The New Face Of Facebook

Posted by

It’s funny how new things can sometimes feel old. And, in the same breath, it’s one of the most ridiculous things that can happen to a business. That "thing" is following whatever new and shiny object is currently the mass-media darling when it comes to technology and new media.

As new as Facebook still is (the company was founded in 2004, but only started opening its online social networking doors to those without a university e-mail address in late 2006), there are now many people who feel it’s "sooo May 2009" and have moved on to other online social networking platforms like Twitter. Even Twitter seems to be feeling a little old-ish when compared to foursquare. What? You haven’t heard about foursquare yet? (Fret not, we’ll look at the latest mobile/web craze that lets everybody know where you are in an upcoming column).

The truth is, none of this is old, and most of these online spaces haven’t even hit the business equivalent of their puberty yet. With all of those people connecting and all of this media attention on them, it’s important to remember that Facebook is still fairly new and evolving… right before our eyes.

One of the most fascinating facts about Facebook came from the blog, ReadWriteWeb, this past July, where it was announced that there are now more grandparents than high-school students on Facebook (it’s a stat I quoted in this column about a month ago – Marketing Is More Important Than You Think – but it bears some more in-depth explanation). On one hand, it totally contradicts everything the majority of us thought about Facebook. We all believed that Facebook was overflowing with university students more interested in posting frosh photos of themselves (and their friends), doing things that none of us would want in a public forum (let alone on a space that any and all of our future employers might see).

On the other hand, that many grandparents on Facebook makes perfect strategic sense. And if you have teenage children, you know exactly what I’m talking about: The best person to monitor what your kids are up to online are those kids’ grandparents. In North America, it’s not uncommon for kids to have four, six or even eight grandparents. So, they join Facebook to see what their grandkids are up to. But then grandma gets a friend request from a third cousin who lives in Europe whom she hasn’t seen in over a decade, then she gets another friend request from someone she dated back in high school before she met granddad, and the next thing you know, it’s like a scene out of The Matrix, and grandma just took the red pill right down the rabbit hole. Now, she’s hooked on Facebook and getting all of her friends and family to join. Just like those high-school students … and just like you and me.

As this growth and transition of its user base continues, Facebook has been adapting.

From issues of privacy and terms of service, to figuring out how to make advertising work and other monetization strategies, Facebook is not utopia. It has been challenged, and will continue to be challenged. What community with over 300 million active users doesn’t have its kinks? (update: today, Facebook announced that they have over 350 million users, meaning if Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest country in the world). According to Facebook statistics, more than eight billion minutes are spent on Facebook each day, and the average user has 130 friends. Beyond the pokes, status updates, and rounds of Mafia Wars, there’s some other, deeper and more powerful connections happening … and this has a huge impact on how business works.

Earlier this week, Sysomos (a Toronto-based social media analytics company) released a report titled, Inside Facebook Pages, which analyzed nearly 600,000 of these pages that are essentially profiles for brands of all kinds (organizations, companies, and celebrities of varying degrees of popularity).

These Facebook pages have a similar look and feel to those of our personal profile pages, but they have additional functionality. The pages were introduced back in 2007, and have had a huge impact on how brands build community and connect to their consumers. This first large-scale study of Facebook pages looked at everything from popularity, amount of content posted, number of fans, and more. The report also provides businesses with a birds-eye view into what people are doing and what they are connecting to.

According to the report, the average Facebook page has 4,596 fans, and only 4% of the 600,000 pages analyzed have more than 10,000 fans.

Only 297 Facebook pages (about 0.05%) have more than a million fans, and those pages have nearly three times as much owner-generated content than an average page. But those same pages have nearly 60 times as much fan-generated content. These stats reiterate how hard it is to get consumers to create content for brands, and how hard brands must work to truly build any semblance of community.

Just because Facebook is so popular does not mean it is any kind of marketing silver bullet for your business.

In fact, just because people are there, interacting and connecting, doesn’t mean that they care about your business or brand. Beyond figuring out what the business case is for you on Facebook (which is a great first step), what we do learn from reports like Inside Facebook Pages is that brands can effectively communicate and connect with their consumers and fans in ways they could never do before.

It’s exciting. It’s still early days. And it’s all still very new.

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business – Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post the article here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

Montreal Gazette – The new face of Facebook.

Vancouver Sun – The new face of Facebook: Brands want your business.


  1. What I like about Facebook is that I believe the users there are decidedly less geek and technical than the audience, for example, on Twitter. Now if you have your business hat on and your thinking about your customers or potential customers (hopefully you’re always thinking this way) than Facebook represents a growing and exciting audience. The exception of course are those of you who do sell to a more technical audience. In that case, have a nice time on Twitter.

