These days, Carolyn Everson runs global marketing for Facebook. Long ago, she tried to get MTV to buy the company. Now she’s part of an empire that includes Instagram, WhatApp, and Oculus Rift.
Nicholas Carlson, editor-in-chief of INSIDER sat down with Everson at IGNITION 2015, where they talked about the future of Facebook’s various businesses.
(Edited for clarity and length)
Nicholas Carlson: Facebook is a “tweenageer” it’s almost 12 years old basically. That’s crazy!
Carolyn Everson: Yes, Facebook is almost 12. My teens are — actually my daughters — just turned 13. So, I keep it in check.
Carlson: I wanted to go a little bit through the things that are Facebook beyond Facebook….What’s the latest with Instagram? Where are we now?
Everson: This has been a big year for Instagram. As of September, we rolled out Instagram ads globally. From a consumer standpoint, it has over 400 million people using the platform. It’s growing faster than any other mobile social platform that is out there. It is beloved by consumers and they’re really using it in very different ways than they use Facebook and other services. Consumers go to Instagram for visual inspiration. They follow a lot of people that they don’t know. Fifty per cent of them — almost 50% — are connected to businesses and from an advertising stand point, the marketing community has been very eager for us to open up Instagram as a platform that they can use. If you take Instagram and Facebook, you have the two most important mobile app platforms in the world. And so, heading into this holiday season, it was really important that, not only do we make Instagram available globally, but that we actually took the back end of the ad infrastructure for Facebook. So all of the targeting capabilities the measurement, the self-serve, APIs — so that we could actually really scale the platform. And we’ve been really excited with it. So this was a big year for Instagram.
Carlson: What’s working on Instagram that you wouldn’t see on Facebook?
Everson: Well what’s interesting is Instagram started out as much more of a brand oriented environment. Things that would be maybe the initial kickstart of a campaign that then you would follow through on Facebook. What we’re seeing now is a variety of business objectives being served well on Instagram. We launched all of our direct response objectives, you can click to learn more, shop now, install an app — and those are doing very, very well…. The key is actually figuring out how to get the right ad — the most relevant ad — to the right person at the right time. And really that comes down to people-based marketing. And so taking advantage of the Facebook back end, where we have the data of who people are, applying that to Instagram is allowing us to serve much more relevant ads in the Instagram environment. But it’s no longer just quote a “brand environment,” it’s something that’s serving across all business objectives.
Instagram was sort of a separate business with its own sales and business solutions. Now it’s more centralised, and what are the advantages of that? Why did that happen?
Everson: So Instagram actually has always been covered by the same team. You know, the team that I lead around the world and that my colleague leads on the small business side. So that has been the same from the very beginning.
What we did do with Instagram initially is we do have some people around the world — a couple of dozen — that are are called “brand development leads.” And they sit on my team, and they are Instagram specialists, if you will. They help the market understand what the possibilities are on Instagram, and the deeper insights around what the audience does. But the actual team — the sales and marketing team across the globe — actually services both Facebook and Instagram. And that’s been working very well.
You know, when Mark acquires companies — and Instagram was the first big company that he had acquired since I been there for almost five years — each internal team needs to earn the respect of the entrepreneur that we have acquired. And for us, Kevin [Systrom] really needed to see how all of the different functions worked at Facebook. And now, the Instagram team takes advantage of the core ads, and for infrastructure for Facebook. They take advantage of the network infrastructure, and of course, the sales and marketing. So it’s a really great way for us to go to the market, because the agencies and marketers don’t need multiple people talking to them: one about Facebook, one about Instagram. Nobody has the time. They’re looking to actually talk to fewer people that can solve their business objectives. And so, my team really needs to be consultants and business advisors — not about selling Facebook one minute or Instagram the next minute — that’s not what it’s about. It’s: What is the business problem we’re trying to solve for the client? Does Facebook make sense? Does Instagram? Or both?
Carlson: OK. So it’s interesting you say you need to win over the entrepreneur at the heart of the product. WhatsApp famously is like “we’re never doing ads!” And I’ve heard you say WhatsApp doesn’t have ads yet. Do you hope someday to get your team working with them? Is that something that’s ever going to happen?
Everson: So we’ve followed a similar formula with all of our platforms. First and foremost, it’s about getting consumers to utilise the platform. Right. That’s what we did on Facebook, and then we rolled out the monetisation strategy. It’s what we’ve done on Instagram, and now we’re on the monetisation phase.
