When you think about it, the match was inevitable. Washington needs Facebook – and Facebook needs Washington.
Start at the back end. President Obama hosted a town hall meeting on Facebook today because there is probably no more effective way to attract (positive) attention from under-forty-somethings. No suprises there. What may give you a slight jolt is how little attention Facebook has been paying to the nice folks who make and enforce the laws about privacy and competition on the Internet.
Facebook, it seems, has come very late to the lobbying party, spending just $351,000 last year on the arts of political persuasion – one-fifteenth as much as Google. Indeed, they seem to have been following the path once trod by Microsoft, which largely ignored the machinations of politicians in distant capitals.
But we all know what happened to Microsoft, which went from market Goliath in just about everything techie before the antitrust prosecutions in Washington and Brussels to Google wannabe thereafter. And Facebook has apparently learned from recent history: Along with beefing up its DC operations, it is hiring a gaggle of Washington insiders to woo the powerful.
It would be nice to believe that Facebook could get along fine by pleasing consumers and just minding its legal P’s and Q’s. But that’s not how it works in Washington anymore. Maybe it never really did – GE, after all, managed to get FDR to bless the cartelization of all of American big business during the Depression. (Don’t believe us? Just Google/Bing the National Recovery Administration.) But our own sense is that money talks on a scale never before seen in the nation’s capital.
Call us old-fashioned. It seems a pity, though, that the returns to investments in the political market are often higher than the returns to making better stuff and selling it for less.
(This post was also published on Forbes.com.)