Social network

Why we like to watch Facebook struggle

May 25, 2012: 1:27 PM ET

In the whirlwind of its IPO fallout, there has been a sort of glee in watching the company stumble. What's driving the Facebook-schadenfreude and what can the social network do about it?

FORTUNE – We all love a rags-to-riches story, but a relative-comfort-to-exorbitant wealth story is less enticing. That has been Facebook's story, which, until this point, has been all about its founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg: A smart kid with a good idea becomes a billionaire. What's more, he becomes a billionaire, we have all realized, off of us (or at least our data).

And like cable companies, Facebook (FB) has competitors, but none that match its reach, which leaves users sometimes feeling a sense of powerlessness. Perhaps that is why, in the whirlwind of its anticlimactic IPO, there has been a sort of glee in watching the company stumble.

The media, including this publication, has covered Facebook's public offering to death. Indeed, over the past two weeks, devoted its homepage real estate to a whopping 24 stories on the company's coming of age.

Facebook's recent fumbles have drawn so much attention partly because of the sheer size of its IPO, but also because of the enormity of its brand. The social network is recognizable in a way that many companies would kill for: everyone knows what it is, even people who don't use it. Some of the people who use it, especially teenagers and pre-teens, see it as critical to their quality of life.

MORE: Did Facebook chill the IPO market?

Yet Facebook users are also quick to rail against the company for changes that tweak the experience or threaten privacy. And now, the social network is confronting a hurdle on the finance side – its stock opened flat on its first day of trading (and, at the time of publication, is down by over 13% since its IPO) and it must cope with shareholder anger, coming in hot by way of lawsuits. We all use Facebook, but can the company get us to like it again?

Pitfalls of a celebrity CEO

Part of Facebook's branding problem has to do with Mark Zuckerberg, with his boyish face, brilliant brain, and billions of dollars. The business world seems to view the founder with a combination of jealousy and awe, fueled perhaps by the portrayal of the company's origins in the movie The Social Network, which glorified a tale of dumb luck, cutthroat cunning, and fast fame. You want to hate that lifestyle, but you can't help but want it for yourself. More

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