Business communications on Facebook

 

 

Tuesday 25th September 2007 17:15

 

I’ve spent the past three weeks exploring the dynamic world of Facebook and the communication solutions which it offers to businesses – I must confess I still feel like Alice in Wonderland, and the rabbit hole seems never-ending on this topic. After searching through sources like CNN, BBCyoutube, google and reading up on what some industry professionals in the new media space have to say about Facebook, I have arrived at these conclusions. Facebook, whether we like it or not is here to stay and so is the medium of social networking. Even if company bosses  and universities block Facebook users, they  will inevitably find ways to access Facebook in their spare time. Many South African business owners and universities have used a blanket approach and have decided to ban their staff and pupils from using Facebook .  Rian Groenewald (Operations Director of Multimedia Solutions, a mobile marketing company) recently wrote about how mobile phones were being used more frequently to access Facebook

 

(Mike Stopforth, entrepreneur, writer and speaker on Web 2.0 recently also commented on Bizcommunity why employees should use Facebook) I guess the real question is how we can adapt to Facebook, social networking and marketing using user-generated content?

 

1. Vide e Caffe Group

 

Common Interests- Food and Drink

Size 923 members

 

The Vida e Caffe group uses the recent news section to post short news snippets. The Vida e Caffe page uses the recent news section to post short, punchy news snippets. Members can also post their own questions, videos and photos to generate interest and initiate conversation on the discussion board and wall post. Vida e Caffe has included http://www.caffe.co.za/ so group members can keep up to speed with major events and global initiatives that the cafe is rolling out.

 

2. Goodhope FM Group

 

Common Interests- Entertainment, arts and radio

Size 1,231 members 

 

Goodhope FM unlike Vida e Caffe has the advantage of being a radio station and an existing communication source. Its link to music content enables it to target messages to its listeners via the airwaves and Facebook. This can be observed on the photos and videos of events that its listeners post on the group page.

 

3. The South African Film, Television, Theatre and Radio Network

 

Common interests: Film, Television, Theatre and Radio

Size: 2005 members

 

This was created for networking purposes to members of industry. Similarly other industries can also set up a networking portal like this one where ideas can be exchanged via wall posts, discussion boards and/or emails. Even journalists are communicating in a group about relevant topics and developments taking place not forgetting the News24.com application which also exists.

 

4. Activism and Causes

 

” They are trying to shut down facebook- petition to keep it! invite all! ” 

 

Size 1,571,169 

Type Common Interests

Netowork Global  

 

Many of you may have come across this group and its not hard to comprehend why there are so many members. They all share one common interets of course. 1, 571, 169 members is quite something when you consider that at any given time Ben Sinclair (the groups founder) can send an email to all the group members. This creates opportunities for businesses wishing to communicate in the corporate social investment space (whether they trying to assist with breast cancer, feeding the hungry, or world peace initiatives). Companies and politicians have also started using Facebook to lobby and rally support.

 

5. A local event ( Africa Burns- Burning Man in South Africa)

 

Size 1,737

Event Date 22-25 November 2007

Venue: Ceres Karoo

 

This group which was started in order to draw support for a local event taking place later this year is an example of how interest can grow and be generated arround an event. In a similar manner the official “Cape Town Facebook Party” has a following of 2, 284 members who are waiting in anticipation for the big event. Our National Braai Day managed to gain support from 6, 792 members and the “I love South Africa” group now stands at 11, 211 members. 

 

Within all the groups mentioned, individuals form communities around special interests. Therefore, if businesses want to target these individuals they need to push key messages to maintain interest and participation in a similar manner as Vida e Caffe and Goodhope fm.  Facebook communication strategies can be aligned with national initiatives as was the case with National Braai Day. Ideally a Facebook communication strategy should tie in with mediums like TV, radio, and advertising as these are also accessed by the same audience members. I found the Klipdrift “Met Eish Advert” on youtube (4,222 views) and thought this would have been a good advert to have posted on the National Braai Day group (6,787 members). It could have been posted on the fun walls of individuals in the group who could then have spread it virally to their friends.  

 

The second video I came across on youtube was the Dove Evolution Video which has had 4,562,374 views on youtube.

 

Applications may also offer solutions to companies. Red Bull was one of the first to develop Roshambull, built on the same rules as the game “rock, paper, scissors.”

