Facebook: Why marketers need to get real!

One of the most common questions I get asked when presenting on the subject of Social Media is “What will be the next big thing?”, it was a version of this question, ““What’s going to be the next Facebook?” that formed the introduction to an article posted last week by blogger, Mark Schaefer, in a post entitled, “Why Facebook is more important than your house”.

In his post, Mark answers this question with the answer – “There isn’t going to be one”. He goes on to justify this position by stating…

“…switching away from Facebook may be a more difficult decision than choosing a new home! In fact, most current users will probably never change to another social networking platform because the psychological and emotional investment in Facebook is so high. That’s where they have their circle of online friends. That’s where they go to check on the Farmville crops. That’s where they go to see the daily pictures of the new grandchild. And that is where they are going to stay.

The psychological commitment and emotional investment in Facebook is enormous, and it’s growing every day as the company adds functionality and embraces third-party applications that add to the fun and the amount of time people spend on the site.

Why won’t there be a “next” Facebook? Facebook is no longer a website. It’s a lifestyle. And changing your lifestyle carries very, very heavy switching costs.”

Opening up the debate on my Twitter timeline this morning, there were those that pointed out that the science of social capital and networking demonstrates that this is not the case. Others argued that the trust and privacy issues will be the service’s downfall. In a series of comments Ann Holman, a Devon based social architect and strategist, went on to state:

My last point on this is that FB has ceased to be a social networking site, its a marketing channel! We have blindly walked into a modern day newspaper!

This is a position I don’t agree with. I think as marketers that’s how WE tend to see it, but there are plenty of consumers out there who don’t. For them they have put the service to use for their own ends, often ignoring or resisting any attempts by marketers to encroach on their social networking activity.

The problem is as marketers we use the services as such, we look at it with our marketing hats on and see how the quality of conversation with companies is poor at best. We watch as our relationships appear to get shallower and shallower. We see our status stream fill up with meaningless updates from faceless corporations who have outsourced their community activity to a small team based in another office, and mistakenly think its like that for everyone.

Marketers need to get real!

Facebook users didn’t come to Facebook to be marketed to, but there is a marketing opportunity in them doing so. That opportunity doesn’t lie in broadcasting messages, in fact it seldom even involves a Facebook page. What it is about, for me at least, is relationships. Facebook provides us with the opportunity as businesses or individuals to build, maintain and extend relationships with other users, users who may be friends, colleagues, clients or future business.

I took the debate out to my local Starbucks this morning. I regularly use Starbucks as a remote office and have become friends with many of the other regulars, who represent an interesting cross-section of my local community. One lady, Julie, I have known for a couple of years and we have been speaking throughout her time on Facebook.

Julie is a mature user, that is, she is not one of the net generation or millenials. Julie has been using Facebook for about two years. Julie works as a life-coach and nutritionist. In her spare time she helps out with the local scout and girl guide groups. Her network on Facebook consists of friends (old and new), family (close and distant), leaders and participants in the local scout / guide community, clients, and the people she plays her game with. Her network includes those she hasn’t ever met, people she hasn’t seen in years and people she sees every day.

I asked her what she thought about changing to another service. I asked her how she used Facebook and whether companies were ruining her experience.

She couldn’t imagine using another service, not because Facebook was remarkable, in fact the site was an irrelevance, but because of the relationships she had built there. She saw that another service could come along and offer more but she was also realistic that it wouldn’t make a lot of difference to her. Facebook gave her so much, so much that was missing before, that she didn’t see what anyone could give her.

She told me how the birthday wishes had given her support during a difficult time. How her game had connected her with people all over the world. How she kept up with her family all over the world, filling the gaps between their calls. How the minutes from her recent scout meeting has been delivered on Facebook when email failed and how plans were already afoot to use the group function for future planning. How she had reignited relationships with her friends from primary school.

Now I know that Ann said this morning, “people said the same when other TV channels emerged to rival BBC!”; however, I would argue there is a big difference. Viewers invested nothing into that process, they just sat back and watched. When offered more choice they took up the option and voted with their viewing time, hardly surprising, it’s a lot easier to turn the channel than it is to rebuild your network, transfer all your content across and learn a new system.

The return we get from the social network is equal to the investment we have put into it. If I have taken time to build relationships with those in my network, to share my experiences, and to take part in theirs, I won’t want that to end, the returns are beyond what I can put a value on.

