I can’t keep track of how many times I’ve heard people predict the demise of Facebook. Everytime there is a hiccup in the service, or a major news outlet comes out with a story about Facebook and privacy, it stirs the pot all over again. And as a marketer, these uproars always come with the concern from clients and colleagues that maybe we shouldn’t be investing so much in Facebook. What if Facebook goes the way of Myspace and all this time, money and strategy we’ve put into it is useless?
Although I understand the concern, I think it is wasted energy. Here’s why:
Now before you all jump down my throat about Diaspora and all of Facebook’s privacy flubs, or all the people you know who have quit their profiles, let’s put things into perspective. Facebook has 600 million users. 600 million. And each of those users has spent time and energy building their network – whether it be 100 people or 1,000. As a whole, the public is invested and has come to rely on using the social network for everything from making plans and sharing photos to dating and networking. Because of this, even Facebok haters would have to agree that the only way Facebook would ever lose its ground is if some other miracle network blew it out of the water (eg. the way Facebook did to Myspace). “Exactly!” you say to me, “It has happened before, it could happen again.”
Well, I am going to have to respectfully disagree. Even if there was some amazing network that had no privacy problems or service hiccups, how likely is it that all 600 million people are going to want to start from scratch on building their networks again? Not only would that be a huge pain in the arse, it would also mean much smaller networks. You see, everyone has connections that they friended at one point, that they would never be able to friend again. These are the people that you would never admit to paying attention to, but whom you thoroughly enjoy checking up on. People like friends from high school, ex-boyfriends, frenemies from college, co-workers from your first jobs, etc… The idea of giving up all of these connections is insanity. And while those of us who have been on Facebook since the beginning may have more of these “friend relics” than the ever growing 50+ demo on Facebook, I’d be willing to bet that almost everyone has at least one.
I also think it is telling to see who is all up in arms about the privacy concerns on Facebook. I’m making generalizations here, but it is most usually the crowd that has only been on the platform for a year or two and is much less invested. It is also the crowd that doesn’t have a history with mass Facebook protest. If you fall into that group, I don’t blame you for your reaction. In fact, when my relationship with Facebook was just beginning there were all sorts of times when my friends and I were outraged about Facebook changes. First there was the newsfeed, “UM, a Newsfeed?? So now I can’t see birthdays prominently displayed?? AND I can see when people break up? Oh this is horrible. I will sign a million petitions about it and complain endlessly.” And then they introduced photo tagging – “WHAT? You are telling me other people can just tag things and they will appear on my profile without me approving them first? This is crazy. Crazy!” Oh and don’t even get me started on when they started letting companies on Facebook… And guess what. Despite how outraged I was over these changes, it didn’t take me too long to realize that ol’ Mark there knew what he was doing. And that he’s really smart. Sure there have been awkward times along the way where Mark has gotten over-zealous and made changes without properly explaining them or giving you an opt-out option, but he always remedies that. So for those of you who haven’t yet had the long relationship with Facebook, you’ll find yourself trusting Mark after a while. And then you can laugh with us when the next generation gets all out of whack about Facebook and starts predicting the network’s demise.
In the end, it really comes down to why people are on Facebook. They are there to connect with their friends, sure, but you can connect with your present friends easily enough via phone and email. The real power of Facebook is that it allows you to essentially keep a scrapbook of friends. It lets you to “creep” on people and build relationships you wouldn’t have had otherwise. It has a low enough barrier of entry that it makes it possible to connect with people in a way that no other medium can. And that is why, for the forseeable future, Facebook is here to stay.
Now, I will never be one to tell you to put all your marketing eggs into one basket, nor do I think Facebook is the end all be all for social media marketing. Far from it. I am simply saying for those marketers who are crossing their fingers and hoping this whole Facebook craze will blow over, you may be waiting for awhile. And while I respect that many may dislike the platform for personal reasons, it is undoubtedly a successful marketing tool and will likely be so for years to come. So if you are wondering what the next steps for your company’s Facebook page should be, I say invest. If you don’t have the skills to develop a business strategy on your own, find a social media agency to help you with long-term goals and who can advise you on how to handle the daily changes. Ultimately, how much you spend and to what extent you use the network will vary for every company, but if you were planning on sitting around waiting for the next Facebook to arrive, that may not be your best bet.