Why Facebook will Network Business Users

8

Facebook launched its open platform in late May, preceded
and followed by a lot of buzz. As a (late) early adopter, I launched a profile
several weeks ago. I uploaded my contacts and found many professional friends were
already on Facebook. People who joined after me did the same thing, and added
me as a friend. Today I have 140 friends
on Facebook, and growing. I’ve told my team to get on Facebook and introduced
colleagues to Facebook. I suppose I’m an evangelist right now, encouraging
people to get on Facebook to, if nothing else, experience a turning point in social
networking.

In the ‘early days’ I was on Ryze, Orkut and eCademy, but I wasn’t
very active. Several years ago, I got on LinkedIn. Its superior interface and quality
of professional members hooked me. I’ve focused my time there to reconnect with
colleagues, find employees, and answer questions. I’ve amassed hundreds of
(mostly relevant) contacts. LinkedIn is a superior tool for finding people with
relevant business connections or experiences.

Now that Facebook is open, how will the landscape of these
online networks be affected? For professionals on both networks, which will
garner more care and feeding? How will each network evolve, especially after LinkedIn’s
announcement of opening its platform to application developers?

My prediction is LinkedIn will remain as a business network.
It is suited to accomplish tasks: hire people, get answers, find
experts/contractors and maintain professional contacts.

At the same time, despite its heritage being rooted in fun
and entertainment for students, I foresee Facebook quickly moving closer to the
business world and expanding its share of the social networking participation
pie.
 

Two factors are at the helm of Facebook’s ship steering towards business users:

Facebook is Addictive

Do you have addictions that take you away from what you’re
doing? Maybe it’s checking your blackberry, checking ESPN.com for scores, or
checking on your blog traffic stats. Twitter, a micro-blogging service, is
serving some unfilled need for people to give and receive hourly updates of
what each other are doing. Facebook pulls its members back into its site for
similar reasons.

Once logged in, on your home page and profile, you are shown
up to the minute updates for what your Facebook friends are doing on the network.
They are joining groups, adding friends, adding applications, sending gifts,
updating their status, adding avatars, adding photos, adding videos, updating
work info, posting questions, and it goes on. In fact, it’s sort of like
Twitter in you get implicit updates from the actions your Facebook friends
take. As I write this mid-day on a Sunday there were 10 activities displayed on
my home page. Today David Berkowitz added the “I Watch Entourage” application.
David’s a busy guy…but maybe I should check out the show. Denise Court added
the “Job Finder” application. She works for an online recruiting site and is
probably experimenting with related widgets for her business.

Some of these updates are meaningless, but it is fleetingly
entertaining and informative, and that’s enough to pull me back in. The
fascination is occasionally finding a worthwhile widget, contact, or group that
people you trust found. Every login is like panning for gold, except I’m
watching hundreds of people do the panning and grabbing the gold they find. The
activity and connections occurring between people, applications and groups is
exponential. As more applications, widgets and contacts come into the platform,
the growth will continue. 

With LinkedIn I see questions my friends posted, jobs
they’re hiring for, and work info they’ve updated. It’s less dynamic and I
visit it less often. It is like a tool, there when I need to accomplish a task.
However, there’s nothing stopping Facebook application developers from
emulating these tools, and blending this into the addictive updates on the
Facebook profile.

Put simply, you and I are more likely to invest our time, contributions
and contacts to the site where we WANT to spend the most time. The dynamic, fun
nature of Facebook helps them become addictive and therefore, more worthy of
our attention investment.

 

Facebook Has an "Open"
Brand

LinkedIn recently announced it too will open up its
platform, allowing developers to create applications and widgets. What kind of
applications will be created? Will they create fun and entertainment
applications for LinkedIn? Unlikely. LinkedIn socially-enables business tasks,
and its audience and positioning will more likely attract developers to create
more business-related applications.

Facebook was, and still is, the place for college students. When
I was at Dell, I ran University marketing. The Facebook sales team pitched us
to run ads on the network. I asked, “What do people do on Facebook?” I wanted
to know if member activities on the site had anything to do with considering
new technology. The sales team explained a typical Facebook male student might
be sitting across the classroom from a girl and would want to ‘connect’ with
her. He would look up her profile and try to enhance his own to appear desirable,
because after he meets her in real life the first thing she is going to do is
look his virtual persona up on Facebook. It wasn’t clear to me how 2GB or RAM,
graphics card and a flat panel directly helped that lonely teenager in his
quest for female companionship.

If that’s what Facebook was then, and still is now, why are
professionals getting on Facebook? I’m a middle-aged father of two with a
‘distinguished’ receding hairline. What am I doing on here?

I believe Facebook is well-suited to evolve as a place to create
business connections and accomplish business tasks. It’s slightly tricky for Facebook
because they don’t want to scare away the edgy school crowd, the source of most
traffic and advertising impressions right now. The college elite pulls in the
college mainstream and college students pull in the high schoolers. Attracting
business people and scaring students away is a zero sum game.

