We’ve certainly discussed the pros, cons and security angles around Facebook here and here, and as promised we’ve been adding useful links to one of these, our Facebook Privacy page. Worth mentioning in passing but today I’m thinking more of another entry, Is Social Media Really Bankable, that cited examples of how some of the largest companies in the world—and maybe yours—are starting to leverage social media to build their businesses.
Bloggers normally look outward for suitable subject matter, but in this case my own tendencies have caused me to question whether we’re part of a larger trend.
Here is the question: When you want to reach out to someone today online, with a menu of communications capabilities (figuratively speaking) arrayed in front of you, which button do you push? (No, not the bright-red Staples EASY button, fun as it may be.) Research by HubSpot and others indicates that whether you’re looking to close the deal or simply stay in touch, you’re doing a lot more of it these days via LinkedIN, Facebook, Twitter, Xing, Spoke or other hubsites.
More and more I find myself pushing the Facebook button, and my stunningly unscientific yet rampantly anecdotal research seems to indicate many of you are, too. It is not just the 500 million users who allegedly (in Facebook-speak) “are actively using Facebook to stay connected with their friends and the people around them.” I think it is also a response to the emerging reality that, while sites like LinkedIN and Xing are places you must hang out your cyber-shingle to be considered a web-forward participant in the business world, Facebook appears to be picking up steam as a business vehicle while also holding serve in the “friends & family” sphere. Every other day I hear about someone launching a Facebook event to promote a business and getting far better response than his or her last email-with-a-link campaign. Companies are creating communities of users on Facebook that generate a high degree of involvement and engagement.
Something else is accelerating this activity. When I think of the proliferation of webmail—including, to cite just one example, people who now forward their corporate Lotus Notes mail to Google Gmail addresses as a mobile workaround—I think the pump is now primed to send social engines like Facebook racing forward as primary online communications vehicles. People are getting sick of problematic mail clients and flocking toward mail-via-URL. Are the interfaces usually less elegant and feature-rich? Sure…but they work. No hassles with SMTP server names or dense mail clients. From anywhere you can get an Internet connection: They work.
Online “reaction time”
Social media sites work in another way. I voraciously devour email, voicemail, blog/microblog and news board dialogues seemingly 24/7, but I don’t expect everyone else to do the same, and I experience a wide range of reaction times when it comes to where people are most and least responsive. What I have found for some time now is that while I may indeed hear back in response to an email, I almost always hear back in relatively short order if I message someone via Facebook, LinkedIN, Xing or Twitter.
Why? If you are old-school enough to remember when baseball was about strikeouts instead of steroids, you’ll recognize the expression “Hit it there they ain’t.” It’s the same philosophy that ought to be your primary motivator for marketing, or just basic communication: Cut through the clutter. Social media can help you cut through the clutter. Instead of being email #91 in someone’s inbox, maybe my message via Facebook or LinkedIN—even if the recipient learns of it via confirming email—goes to the head of the class in terms of interest, and likelihood of a response.
On Facebook, not just on someone’s wall or my own profile but also in direct messages, I can attach a link, photo or video. On LinkedIN, links are out, although you can work around the censors with a non-clickable “emailme[at]ISP[dot]com” or “visitoursite[dot]com.” IMHO if you are a part of the business world you should be on LinkedIN and Xing, and I am on both myself as well as dozens of other sites, but when it comes to global social multimedia networks it’s Facebook, as they say, in a walk.
Okay, so from a strictly business standpoint let’s play devil’s advocate: Unless I’m a Facebook advertiser—in which case I can apparently reach any Facebook user with targeted advertising based on God knows how much demo data Facebook gives me about them—the pool of people the rest of us can message to on sites like Facebook and LinkedIN is by definition limited to those who have agreed, in effect, to “opt in” by connecting with us first. By contrast, if you purchase the right list you can zap an email to vast multitudes of (alleged) prospects in an instant.
Could it be, however, that it is worth investing a bit of time and effort upfront in order to communicate on an ongoing basis with people who are then far more likely to be receptive to your message?
Facebook going PLACES
No discussion of Facebook would be complete without mentioning its latest feature/self-created controversy: Facebook Places. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, Places lets users tap the location-sensing capabilities of their mobile devices to “check in” to a business or address and instantly share it with their Facebook connections, while locating others who do the same at that location. Speaking of tapping, the reason for Places is that it will help Facebook tap into the location-based services (LBS) mobile advertising market, selling location-targeted advertising to these ready adopters. Users opt in to receive advertising messages, often but not always sent to them depending on where they are physically located at the moment, in return for special deals from retailers and/or a monthly service discount from the wireless provider. That is the main ingredient in partnerships such as the one between Verizon and Microsoft: Sweeten the deal to persuade users to opt in for ads on their mobile devices, and with every user who does so, these companies are building viable audiences for advertising messages.
Traditional media outlets have long done the same, and you “opt in” by watching TV, listening to radio or reading a magazine, newspaper, billboard or other print medium. The problem, and the point of the sword between old and new media, is that with old media advertisers are getting a lot of what I’m going to call “assumed opt-in”—the time-honored viewer ratings or readership statistics—that are starting to hold less water by the day. It’s much harder getting on-the-go mobile users to opt into your mobile advertising, but when you do it ought to be worth several, maybe many, of his or her “assumed opt-in” old media counterparts. No, I was not commissioned to write the sales pitch for Microsoft Advertising; these are just some of the salient arguments that are quite correctly helping new media gain a toehold in the market.
Facebook Places follows the launch of Google Places earlier this year. (Apparently even with first use in interstate commerce, Google couldn’t lock up the word “Places” describing a directory/LBS offering. Or Facebook is testing the trademark/servicemark waters to see if Google blinks. Or the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office decided “places” is generic and cannot be registered…or something else.) Google Places gives companies directory-style sites with location info, street-level images, customer reviews and more, and some observers feel that is where Facebook is headed next.
As WSJ notes, adding location info to the existing treasure trove of user data that has already caused high-profile user defections from Facebook could increase both the ongoing public outcry against the service and the amount of unwanted attention it receives from privacy advocates and regulators. Yet as one reader on WSJ’s own message board pointed out: “It’s optional. If you don’t want to share your location data with the world, don’t do it!”
Talk to me
What do you think about all of this? Is Facebook becoming the new email? Do you use it to reach out to friends, business contacts or both? (Or neither?) What do you think about Facebook Places? I welcome your comments below.