THERE'S no doubting that Facebook remains the giant of social media, and 2012 is shaping up to be quite some year for the social network.
There’s been no shortage of drama when we cast our minds back to the acquisition of Instagram for a whopping $1 billion, the latest developments that have been rolled out across Timeline, OpenGraph and on mobile, and of course Facebook trading on the stock market - albeit it has been a pretty disappointing IPO performance so far!
Mark Zuckerberg is set to have acquired one billion "friends" before the year is out, which is a phenomenal milestone when you think of what has been accomplished in the last 8 years.
Facebook is an activity hub and many of the 845 million active users will find themselves relentlessly scrolling through their Facebook feed for their daily ‘fix’ of updates to make sure they are up to speed on the latest happenings.
I’m guilty of it myself and I rely on Facebook for so many things. It’s how I keep in touch with family in England, share and store my holiday snaps, and I recently arranged my engagement party through the Event application to save the hassle of paper invitations and postage.
Facebook is endemic and it comes as no surprise that businesses now want a piece of the action.
Business Pages on Facebook allows brands, all shapes and sizes, to enter into a two-way dialogue with their fans. This is an invaluable tool for businesses to gain customer insight, receive feedback, and crowdsource future ideas by reaching out to their online community.
Facebook Pages tend to work best for business-to-consumer organisations selling something that the fan is interested in and will want to know about.
Facebook, for me, is a platform to communicate with friends and family, and therefore any brand Pages that I willingly ‘Like’ are becoming part of my personal online network, signifying that I wear this fashion brand, read this magazine and eat this food.
In a way, we can be personified through the brands we ‘Like’ on Facebook.
It is therefore crucial that brand messages convey something that fans will want to read, ‘Like’, comment on and share among their friends.
Felicity McCarthy from Facebook’s SMB Marketing team reinforces this point by stating that "your Page is a place for conversations between you and your fans and it’s important you keep this up to build a real relationship."
To raise awareness of brand Pages and acquire more fans, companies are now advertising on Facebook and highlighting status updates through ‘Promoted Posts’ to target prospective fans and reach out to the friends of fans.
It is this commercialisation of his 845 million user base that has resulted in Mark Zuckerberg being the world’s second youngest self-made billionaire.
But therein also lies the challenge faced by Mr Zuckerberg and co. over at Facebook HQ. Fans are ultimately Facebook’s bread and butter, and they therefore must avoid revenue-making opportunities that compromise the user-experience of the Facebook site.
But in saying this, I have experienced Facebook ads both as a consumer clicking on ads and managing campaigns for clients, and I have witnessed first-hand the value they can add to both parties.
It’s a new form of advertising, one of which allows us to filter relevant content to the target audience based on gender, age, location, interests and even down to relationship status - a feature particularly handy for a wedding dress boutique, for example, to target recently engaged females in their local area.
Although advertisers have to pay-per-click, I hope Facebook stick to their promise for users that it is "free and always will be" and maintain the user experience we have embedded into our everyday life.
Facebook may decide to introduce a ‘freemium’ model similar to LinkedIn where users have a free basic model but are lured into a premium account for additional features.
Either way, it should remain a space for users - and brands - to build an online community to engage with. Users must remain in control of what content they want to read by choosing which friend requests they want to accept, and what brand Pages they want to give the famous thumbs up to and ‘Like’.
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