Facebook from the 50-yard line

The Super Bowl is over, and the spectator sport of choice is now Facebook's IPO.

There are those who watch the Super Bowl for the football. There are those who watch the Super Bowl for the ads. Then there are those who watch Twitter to see what people thought about the ads.

Whatever your preference, the day after the Super Bowl is an inevitable let-down. But take heart in knowing there's still one game worth watching - one with just as much posturing, half-baked predictions, and obsession over advertising as the coronation of the NFL victor: the impending Facebook IPO.

Communications professionals should be paying close attention. John Onoda, senior consultant at Fleishman-Hillard, calls the IPO no less than an opportunity to witness "a new chapter of PR unfold. It's a huge learning experience where the rest of us can sit on the sidelines and watch it play out."

So while Eli Manning gets ready for his victory parade up the center of Manhattan, let's take a look at what's buzzing in advance of the social network's big score:

The quarterback: Mark Zuckerberg, the founder-CEO, has surrounded himself with experienced leaders, including COO Sheryl Sandberg, and communications heads Elliot Schrage and Joe Lockhart. Zuckerberg has undoubtedly been learning the ropes of financial compliance and other realities of public-company stewardship. But even with all the preparation, he may be, "surprised at the level of attention on financial results," that Facebook with contend with forevermore, according to Thomas Rozycki, SVP at CJP Communications. "External investors will be constantly coming in and out of the stock. It means CEOs are constantly explaining and re-explaining their vision and views." 

The level of analysis that preceded and accompanied Zuckerberg's letter in the SEC filing may give him some hint to the degree of scrutiny that is to come. Communications professionals should particularly note how Zuckerberg articulates Facebook's core values: Focus on Impact, Move Fast, Be Bold, Be Open, Build Social Value. Hard to say if investors will embrace the philosophy of “Move fast and break things” as much when they are the ones stepping on shards of glass.

The team: Facebook employs thousands of people, some of whom will become millionaires when the stock goes public. Others will not, and those who join the company post-IPO might be forgiven for feeling a bit like they missed out on the bags of gold falling from the sky. It might be tough to know that some of the people sitting right next to you could buy your house with their lunch money, all because of their tenure at the company.

Some of those new millionaires will leave the company to launch their own dream startup. As Onoda said, "The challenge is not to create two classes of workers," and to continue to incentivize great talent to join the company over the long haul.

The field: One of the most fascinating aspects of this transition will be how Facebook learns to navigate Facebook. "Their product is the forum," Onoda said. "Issues are going to play out on their own products." Facebook's reliance on its users to drive the experience will be more important than ever.

A piece on The New York Times' Bits blog today asks, "Where's our cut?", pointing out that Facebook would be nothing without the content gleefully supplied by its millions of individuals. Not only will habit changes of users be instantly visible, but Facebook's own platform may serve as a bully pulpit for discontent on an even larger scale than it has before. This truly will be an object lesson in how social media brands and social businesses operate and engage in future.

The odds: Facebook will undoubtedly enjoy a stupendous IPO, and will continue to recruit great partners and people to help it navigate a new litany of expectations and exposure. Facebook, again, will teach us all something new.

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