Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
December 2, 2009 8:58 PM

The New Face Of Facebook

It's funny how new things can sometimes feel old. And, in the same breath, it's one of the most ridiculous things that can happen to a business. That "thing" is following whatever new and shiny object is currently the mass-media darling when it comes to technology and new media.

As new as Facebook still is (the company was founded in 2004, but only started opening its online social networking doors to those without a university e-mail address in late 2006), there are now many people who feel it's "sooo May 2009" and have moved on to other online social networking platforms like Twitter. Even Twitter seems to be feeling a little old-ish when compared to foursquare. What? You haven't heard about foursquare yet? (Fret not, we'll look at the latest mobile/web craze that lets everybody know where you are in an upcoming column).

The truth is, none of this is old, and most of these online spaces haven't even hit the business equivalent of their puberty yet. With all of those people connecting and all of this media attention on them, it's important to remember that Facebook is still fairly new and evolving... right before our eyes.

One of the most fascinating facts about Facebook came from the blog, ReadWriteWeb, this past July, where it was announced that there are now more grandparents than high-school students on Facebook (it's a stat I quoted in this column about a month ago - Marketing Is More Important Than You Think - but it bears some more in-depth explanation). On one hand, it totally contradicts everything the majority of us thought about Facebook. We all believed that Facebook was overflowing with university students more interested in posting frosh photos of themselves (and their friends), doing things that none of us would want in a public forum (let alone on a space that any and all of our future employers might see).

On the other hand, that many grandparents on Facebook makes perfect strategic sense. And if you have teenage children, you know exactly what I'm talking about: The best person to monitor what your kids are up to online are those kids' grandparents. In North America, it's not uncommon for kids to have four, six or even eight grandparents. So, they join Facebook to see what their grandkids are up to. But then grandma gets a friend request from a third cousin who lives in Europe whom she hasn't seen in over a decade, then she gets another friend request from someone she dated back in high school before she met granddad, and the next thing you know, it's like a scene out of The Matrix, and grandma just took the red pill right down the rabbit hole. Now, she's hooked on Facebook and getting all of her friends and family to join. Just like those high-school students ... and just like you and me.

As this growth and transition of its user base continues, Facebook has been adapting.

From issues of privacy and terms of service, to figuring out how to make advertising work and other monetization strategies, Facebook is not utopia. It has been challenged, and will continue to be challenged. What community with over 300 million active users doesn't have its kinks? (update: today, Facebook announced that they have over 350 million users, meaning if Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest country in the world). According to Facebook statistics, more than eight billion minutes are spent on Facebook each day, and the average user has 130 friends. Beyond the pokes, status updates, and rounds of Mafia Wars, there's some other, deeper and more powerful connections happening ... and this has a huge impact on how business works.

Earlier this week, Sysomos (a Toronto-based social media analytics company) released a report titled, Inside Facebook Pages, which analyzed nearly 600,000 of these pages that are essentially profiles for brands of all kinds (organizations, companies, and celebrities of varying degrees of popularity).

These Facebook pages have a similar look and feel to those of our personal profile pages, but they have additional functionality. The pages were introduced back in 2007, and have had a huge impact on how brands build community and connect to their consumers. This first large-scale study of Facebook pages looked at everything from popularity, amount of content posted, number of fans, and more. The report also provides businesses with a birds-eye view into what people are doing and what they are connecting to.

According to the report, the average Facebook page has 4,596 fans, and only 4% of the 600,000 pages analyzed have more than 10,000 fans.

Only 297 Facebook pages (about 0.05%) have more than a million fans, and those pages have nearly three times as much owner-generated content than an average page. But those same pages have nearly 60 times as much fan-generated content. These stats reiterate how hard it is to get consumers to create content for brands, and how hard brands must work to truly build any semblance of community.

Just because Facebook is so popular does not mean it is any kind of marketing silver bullet for your business.

In fact, just because people are there, interacting and connecting, doesn't mean that they care about your business or brand. Beyond figuring out what the business case is for you on Facebook (which is a great first step), what we do learn from reports like Inside Facebook Pages is that brands can effectively communicate and connect with their consumers and fans in ways they could never do before.

It's exciting. It's still early days. And it's all still very new.

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business - Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post the article here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:
Montreal Gazette - The new face of Facebook.
Vancouver Sun - The new face of Facebook: Brands want your business.

By Mitch Joel