I’ve spent quite a few months pondering the value of social media for businesses recently, in work and outside of it.
In work I’ve been looking into whether social media, when paired with strong content and multimedia, can work for automotive businesses. Yes and no is the predictable answer I came to.
And, outside, I’ve been ruminating on how social media can help launch SevenStreets, a website about Liverpool I co-edit and is a couple of months old.
Facebook and Twitter are incredibly useful in the latter case, and I expect I can find similar uses for LinkenIn and Foursquare. Flickr and Youtube haven’t really developed beyond simple platforms, so I don’t really take them into account.
I think Twitter is useful for any company of any size. It’s the new email, the new phone number, the new business card. It can be wielded professionally in a way that Facebook cannot, and LinkedIn does not, because not enough people use it.
So I like Twitter for business. And at first I dismissed Facebook for business. But I was wrong.
Facebook will be the ultimate website for business in a few years, in my humble one. I have no stats to call on to back this up. No charts, no graphs, no expert opinions. It’s just obvious to me, as someone who uses the internet every day, that this is the case.
Why? Because Facebook is taking over the internet, conquering everything in its path. I thought of a few naff metaphors for Facebook’s assault on the web. Something about evolution, something about conquest, or maybe some kind of medical simile. I even thought about calling this piece ‘Why Facebook are the Daleks of the internet,’ but I was nearly sick in my mouth.
Pick your own. Either way, Facebook is muscling in on every other piece of web real estate you can think of. Flickr? Photos. Digg or Reddit? That Facebook Share button, rolling out across the web. Blogging? Notes. Twitter? Status updates. Youtube? Facebook video. Email? Facebook Messages.
Facebook apps can cover just about anything, including games – one of the biggest uses of the internet globally. Apps also make Facebook a big favourite of PR companies and virals.
Facebook is revamping Pages for business. So that’s business listings and personal websites ticked as well.
Facebook users can follow all their favourite topics and organisations within the site. Why use an RSS reader when you can follow every conceivable topic on the web through Facebook pages, including pages for your favourite media?
I’ve noticed a few pages ranking organically that seem to be for Wiki-like entries on generic topics. The Facebook Encyclopedia. No need for Wikipedia.
Why join a specialist forum, or several fora with all their fiddly login details when you can join a community on Facebook?
Why visit any external sites when you can access it all through Facebook?
Facebook is advancing on all fronts. It’s a frightening, stupefying land grab of the internet in just about every conceivable way, and it’s all prefacing the very reason I was wrong to write off Facebook for business.
Why use different accounts and websites to upload pictures, check-in your location, update your status, read an article, interact online with friends, join a discussion, watch a video, research a topic or play a game when you can do it on Facebook?
Come to think of it, why buy something from a dozen different merchants when you can do it all on Facebook? Just stick your bank details in once and Facebook will do the rest. One-click buying. There’s Amazon and Ebay conquered too.
All that data Facebook is harvesting about its users will make it one of the biggest exporters of CRM data going. Maybe that data could be used to make a new kind of tailored, intelligent search. Sayonara, Google.
I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of using something like Facebook to make significant purchases, and the idea of buying big-ticket items like cars certainly doesn’t appeal. Which is why I initially dismissed Facebook for business.
But the next generation of computer users, the ones coming of age right now, won’t bat an eyelid about buying cars – or anything else – through Facebook, or similar social networks.
Right now, I don’t see a huge ROI – if any, in cash terms – for small-to-medium businesses on Facebook. For larger brands that people can identify, certainly. But is there any point in whacking your used-car inventory on Facebook at present?
Maybe if you do it properly. But it’s worth doing anyway, because pretty soon everyone will be on Facebook. Not to be on Facebook in a decade will be like not having a mobile phone or using the internet now.
Any buying a car, ordering your shopping, booking flight and setting up direct debits will be as prosaic as updating your status. That’s not just conquering the rest of the internet, its making the rest of the internet like Facebook.
Facebook is not a conqueror, it’s an assimilator; cannibalising the best bits of the web and adapting them for use within itself.
Absorbing other bits of the web in this way means Facebook ends up as the default choice for casual WILFers, who may otherwise visit half a dozen sites on their daily trawl around the internet.
And that list of services will only grow as Facebook expands, to the point where pretty much anything that can be done online can be done through Facebook.
Maybe Daleks are a bad comparison. I should have said The Borg.
NB. If you’re English, you may prefer Cybermen.