The Facebook brand has three evolutionary advantages:

First, nothing they’ve done to their platform (so far) takes
away from the experience for students, it only enhances their experience. Facebook
started with college students who aspire and ultimately grow into business.
College students will welcome applications and connections related to their
career, such as job hunting and career networking. They will continue to use
Facebook in college as long as these new business contacts and applications
don’t pollute their experience of ‘connecting’ with their future spouse (or
not)!

Second, Facebook’s brand can more easily evolve to a
universal brand, like eBay, with pockets of groups and networks. If Facebook
stood as a directory of student profiles a year ago, it could stand for an open
‘uber’ networking brand a year from now.  It will enable someone like me to make
applications and content visible or hidden based on group and contact filters.
With my profile, it’s not likely I’ll be ‘hooking up’ to any college profiles
or vice versa (unless I need to find an Intern, which of course will be a male
intern if my wife is reading this!)

Finally, having one network that allows me to share with
business colleagues the way I do with friends is favorable. After all, my network of business friends,
are also personal friends that I trust. For students, college friends turn into
colleagues. For me, the people I trust are people I got to know throughout my
career. Some of the personal information shared through Facebook applications
is relevant with these hybrid contacts. I want find out what books mentors are
reading, what movies co-workers have seen, where colleagues vacation, and what
products my employees recommend.

Social networking is an ecosystem that can help connect
people to fulfill personal, professional and corporate objectives. LinkedIn has
built a formidable reputation for becoming the professional network that helps
accomplish business tasks. Now, with its open platform, it is easier to see how
Facebook has advantages to migrate into this market. In fact, Facebook may have
a more flexible brand to expand on its student audience with its addictive
content system to keep users coming back and a growing army of developers to
keep this going. The answer to each of
their future success depends on how they will adapt to each other and suit the
needs of their target audience.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

8 Responses

  1. Chip Royce says:

    Sam;
    Interesting insight into facebook. I’ve been advising an Austin company that is into social commerce and have also analyzed the differences between Facebook and LinkedIn.
    Facebook is a wonderful place for social interaction as the college crowd has demonstrated. That said, my work social interactions are much different than non-work. While I have friends that cross both worlds, I do try to keep both separate. If my work world were to intrude on my facebook interactions, frankly, I wouldn’t post as much information and insight.
    My take? I’m using LinkedIn for work and photo sharing and e-mail for my personal life. The dangers of facebook as seen by the College crowd (ex: job applications hurt by what was made public on facebook) highlight that it just doesn’t make sense to mix work with personal life.

  2. Sam Decker` says:

    Chip,
    I understand the philosophical distinction of keeping both separate. But you’re a good case in point. You’re connected with me on Facebook and LinkedIn. Are you a business, personal or both? If both, like many of my ‘friends’, why will I need to be on two networks (in the future).
    Facebook is not there yet, however my point is if they do it right there’s no reason I can’t filter my friends and content in different ways to manage contacts on one network.
    You have to admit…there are things (tasks, applications, functions) you do on LinkedIn you’d like to do on Facebook and vice versa. There’s no reason smart application developers can’t accomplish this on Facebook and I can start to accomplish business tasks on the same network. We’ll see.

  3. Julian Bond says:

    There’s a catch; isn’t there always? Facebook is a closed system. You can copy data into it, but it’s damn hard to get data out again. And there’s no API for adding data to Facebook from other systems from the outside. The so called “Open” API has some problems but mainly it’s about FB getting 3rd parties to enhance their platform. A neat trick but not “Open”.
    As for Personal vs Business. Some people have problems with this. but for most of us, there is no difference.

  4. Sam, What you are saying is interesting – it could be that facebook could end up replacing linkedin (not sure I would post as much personal stuff if my biz contacts were on there though). Another area that interests me is how companies can and will increasingly more in the future use social networking analysis to gain a better understanding of how valuable their customers are analysing the true value of comment flow – check out this link http://marianina.com/blog/2007/07/02/social-networking-analysis-meets-web-analytics-meets-marketing-effectiveness/
    Do you agree or completely disagree? Marianina (Web Analytics Princess)

  5. Kristen says:

    I have yet to join Facebook, but I may look into it after reading this post.
    As a recruiter, I have found candidates on LinkedIn that I thought might have potential, and then I have clicked over to their MySpace account only to have that completely deter me from contacting them. Usually because of vulgar language, unprofessional behavior, etc. That is why I sometimes think that keeping the professional side of things separate from the social side of things isn’t a bad idea. As a recruiter, I appreciated the glimpse of the person I could have been recommending, but I’m sure the candidate would be discouraged if they knew they missed out on an opportunity because of their mixed social/professional networks.

  6. Nothing New Under the Sun

    Companies are aflutter about innovation, but is anything really new? Twitter is the evolution of the telegram… Blogs are the evolution of cave drawings… Facebook is the evolution of hanging out with friends… Six Sigma is evolution of quality and

  7. Jay Deragon says:

    Great post, right on the mark.
    Much of the market is still developing into forms yet to be realized. We are in the beginning of an era whose dynamics are emerging into a new form of economic gain. Eventlually the gains will be centered around users time, talent and contributions to networks like Facebook or our own personal networking platform.
    The era will usher in The Relationship Economy.
    To read more on related developments I invite you to http://www.relationship-economy.com and discover the emerging and convergent factors.

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