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This week I continue my series on marketing opportunities with social networks with a profile of the largest and most tantalizing network of them all: Facebook.
Over the past two years, Facebook has raced ahead of its predecessor, MySpace, to become the gathering place of choice for young adults. With membership of over 200 million, the population of Facebook now exceeds all but the six largest countries in the world, making it a compelling choice for companies that want to spread a message far and wide.
Facebook succeeded in accomplishing something that countless entrepreneurs and billions of investment dollars failed to do during the first decade of the Web: it got people to give up personal information. Lots of it. Facebook members share details about their lives, loves and passions to a stunning degree. The catch is that this valuable data is locked up in personal profiles, which are shared only selectively by members with their friends. The only way to broadcast a general message to Facebook members is by buying advertising.
Facebook’s core audience is college students, more than 85% of whom are members. However, the site is catching fire with the older crowd as well. In fact, the over-35 crowd is the fastest growing demographic group. Most people are captivated by their initial Facebook experience: filling out a profile reveals dozens of former friends and long-lost classmates who are already members.
A Culture of Sharing
“Friending,” a concept popularized by MySpace, requires a mutual agreement between two members to share information. Members can control to some degree how much access to grant their friends. Facebook also has several popular features built on this concept, including a public message space called the Wall, a changeable status message and photo albums that friends can see and comment upon.
The Twitter-like “News Feed” is a recently added feature that provides a constant stream of information about friends’ activities and recommendations. For active users, it is increasingly becoming an alternative to services traditionally provided by news outlets.
Facebook has millions of groups about every conceivable topic ranging from egg-lovers to people who believe in the Loch Ness monster. It’s ridiculously easy to start a group on Facebook, which is one reason why so few of them are active. For marketers who want to build a fan base, however, Facebook groups are an appealing way to reach a large number of people quickly. The trick is to convince members to recruit each other. Spam mail is prohibited on Facebook, so group organizers must create compelling outposts that members will want to recommend to each other. Among the examples of successful commercial groups are Nike, Victoria’s Secret, The Chris Moyles Show, Pink Floyd, The State of Texas and Harley Davidson. The secret: be memorable, shareable and fun. Here’s a list of some of the largest Facebook fan pages.
Facebook’s entire model is predicated on sharing. Since early 2008, the site has allowed third-parties to create applications that members can share with each other. Nearly all of the successful titles, such as Flixter and iLike, employ features that let members compare their preferences to their friends’ or to give virtual gifts.
Some people think Facebook is strictly a consumer gathering spot, but there are plenty of groups devoted to professional topics, with marketing and sales leading the way. While the thrust of the site is consumer, businesses shouldn’t rule out Facebook as a low-cost means to find constituents who are hard to reach elsewhere, particularly if they are under 30.