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Social Media Marketing

Kathryn Cave (Global) - Is Facebook Another Britney?

As the value of Facebook has fallen 67% in the three months since it went public, Kathryn Cave, Editor at IDG Connect compares Facebook with Britney and discusses  what this means for today’s businesses.

A bored shoe taps the edge of the desk. The clock reads 3pm…. then the bell rings! You know what happens next: kids spill into the locker-lined corridor and the video jumps to life. On September 30th 1998 “…Baby one more time” catapulted Britney to international stardom, selling over 9 million copies worldwide and creating a teenage pop sensation overnight. The fans loved her. The press declared her the “princess of pop”; Britney was the ultimate media golden girl. Her first album, released just three months later, made the Guinness Book of Records as the best-selling album of a teenage solo artist. There are clear parallels between Facebook and Britney…

Facebook’s growth was meteoric, in the US alone there was a 655% year-on-year increase between June 2007 and June 2008, taking subscribers up to 111 million people. After that Facebook just exploded. The whole universe appeared to gain an account overnight and World Internet Stats estimate that at the end of March 2012 the site had attained a total 49.9% penetration across the United States. Needless to say these figures rise sharply amongst younger people, but I’m sure I’m not alone in saying both my mum and gran have profiles.

This site was the world’s first true social media love – MySpace doesn’t compare - yet since the company went public on 18th May this year, the tide of opinion seems to have finally turned. A company that previously had the golden touch – now seems to have a distinctly tarnished halo. The same is true of Britney. Since the late nineties she has continued to make music, fill stadiums and generate headlines, but the tone of reportage has rapidly changed. In 2007 when she shaved her head the response was positively vindictive.

Now opinion on Facebook seems to have reached a tipping point. A couple of weeks ago, company stock slumped to a new low and the news was awash with stories of investors leaping at the first opportunity to dump their shares; slashing the value of the company by 67% since its debut, to £34bn. To some people was the ultimate opportunity to let vent with new found venom about the tyranny their former ‘best friend’ had subjected them to.

Like many internet businesses, Facebook has struggled to monetise itself through advertising. The problem is the company is so integral to people’s social lives that any efforts made quickly become an emotive subject.  As the Independent’s consumer correspondent put it "An increasing number [of users] are likely to feel bruised as they are confronted with the bitter truth that they are mere fodder for a machine that means business," a marketing expert in the paper added: "It takes clever leadership and in-depth understanding of where you can introduce business elements without destroying your value for users."

This sense of dissatisfaction is really starting to trickle through to users. Katy Guest wrote a very impassioned piece recently for the Belfast Independent, which addressed what she sees as the “sinister” use of targeted advertising. In this she described how “likes” appeared on her profile that she never made. This adds to the mountain of scare stories about privacy, and the shocking volume of information the company knows about you.  Just think, if you’d signed up as an 18 year old student when the company launched in 2003, you would be 27 now and Facebook would hold a full nine years’ of data spanning your entire career. This would include a timeline of all your pivotal milestones laid out as they happened, complete with photos and peers’ reactions.

Despite these concerns Facebook has become a truly integral part of society. Shortly after police in Aurora, identified the "Dark Knight Rises" shooter as 24-year-old James Holmes, Facebook users began searching for his presence on the social network. This became so intense; one James Holmes from Denver took to his Facebook profile with his girlfriend to assure the public that he was not the killer. What is more, the level of people belonging to this community has reached almost ‘compulsory’ status. As the German newspaper Tagesspiegel pointed out recently, neither James Holmes, nor Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian Utoya murderer had Facebook profiles, suggesting there may be something wrong with those that don’t sign up.

The sheer volume of Facebook subscribers means the site simply can’t be ignored by businesses; whether this is establishing Facebook marketing, policing a suitable AUP, or learning from the company’s incredible success story.  Last week the company invited a handful of tech journalists to its Menlo Park campus to discuss how it handles big data. Not surprisingly the statistics were pretty impressive. Its system processes 2.5 billion pieces of content and 500+ terabytes of data each day; specifics include 2.7 billion daily “Likes” and 300 million daily photos.  Jay Parikh, VP of Engineering explained: “Big data really is about having insights and making an impact on your business. If you aren’t taking advantage of the data you’re collecting, then you just have a pile of data, you don’t have big data.”

My gut feeling is that too many people are now joined to Facebook to make it viable for any kind of mass exodus elsewhere.  Besides, what are the alternatives? Google plus has not really taken off and whilst there’s always ‘the next big thing’ the more time that passes the harder it will be for the world, his wife and his gran to all shift across. If this is the case, then Facebook is here to stay, we’re stuck with the media headlines, the scare stories and the sheer business envy that something so monumentally successful generates. I guess the only challenge will be to stop our weird love/ hate obsession getting ‘Toxic’ and instead find ways to learn from such an incredible company.

Kathryn Cave is editor at IDG Connect. Follow the company on Facebook here.

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