 

 

Lee Aase  (National Media and Media Relations Manager for Mayo Clinic) highlights the following as the top ten business solutions for Facebook:

  1. Crisis management – creating “dark” sites in Facebook (or on a WordPress.com blog) that can go live quickly to communicate effectively with affected constituencies. Communicate meaning two-way conversations.
  2. Limited profiles – how to set a division between what you reveal to close friends and family vs. business and professional networks.
  3. How Facebook makes everyone a “connector” and why Facebook has reached a Tipping Point
  4. Facebook vs. “White Label” social networking software, and why and when organizations should consider each.
  5. A case study of a group spontaneously formed in Facebook surrounding the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis.
  6. How Facebook can put the “relations” back into Media Relations
  7.  Examples of organizations with Facebook groups, official and otherwise
  8. Why organizations should get in on the Facebook groups land rush
  9. A vision for how Facebook could become a “Cheers” for industry-specific journalist and newsmaker interactions (which is related to the “putting relations into media relations” post.)
  10. And another related post, Toward a Medical News community
  11. The Facebook/social networking session at the Frost & Sullivan MindXChange
  12. The WordPress.com application for the Facebook platform, which ties what I put on this blog into my Facebook profile (and you can “friend me” here)
  13. To make it a Baker’s Dozen, here’s one more, my initial thoughts as I started this Facebook trek.

Facebook-A-Z

Overview – What’s The Buzz All About?

Facebook is defined by its creators as:

a social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them. People use Facebook to keep up with friends, upload an unlimited number of photos, share links and videos, and learn more about the people they meet.

Long before the relatively recent introduction of the Facebook Platform that is getting everyone so excited, Facebook was a popular social networking service with a primary audience of teens and college-goers.

Like then similar services such as MySpace, the key focus was on befriending other users and sharing thoughts, photos, music and comments. Useful enough, and certainly enough to get the service millions of subscribers, but still nothing compared to the current amazing growth rate that Facebook is enjoying. Not only are the new sign-ups to the service going through the roof, but the demographic that it covers is expanding considerably, with a greater amount of twenty-somethings using Facebook that its initially teenage audience.

The sudden sharp interest is directly indexed to the opening up of the Facebook Platform, which allows developers from around the world to create their own unique Facebook applications. This essentially opens up the entire world of online content for easy aggregation into the existing social networking functionality, so that users can create a profile and personal network of friends whilst taking advantage of all of their favorite online tools and services.

Gone are the days when your Skype, Twitter, instant messaging, social networking and classified s hunting had to take place at a scattered range of online destinations. Facebook applications bring all of this and more to the one-stop-shop of your profile page.

This is indeed a disruptive technology that at once turns the social networking and content aggregation spaces upside down and its impact is bound to be felt in the worlds of web widgets, startpages and ofcourse SNS destinations like the now waning MySpace.

Here is an openness we are not used to seeing in such billion-dollar web enterprises, where more often that not the walled garden approach seems to prevail. However, I have a feeling that we will be seeing a lot of imitators sooner rather than later.

The Basics – Social Networking

socialnetworking.jpg

At base Facebook has a solid core of social networking features that make it not only easy to create your user profile, but also to interact with those other community members that you add as friends.

Layout and navigation are impressively clean and uncluttered, especially when compared to the horrible jumble that is MySpace. There are a number of ways to track down potential friends already on the network, whether via your email contacts list, workplace, schools and colleges or a generic search. When friendships are made – as simple as ‘adding’ another user from their profile – Facebook prompts you on how you know the person you have brought into your network.

The usual email and messaging features are all in evidence, as is photo-sharing and the ability to update both your ‘current status‘ (what you’re doing, or how you’re feeling) right from the main page of your profile. Each profile also has a ‘wall’, a place that both the owner and visiting users can leave quickfire messages for one another.

Every time you update your status, add a new application to your profile or edit information this information is recorded and subsequently broadcast to your friends, who can easily keep track of your latest actions. While for some this will feel strangely intrusive at first, it can in fact be a valuable tool for finding out information and useful tips from those within your network.

Long featuring the ability to share blog posts, video, audio and links Facebook has everything that you would expect from a high-quality social networking application. But online social networking tools are a dime a dozen these days, and what really distinguishes Facebook from its nearest competitors is its disruptive ability to aggregate rich content from elsewhere on the web.

Rich Content Aggregation

0applications.jpg

It is the opening up of the Facebook Platform to the general public (or at least that part of it comprised of third-party application developers) that has really made waves. For while Facebook has always enjoyed phenomenal success as a social networking service, it is only now that it has become a truly disruptive technology with the ability to aggregate all of your most important web-based content in a single location.