The problem is too many marketers have connected to other marketers, other marketers who fill their stream with recycled viewpoints and commercial messages. They think that their experience is the same as every consumer, it isn’t! Marketers need to get real, go and ask the people who really use Facebook what they think. Facebook isn’t a marketing channel, it’s a social network and the real problem is you can’t see how to use that fact to your advantage.

(Read the original post from Mark Shaefer at http://www.businessesgrow.com/2010/11/29/why-facebook-is-more-important-than-your-house/)


About the Author

I’m fascinated by how a company or organisation can change its fortunes and even undergo a transformation by looking at a challenge in a different way and by behaving in different ways.


  1. David Edwards Says :
    Posted on December 6, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    I don’t think that many people will consciously decide to abandon Facebook, in the same way that many diddnt consciously decide to adopt it (in the way they now use it). I have used many social networks over the years, and never had a RIGHT IM LEAVING moment, i just drifted away. Time between logins steadily grows and you find you aren’t using it any more. I never consciously decided to check twitter before my email every morning, but I do. This won’t be the death of Facebook, its a monster that will take years to go, but something will come along, no one will notice, but there it will be. Thats how it happens.

    • Aren
      Posted on December 6, 2011 at 2:24 pm

      Thanks David, I think you’re quite right that of course one day it will start to fade out of existence. I still think that’s a long way off though but there are those that seem to think it will be an overnight thing that will happen imminently. Speaking to consumers on a daily basis, their experiences rarely match those I hear from the marketing community – they had more sense than to ‘Like’ every company they’d ever heard of. They use it for what it was intended, to socialise, to play, to meet and discuss and are still finding it useful in those areas.

  2. Peter Delaunay Says :
    Posted on December 6, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    Excellent, Aren – spot on in understanding the subtlety of what’s happening. This is essential reading for anyone involved in the media and media teaching. And marketers are going to haver to tread very carefully – marketing via facebook is highly intrusive (far far more so than television advertising) by the nature of the personal investment people are making in their facebook communities, so if marketers get it wrong (and Pizza Express are beginning to get up my nose) then brands will be seriously damaged.
    It’s a question of tone of voice – it’s easy to see lots of people joking and having fun on facebook and I see a lot of brands trying to match that tone, and that feels like a big mistake. If you monitor your own facebook for a day you’ll see a spectrum of emotions, and each one is genuine. So sometimes I just want information – like your starbucks nudge this morning, aren, just a “hey, this is here/this is available” then get outa my face. Brand’s having a big sale, launching a big new product (something more than a new pizza topping!), then sing and dance, bells and whistles – but you better be sure I’m gonna want this.
    Reference David Edwards comments about “time eventually will be called” can I direct you to an article I haven’t yet read in full !
    January 2012
    You Say You Want a Devolution?
    By Kurt Andersen Illustration by James Taylor
    HOLD IT RIGHT THERE From the fedora to the Afro, styles have changed with the times. Unless you’re living in the 21st century.

    The past is a foreign country. Only 20 years ago the World Wide Web was an obscure academic thingamajig. All personal computers were fancy stand-alone typewriters and calculators that showed only text (but no newspapers or magazines), played no video or music, offered no products to buy. E-mail (a new coinage) and cell phones were still novelties. Personal music players required cassettes or CDs. Nobody had seen a computer-animated feature film or computer-generated scenes with live actors, and DVDs didn’t exist. The human genome hadn’t been decoded, genetically modified food didn’t exist, and functional M.R.I. was a brand-new experimental research technique. Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden had never been mentioned in The New York Times. China’s economy was less than one-eighth of its current size. CNN was the only general-interest cable news channel. Moderate Republicans occupied the White House and ran the Senate’s G.O.P. caucus.

    Since 1992, as the technological miracles and wonders have propagated and the political economy has transformed, the world has become radically and profoundly new. (And then there’s the miraculous drop in violent crime in the United States, by half.) Here is what’s odd: during these same 20 years, the appearance of the world (computers, TVs, telephones, and music players aside) has changed hardly at all, less than it did during any 20-year period for at least a century. The past is a foreign country, but the recent past—the 00s, the 90s, even a lot of the 80s—looks almost identical to the present. This is the First Great Paradox of Contemporary Cultural History.”

  3. David McGuire Says :
    Posted on December 6, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    Couldn’t agree more. It’s funny how we lose perspective and assume our own experience as users is the same for everyone.

    In a different way, it’s the same with Twitter: just because something has trended consistently, doesn’t mean anyone in the “real” world even knows about it…

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