There’s no doubt that the rise of social media in the early 2000s created a digital western frontier with rapid-fire tweet wars instead of pistol dueling and Snapchat filters instead of cowboy hats (although some of the filters included those, too). In 2004, current media titan Facebook was just starting off, and most of us were still editing our Myspace playlists or picking out codes for themes. The use of social media was solely a frivolous one.
Fast-forward to present day, actions that were once trivial are now essential and social media has integrated itself into everyday life. We use it to keep in touch with friends and family, to sell the treadmill gathering dust in the garage, and to advocate support for causes both global and local. But what if we used social media for more private activities like voting or banking? As foreign as it may sound, that may not be a hypothetical for much longer, and in some cases is already a reality.
Digital money management is an everyday occurrence thanks to Apple Pay, Google Wallet, Venmo and others, but those platforms have their limits. Google and Apple can only be used on their respective platforms and Venmo, though it bridges the platform gap, can only be used in the United States. What’s the solution? As early as 2020, it could be Facebook.
The social media platform powerhouse is reportedly putting the final touches on a cryptocurrency called Libra. While some may immediately shake a disapproving head at the thought of keeping their coins in the same place they share recipes and photos of their kids, there are a few interesting implications.
First, though — what is cryptocurrency? At its core, it is a digital currency that leverages blockchain to encrypt, regulate and transfer funds. Blockchain works by … well … building chains of blocks that contain information. Every block represents a transaction and contains a link to the prior block along with a timestamp and data from the transaction it represents.
Unlike most transaction technology, blockchain uses a decentralized storage process and is shared across multiple servers with each verifying the authenticity of the transactions. Once created, these blocks cannot be edited or duplicated and once a chain has been finished it creates a permanent record.
“The first generation of the digital revolution brought us the Internet of information. The second generation — powered by blockchain technology — is bringing us the Internet of value: a new platform to reshape the world of business and transform the old order of human affairs for the better.”
~ Don Tapscott, Author, Business Strategy & Technology
That decentralization makes it nearly tamper-proof to malicious individuals like hackers, adding an extra layer of trust to cryptocurrency transactions. It also frees consumers from the burdens typically associated with traditional money transfers, cutting centralized third parties almost completely out of the equation.
Facebook wants to build its own blockchain transaction network to power Libra.
Social platforms including Snapchat and Facebook already offer money transfer capabilities from user to user domestically, so making the move to cryptocurrency is an organic one from a user standpoint.
The upside is high — if Facebook successfully launches Libra, it could position itself as a front-runner in an evolving age of personal finance by making secure transactions accessible to people that historically have not had access.
It could also be the first closed payment system with enough users to be viable without relying on a centralized bank.
But the challenges of cryptocurrency are not small, from building a system with transaction speed rivaling payment processing giants like Visa to finding a way to minimize the volatility of its value.
And if Facebook thought backlash was sharp for breaches around favorite colors and taste in music, it will only be stronger when users hand over their hard-earned money.
What does all this cryptocurrency discussion mean for marketers?
We can’t anticipate every implication, but cryptocurrency as a whole is another way the world is changing for the people we need to reach. If brands understand those changes, we can help our target better navigate them and the accompanying uncertainties and excitements.
Within the world of Facebook, cryptocurrency is one more infiltration of the social media giant in our daily lives, and we should meet it with a healthy dose of skepticism (professionally and personally). Facebook is stealth-like when it comes to convenience and accessibility for users, and Libra would probably be no different, but they also need to have security and privacy on lock if they want the trust of their users when it comes to their money.