  2. For quite some time, Facebook was the go-to outlet for killing time at work or in between classes. That and Perez Hilton if (you are a woman in your twenties).
    I wasn’t sure I would ever dip my toes into Twitter, but I did very recently. Twitter has become much more time consumming than facebook has been in recent months for me. So many shared articles, so many conversations to keep up with.
    I signed up to Foursquare today. Took about an hour and half to look at it.
    I must have spent LEAST 5 hours doing cross-polination on those 3 social giants today. 5 hours. That is INSANE!
    You often encourage your readers to seek out new material, not to limit themselves to their few favorite blogs because soon enough they might miss the new IT thing and be out of the loop.
    I am finding that staying in this loop is extremely time consumming (-and tiring!), especially if I want to make sure I’m up to date with all of my networks and sounding smart and articulate and I’m not even a business or a blogger, just average jane (!)
    I know the amount of content is growing exponentially in every possible language. I wonder how much the individual will be able to absorb and how long it will keep up the rythm, curious as we are in nature and alwas hungry for the new thing. What if someday there is simply too much?! We will all eventually favor a cosy ‘web’ place to lounge in and let other people try out the new stuff to give our brains a break. This is what facebook is to me.
    Going back to the topic, no Facebook isn’t dead, yes Twitter is still pretty cool and ya Foursquare is the next big thing, but holy moly, keeping up will soon become a part time job. The human brain will be saturated at one point…

  3. As a marketer, I stay current with information about the newest features and platforms in the channel because I have to be knowledgeable about opportunities, but as Vanessa mentioned, you could spend all your time just trying to participate the next hot thing. Unless my client’s market is kids or geeks, I take a wait-and-see stance and almost never get immersed in anything until “version 2.0.”
    I was later than usual to the twitter, but by the time I’d gotten there it had already morphed from a socially-centric platform to a serious business arena. My immersion was quick and deep, and the extremely useful ancillary management tools (e.g. TweetDeck) were already in place.
    The constant emphasis on the new and next may be valuable for trend-seeking pundits and story-hungry bloggers, but for serious marketers the deepening stories of Facebook and even MySpace (2010 could be their year if they play their cards right) are far more compelling and offer more valuable opportunities.

  4. It’s obvious that Facebook is attracting older people and its just starting. Not because every on want to show it’s latest accomplishments, but because a lot more people want to keep in touch with each other in a more mature manner.
    I use Facebook daily to promote my blog and since the beginning the people coming on by blog (french and english) increase every month.
    I also learn a lot about the different project my acquaintances are doing and it’s very interesting. I think Facebook will evolve to something useful and easy to use. It takes time to growth a business, it’s not different for that kind of business.

  5. The saying “it over when the parents crash the party� is very true, especially for young users that are tagged in unflattering pictures and receive compromising comments from their friends. But what do you do when you are so popular everyone wants to join? How do you keep your coveted demographic without shunning new users? Does creating more privacy for some users defeat the point?

  6. Given that so many popular Facebook pages are abstract nouns (as Sysomos puts it) I would love to see these stats recalculated after removing these pages from the equation.
    These pages skew the stats considerably, and the vast majority of these page admins don’t have any real interest in developing any semblance of community or engaging in conversation with their fans. It would be much more helpful to see where one stands in comparison to other organizations who are consciously developing a Facebook presence.

  7. It just proves how accessible facebook really is. It’s amazing to think that 2-3 years ago myspace was all the rage. Looking back now it had a pretty terrible user interface that facebook has fixed.
    In fact, when I first got onto facebook from myspace I thought it was very bare and thought this was no match for myspace. Overtime however it was certain facebook was the real winner.
    With more grandparents than high-school students using facebook – what more proof do you need? (Heck even my mum is on facebook and that’s saying something!)
    Sarge |

  8. Fab summary, Mitch.
    I try to use my Facebook page as a conversation starter and a kind of catch-all for anything and everything I happen across on the Web which I think might be more universally-appealing or interesting for non-specialists. I post videos, links, blogposts, China stuff (scads of it!) and other people’s posts (OPP) too — anything that I think would be of interest to my community which numbers almost 3,000 people these days (you’re there too, hehe).
    Friends on the Wall have told me they’ll occasionally tune in or chime in — not everyone has the space and availability to cover all the stuff I slap up there, but most have told me that when they do, in fact, stop by, there’s usually a takeaway or two for them. I think that’s one possible approach of the myriad ways of leveraging the 2.0 techs like FB and Twitter. There can be a bit of cross-pollination, but there doesn’t necessarily have to be.
    I’m subscribing to your feed (why didn’t I know about this sooner?)

  9. I’m still using email and just signed up on facebook, for what? I don’t know just thought I’d join and see what happens. Most conversations I have are personal and wouldn’t want the whole world to know.
    Just wondering….are all you people on facebook exposing your whole life? What sort of limits do you put on? I’d be interested to get some feedback so I have an idea of what to post and what not to post.

  10. In 1999, while working at an ISP, one of my colleagues ( put up a sign that read…”the commercial Internet industry is only 5 years old”.
    I’ve never lost the perspective that that statement gave me. By virtue of longevity, we could consider ourselves somewhat expert in our field and further, it was a reminder of just how young and how far the ICT industry had come in only those five years…

  11. I separate my work world from my personal world online…Facebook is totally personal, I have my privacy settings set very high and I do not connect with anyone from work at all as I don’t want to have to censor myself constantly on there…
    Twitter is my professional world and I engage totally differently there…

  12. I don’t really like facebook anymore. It’s becoming more and more like twitter. I get so many spam messages and fake friend requests every day. I don’t think that it will ever get better. It’s always going to be a breeding ground for spammers and marketers playground. meh

Comments are closed.