Messenger is really the next place that we are testing monetisation models and bringing that to life for marketers. So Messenger now has 700 million people using it. It’s an incredible success story. It was embedded into the Facebook core app just over a year ago, and now it’s a stand alone. And it’s growing tremendously. We’re testing with Zulily and Everlane and some other e-commerce companies — the ability to communicate organically between people and businesses. So, for example, if I buy something on Everlane — I can get the notification via Messenger. I can change the order. If I order a black shirt, I can say, via Messenger, “Gee, I should have bought a red one. Can you add that to my order?” So it’s a really interesting new way for consumers to communicate with businesses. So Messenger will be the place, first and foremost, that we test these new models out.
Carlson: So you talked a little bit about that before — and I don’t entirely get it. Walk me through, why is it better than sending an email or calling or texting a brand or something like that? Explain to me the business.
Everson: Sure. So if you think about email — all, most that occurs in email today — you get your confirmation of your order, you get your shipping confirmation. And what we’re seeing is the open rates of those emails are really low. It’s getting lost in the barrage of email. On top of that, you have the young consumer behaviour. Particularly, the younger millennials that are actually not utilising email the same way that those of us are in our 40s are using email. And so, what they’re using, they’re using much more of a messaging type service. And the expectation is that if you communicate with a business, that they will actually respond. And so, yesterday we announced that we have 5o million business pages now on Facebook. The last time we made the announcement, it was 45 million. It’s growing very nicely. But there are 2.5 billion messages occurring per-month between consumers and businesses. This is the new expectation of consumers. So when you send a shipping confirmation via email that gets lost, that is a very different consumer experience than a shipping confirmation via Messenger, and oh! If you want to change the address, or if you want to add to the order, it’s really seamless. And that’s what the consumer expectation is. So I think you’re going to see a major shift in how people in businesses communicate.
Carlson: That is amazing. If you could privatize email, that would be very valuable indeed. Alright so next. Next, lets talk about the next entrepreneur — Oculus. Is that a group that you work with eventually? How do you get marketing into VR which we don’t even have yet? I mean what is the process there?
Carlson: Do you even think about Oculus?
Everson: We get asked about Oculus all the time. Because marketers, understandably, want to understand what the new opportunities are, and make sure they are getting ahead of it. Right now, with Oculus, we’re really focused on actually just getting the consumer product out the door.
Right now, with Oculus, we’re really focused on actually just getting the consumer product out the door.
We have something available for the holiday season in conjunction with the Samsung device. In early 2016, we’ll have the the Rift, which is phenomenal. And if you haven’t tried Oculus — I don’t know if you have? You have. It’s just transformational, I mean it is going to change every way we interact — be it entertainment or with healthcare or education or travel. I’m really excited about it. But it’s really too early to actually be thinking about marketing and Oculus. It’s one of those things, you know, look at how the first few years of actually selling smart phones took a while. For now, we have the explosion — where it’s actually more mobile connections than there are people. But Oculus is in its early days.
Carlson: Am I reading too much into Facebook 360? Which is the video where you can click and drag around … sort of a pre-cursor to Facebook being on VR …? Maybe I’ve got it wrong?
Everson: No, no you don’t! I think that there’s this great chart that we use Facebook now — we serve up memories, every day. If you actually posted on that day the year prior, a few years prior… it’s a really interesting thing to look at. Because if you’ve been on Facebook for a number of years, back in 2010, 2011, it was text. It was: “I’m going to be interviewed by Nich today at Business Insider.” That would have been my update. Then over the last couple of years, maybe there would be a photo of us. And then a video, which is still incredibly dominant now. We have over 8 million video views today and growing exponentially.
But the 360 videos a step up that ladder a more immersive experience. And we have been really pleased with the adoption. “Star Wars” was the first marketer to take advantage of it for the release of their film coming up. I mean, “Star Wars” was one of the top two topics talked about in 2015, and the movie hasn’t even launched yet. It’s going to be quite, quite something. The 360 video is just a step up to say the more immersive experiences we can bring consumers and brands the better it’s going to be. So it’s a little bit of a precursor.
Carlson: So just explain what 360 is. It’s like a video that you can kind of change where the camera is pointed?
Everson: Yes. If you just take your phone, and then you get one served up, and you start to move your phone — literally — you will experience all of the different angles and it’s just a phenomenal way to shoot. When it first launched … Bob Woodruff had just shot a video of from Korea that we never would have been able to experience what it was like to be on the ground with the military the way he was able to shoot that video. And same thing with “Star Wars.” So, more immersive, more interactive experiences — I think you’re going to see more of that.
