, warm, sunshiny guy to work with who is ridiculously smart and is fully himself.

“He can get up in front of a luxury retailer and say, ‘This is who I am and you don’t think of me as your customer but I’m passionate about the storytelling you do’. He can take challenging relationships and have people eating out of the palm of his hand in a very short time.”

While Facebook is on most company radars, not everyone is convinced of its future. For many, there’s the lingering fear that it may all be a fad people tire of – like MySpace or Bebo. But McKeon says that as Facebook builds and refines its marketing offerings, the major companies in the world are waking up to what’s possible.

“Our measurement tools have become a lot, lot better in the last 12 months and so have our ad products throughout the whole sales funnel. So it’s much easier for companies to see the difference we can make to their business objectives,” he explains.

McKeon and his team are continuing to define how Facebook can work for organisations.

“These days you don’t have to guess, you can see the sales or brand lift. It’s a whole new world. And we can often tell them more about their customers than they’ll even know. It’s a new time in history when companies can deliver their message to the right people, in the right place at the right time. It’s a fascinating time to be at the intersection of Facebook and marketing.”

The possibilities for mobile, too, are huge, with a study by Flurry Analytics showing that mobile device users in the US spent about 17 per cent of their mobile screen time on Facebook and Instagram (owned by Facebook). With FB Newswire, WhatsApp and other rollouts in the coming months, Facebook is also continuing its conquest of people’s needs and desires.

“There are around 7 billion people in the world but only 4 billion have used the internet,” McKeon says.

“So we have a mission to help bring the internet to developing countries and to connect the world. I’m also excited about our ability to deliver smarter and more relevant advertising to people – not just the old media shotgun approach.”

So does Facebook have the know-how to stick around for another 10 years? McKeon is confident. “We’ve moved from being a ‘cool thing’ to becoming a vital part of people’s lives – it’s the way they communicate with their friends and family, share moments and discover things.”
 

What Andy McKeon has learned

Start with people and work backwards
 
“At Apple the user experience trumped the technology. That’s how the mouse came to life, then touchscreens and Siri. At Facebook we strive to fill your screen with wonderful stories, photos and videos from your friends, family and things you love – we don’t have an intrusive design. The same rules apply to marketing. Don’t do an ad that your chief marketing officer and CEO will like – create something that the people you are trying to reach will engage with.”


Put it out there and it just may happen
 
“A friend in the ad business asked how I got a job at Wieden+Kennedy (W+K) in the US. I went to a talk a W+K partner gave in Australia, stayed behind and invited him to dinner. Then I followed up, took leave from my job in Melbourne and went to the US and worked for free for a week. After that they offered me a job. My roles at Apple and Facebook aren’t by accident, either. So put it out there – call, write, connect, push, dream.”


Do interesting things and interesting things will happen to you

“Sir John Hegarty, one of the founders of BBH, gave me that advice. You can read books, surf the web, sit at home, or you can book that trip to Burning Man. Learn something new, move to a new city, say yes to something that scares you. If you like motorcycles, go to the opera. If you like opera, get a boat licence. Put yourself in the middle of the action, mash things up.”

This article is from the August 2014 issue of INTHEBLACK.