Some clarifying questions and assumptions first:
Assuming when we say facebook we mean the “Facebook” product and not the company.
Assuming that by “not having” ads on facebook, we are targetting a specific part of the product? Perhaps the Facebook feed?
Does no-ads have an expiry date? Or this becomes a long term strategy?
How will FB offset the loss in revenue due to this change?
Based on the above questions (since the interviewer’s reply may change the course of our reasoning) I will move forward with articulating possible business goals for facebook that may require us to think about this tradeoff.
Cause n effect framework:
Say Facebook becomes an ad-free service. What would be some possible effects of this?
Perhaps the brand trust factor goes up and as a result user acquisition may go up.
FB will lose ad revenue but gain a new reputation. Reputation doesn’t earn money, so there has to be clearly thought out plan on where the revenue goal may be met instead.
Frees up capacities to innovate around user’s behaviour to deepen the community dynamics and not related to improving the profile for the “targetted ads”.
No ads will lead to a frustration-free user engagement but it may mean less time spent in-app without the distracting ads (especially the videos).
May lead to a more meaningful engagement but it is hard to measure “meaningful social interaction”.
First and foremost, I would see what goals are really calling us to think in this direction. Is it to make a statement to the existing users that ultimately facebook cares about their user and not the money?
On the other hand, having ads on FB:
Doesn’t sent a radical message to the world about the core values of FB and the opportunity to regain the loyalty is missed.
Ad revenue grows as long as the user base stays engaged.
Short term play is good with the ad-revenue, longer-term FB will need to continue spending resources in the direction of surfacing more and better ads for the user.
Doesn’t allow for FB to focus on other forms of revenue generated as a result of no-ad. Things such as user loyalty, transparency and deeper social insights may be the trade-off.
Short term FB will lose ad revenue which means there has to be a plan-B of making that revenue elsewhere in the ecosystem (and perhaps framing it such that people use the product with a clear understanding of what they can expect out of it). The reasons to pursue this would be to reclaim the image of a company that cares about meaningful user interactions as opposed to their immediate profit. If executed correctly, FB may be able to improve the trust scores and as a result both user acquisition, loyalty. Loss of revenue has to be proportioned in the gain of the users.
Longer-term, the emphasis on ad-free and hence commodity free online community may result in a very loyal customer base and a product image that is very different from the status quo. It may also align facebook to design for other forms of capital that may very well be tied to revenue over a long period.