One of the ad units that we have that is becoming incredibly popular through this holiday season is Canvas — which we released and gave a little bit of a glimpse at Canes this year, in June. And now is actually out in the market. But it’s a really immersive way to show dynamically more content and have consumers be able to click in and purchase something more directly. And I just think you’re going to see us really explore what the creative Canvas possibilities are. It is definitely not just that little box. Mobile is, I think is, the most exciting and dynamic, creative canvas that we’ve had in a long time.
Carlson: I’m realising I’ve let you off the hook with whatsapp. So it’s just Facebook Messenger for now, but?
Everson: Whatsapp is at 900 million people. Jan clearly is aware of what we are doing on the advertising and marketing side, but he is very focused on the product and adoption.
Carlson: I see what it is. You’re on the — look at what we did with Facebook Messenger, Jan. Don’t you want these resources? Don’t you want this revenue? Alright. Aquila the unmanned flyer. We’re going progressively further away from things that make immediate sense to me. So Facebook has this giant solar powered winged craft. They built this. In a warehouse. And launched it and it’s going to fly over Africa … or?
Everson: You have most of it right there, it’s pretty good. So if you have the connectivity problem. Right. Start with the mission of Facebook. The mission of Facebook is to connect the world. Well only 40% of the world is connected. So you’ve got over 4 billion people that are still not connected.
You’ve got over 4 billion people that are still not connected.
And there’s not going to be one magic answer that solves that problem universally. Their two big problems are awareness — if you’ve never been on the Internet, you don’t know what it is. And cost.
And so we have a number of different strategies to try to help that situation. One of which is an unmanned aircraft vehicle named Aquila, which is the Latin word for eagle. It has the wing span of a 737, it weighs pretty much like a Toyota Prius, it flies between 60- and 90,000 feet — so it’s above commercial airspace — it’s powered by the sun, and it beams connectivity 11 miles away — which is like to the size of a dime. And it can stay up for three months. The reason why this is so exciting is because we had not a single aerospace engineer working at Facebook two years ago — not even 18 months ago — and Mark realised that not only satellites are going to be important — we are doing a satellite for sub-Saharan Africa — but also an unmanned vehicle was going to be key to get to some of the remote areas. And this is an example of us being really focused on innovation and moving really quickly. The actual record for an unmanned aircraft vehicle staying up is two weeks, but that was just not acceptable to Mark. So he’d tell the team “I’ve got to come back with a different plan” and this will break the record if it stays up for 3 months. So we’re really excited about it — and again — this team didn’t even exist 18 months ago.
Carlson: When did you join Facebook? What year was it?
Everson: It will be five years in February.
Carlson: So five years ago, were you like: “In five years we’re gonna be talking about aerospace engineers.”
Everson: I never, ever. I mean if I — if I just think about — we didn’t have Instagram, we didn’t have whatsapp, Messenger wasn’t a standalone, we had no ad tech assets, we had no unmanned aircraft vehicles, we had no Oculus. There has been a series of developments. But they’re all connected to the mission. The mission is to connect the world and give people the power to share and discover. And every one of those initiatives does that.
Carlson: I do have to interject with one thing — “oh you know we didn’t have aerospace engineers before and now we do.” I think now … ehhh … it’s Facebook. It would be ok if you didn’t have any. But it’s great! It’s very exciting! Phew! Finally this app has aerospace engineers. Good!
Everson: Well if you’re an aerospace engineer you can come work at Facebook now!
Carlson: No. You can afford them, it’s good. Try it. OK. Lets talk about some of the people at Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg — to me, the transformation with Mark Zuckerberg was remarkable. A while ago, I wrote some stories about what he was like as a college student and he was kind of nasty sometimes. Probably a good kid, but said some nasty things. Now he’s giving away $45 billion. Just tell me a little bit about the radical change of Mark Zuckerberg.
Everson: Before the $45 billion announcement and the birth of Max, I’ve said this — and I believe this wholeheartedly — that Mark is going to go down as one of the most important business leaders of our generation.
Mark is going to go down as one of the most important business leaders of our generation.
And to have the privilege of working for him and to see somebody that constantly wants to improve: himself, what we do as a company, never settling for the status quo. Super humble. Working every day. A work ethic that is second to none. An inquisitive personality. Constantly, intellectually curious. You know, he comes up with these annual challenges each year. You know, one year was to meet somebody new every single day. This year, is the year of books, and he’s been doing that. He just —
Carlson: Can you tell him to recommend Marisa Meyer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!?
