The Limits of the Facebook Economy

In this post-Facebook IPO world, the only positive financial impact the social network has had comes from buying up other companies.

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In this post Facebook IPO world, the only positive financial impact the social network has had comes from buying up other companies. For example, while Facebook can't get its own stock price up, as it hit a new low today trading below the $30 mark now, speculation that the social media company might buy up Opera has the browser maker's shares up almost 20 percent. At first, that dissonance doesn't make sense: Why would investors get excited about Opera joining a falling social network? But, in this social media bubble, getting bought out by a company with a lot of cash is a certain way to make money, as we saw with Instagram, which Facebook purchased using $1 billion of its $4 billion cash pile.

That economic impact doesn't do much for the greater economy, but for a single company and its investors, it's the big ticket. Instagram wasn't making any money before Facebook's buy. It doesn't make Facebook any money now. But it made Instagram's creators and investors rich. Plus, after the buy, Facebook's own financial failure has pushed the value of Instagram down to $977 million, according to The Wall Street Journal's David Benoit. The speculators say Opera will cost Facebook in the billion dollar range, too. If that big buy does go through, Facebook will have this same happy effect on some Opera investors and execs. After that, though, then what?

Other than using its wad of cash to buy companies, Facebook hasn't made much of a positive financial dent in the economy, if you can even call that a dent -- it's more of a ding. Take the stocks that might benefit from Facebook, for example. There's Facebook's own stock, as we noted. And then there's the rest of the social media world. Zynga, for example, as a company that gets a lot of users through Facebook, saw a dive on Facebook IPO day and has since declined. As Dee Gill points out on Forbes, other social media stocks like Groupon and Yelp have seen a steady downward trajectory over the last few months, in the lead up to Facebook's flop of an IPO. We'll add LinkedIn and Pandora, which saw little dips on the day of Facebook's market debut. Plus for other social media companies with IPO dreams, Facebook's bust will make it much harder for them to succeed.

Facebook's economic impact extends beyond the stock market, as it does in fact sell a product: You. But, as we've noted on this site a bunch of times, Facebook isn't very good at that. If we're defining "good" in terms of "financially astute." It won't sell out to an advertiser, as we saw with General Motors. The advertising it does offer hasn't proven it drives users to purchase things. And it has no plan at all in the mobile space. Advertisers haven't given up completely. But, so far, Facebook hasn't proven it can or will effectively sell its users, which drives all that negativity happening on the market. This should delight Facebook users wary of advertisers. But, it doesn't do much for the economy.

Then, there's all the insular movement of money in this selfish social media bubble. Facebook discourages lavish spending. Much of the millions made of late goes to other social networks, which with Facebook's failure will have a harder time exciting investors. The company hasn't created that many jobs. The San Francisco housing market has soared, but other cities have not benefited. Facebook money, unless its a billion dollar buy of another tech company, doesn't go far. But Facebook's a public company now, so we should hope it stimulates some sort of growth somewhere, right?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.