Everson: I don’t know if that’s in his like … in his repertoire …
Carlson: It’s great! I know the author!
Everson: But I will … I will definitely make sure to share that feedback with him. So, Mark is like a really incredible person to work for. Then you add the element that I’ve been so excited for, as a mum of twin daughters, to get to see him and Priscilla get ready for the birth of their daughter. And to see what he just did.Now he’ll probably just go down as one of the greatest humanitarians. And — in addition to being one of the best business leaders in the world. And he’s not even 32. It’s really humbling. And every time that I show up each day at work and I work with my team and we think about what our goals are and how much we should be thinking about the business I always think to myself: “Am I dreaming big enough?” Because look at what he’s dreaming about. He’s dreaming about a world that, literally, everyone has the opportunity to be connected to the Internet. He’s dreaming of the world where people have a voice. He’s dreaming of a world where we’re disease free — in 10 to 15 years. I mean he’s just a remarkable person to work for. I can’t describe it. The only thing I can tell you is that he makes us better every day because you can’t help but look in the mirror and say: “I’ve gotta improve because that’s who I’m working for.”
Carlson: Every time I go out to San Francisco and talk to people in the industry — they’re always saying: “Sheryl’s bored and she’s gonna run for Senate” or “She’s gonna be Hilary Clinton’s vice president or secretary of state”. Do you think she’s bored and done with Facebook? And done everything she needs to do? It’s a huge business. And she did it. And she can do other things. Or, what’s the deal?
Everson: I think Sheryl is more committed to our mission, and more committed to our business than I’ve ever seen her. I also think Sheryl can do anything she wants to do because she’s an extraordinary leader and a person. But I will tell you — she has found connection to our mission this year through tragedy — a very personal tragedy to her that’s very meaningful. She has found connection to the mission through giving women voice and seeing groups emerge in very, very oppressed communities that suddenly look to Facebook and have a voice. She’s incredibly active in the business day-to-day and so, you know, it is certainly my personal hope that she stays with us as long as possible. She can do anything she wants, but she’s very happy at Facebook.
Carlson: You talk about “hard conversations” at Facebook. Where it’s sort of a cultural cornerstone for the company. What does that mean?
Everson: So, if you were to drive into Facebook headquarters, we have the sign and it has a sort of “like” button. You expect that — that’s, that’s the sign. What most people don’t know is that if you peak behind the sign, there’s a Sun Microsystems sign still there. And, so why is that? It is because we moved into Sun’s space. And it’s a reminder to every employee — as you leave that campus every day — to never be complacent
If you peak behind the sign, there’s a Sun Microsystems sign still there. And, so why is that? It is because we moved into Sun’s space. And it’s a reminder to every employee — as you leave that campus every day — to never be complacent.
….. Even if the business is going well, that we never actually have things completely figured out. So there’s this deep rooted part of our culture that says: Companies that have failed in the past, didn’t fail because they woke up on some Tuesday morning and said, “oh wow! This digital or mobile thing — this is big! Wow! We’re out of business tomorrow!” It took time. Right. Things started to unfold. People weren’t willing to have tough conversations. They thought it was too political, they thought it was career limiting, it wasn’t my problem it was someone else’s team not doing their job. And there are some great companies that have just completely vanished. They are no longer relevant and we don’t want to be.
We don’t want to be in that situation. And so, we use these things called “hard conversations” which is we ask people to have hard conversations with. And then we check in on how often are you having them? So it is totally common, you know, like every time I see Sheryl she’ll be like: “So what’s the latest hard conversation you’ve had?” And she really wants to know what have I raised with a peer, someone I’m working with, ca lient, whatever it might be. What are the hard conversations we’re having day-in and day-out?
She gave me a hard conversation recently — about 6 months ago — I’d been working on this thing that I’m very passionate about at Facebook which is called Fuel. And it’s the notion of really making Facebook a sustainable place to work that can also deliver high performance and results. And I’m so close to it, that she said a couple of people were having trouble giving me feedback about it because they were afraid of insulting me. And I needed to hear that, because now I needed to over-correct and go to those individuals and say “look I want to hear the feedback” like this is not, you know, I’m not going to protect this like a baby. I need to know how you feel about it and how we can improve upon it. And that was a really good conversation. So we have them on personal things, on style on business issues, but it’s a real critical part of our culture.