Facebook as it stands today gives you a single sign-in service whereby you can:

  • Network with friends and colleagues using internal email, private messaging and public discussions
  • Make status and presence updates using both in-house tools and popular third-party service like Twitter, which can be fully controlled from the Facebook console
  • Bring in live chat, voice messaging and one-click Skype calls
  • Import and share videos and create photo albums and slide shows to easily share your media
  • Quickly grab content that you like the look of from other people’s profiles and add the same functionality to your own

Of course, this only touches the tip of the iceberg, but what is essential to note is that in opening its doors (and API to developers outside of its inner circle, Facebook has managed to expand its capabilities rapidly and effectively. The result has been a well-earned influx of even more users.

Why People Love Facebook

0kyteapp.jpg

So what exactly is it that has the blogosphere dizzy with admiration for the Facebook Platform and the impact it is having?

Well, the recurring themes are the bold move towards being open to third-party developers, and as a consequence, the rich range of content aggregation options now available to those who spend a fair amount of time using the latest web applications in one shape or form.

What the developers think

Jason Berberich of Berbs.US writes:

While Facebook doesn’t let users change the way pages look (one of its best features, in my opinion), it instead opens itself up to 3rd party developers with a really impressive API that’s got great documentation. Existing applications can now be integrated right into the platform so they look and feel like they’re part of the site, and entirely new apps and business ideas can (and will) be created to reach Facebook users.I love how Zuckerberg is thinking long-term with Facebook. He could have easily sold the company and cashed out, or littered the site with tons of ads, but he didn’t. Instead, he’s building a platform that will make Facebook one of the most powerful (and money-making) sites for years to come. He’s doing everything right, as best I can tell. Pure genius.”

Berberich’s enthusiasm mirrors that of the hundreds of developers out there now presented with an opportunity to create killer apps for Facebook, or else port their existing web applications over to the service, extending their reach and, crucially, their market.

By presenting developers with well-put-together documentation and an open invitation to participate in the platform, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has won himself a considerable amount of kudos for taking this bold move and cracking open the industry, and perhaps rightly so.

What the tech industry insiders think

Michael Arrington of TechCrunch rolls with this idea and praises the shift towards an open, developer-friendly platform as the living antithesis of the walled-garden approach thought to be the biggest challenge facing waning competitor MySpace. Arrington notes that:

The payoff is two way. Not only do developers get deep access to Facebook’s twenty million users, Facebook also becomes a rich platform for third party applications.Facebook’s strategy is almost the polar opposite from MySpace. While MySpace frets over third party widgets, alternatively shutting them down or acquiring them, Facebook is now opening up its core functions to all outside developers.”

So while MySpace continues to block third-party tools and accessories to protect its own interests and advertising revenues, Facebook has succeeding in becoming the definitive social networking destination by giving users exactly what they want – the ability to choose from a vast range of alternatives rather than be locked into a single service.

Here is the ongoing trend that marks Web 2.0 as distinct to its top-down, one-way predecessor, and is very canny of the Facebook team to have come to this astute decision while others around them have been doing exactly the opposite.

What the users think

Of course it isn’t just the developers with a smile on their face, and at the very core of any social network is its user-base. To my mind, this shift to a daring, open approach to third-party developers has been key to expanding Facebook to the next level.

Robert Scoble places Facebook within the context of the slew of aggregation and micropublishing services currently enjoying enormous popularity, and notes of Facebook that:

I totally grok why Facebook is quickly becoming the most important social network and presence updater on the Web. If you get added to my Facebook Friends list (it’s easy, just ask) you’ll see that it aggregates a whole bunch of things onto one page.My Kyte videos are there. My Twitter tweets are there. My shared items, er link blog, from Google Reader is there. And a lot more. Plus you can visit any one of my nearly 500 friends and see all their stuff.”

So, in addition to being able to aggregate the range of services that you use across the web in a single location, another of the great things that Facebook has to offer is the ability to follow your friends statuses, and latest additions to their own profiles through an ongoing feed. This proves an excellent way to learn about the latest hot applications by seeing what’s being used by those within your social network.

Why People Hate Facebook

0minifeed.jpg

While there is a strong consensus in favor of the new Facebook developments, the service is not without those who either out-and-out dislike it, or at least have some questions and doubts to raise about its claims and the hype that it is generating. The range of reasons to dislike Facebook are as diverse as the reasons to like it are similar.

Information Overkill

One feature of the Facebook profile that has its detractors is the “mini-feed” that displays each of your actions, and those of your friends, in a public timeline not unlike that of Twitter. The difference is that with Twitter updates, you decide what will be shared, whereas with the Facebook news feed, your every action is monitored and broadcast.

The author of one blog, ComPromise, writes that:

I think it’s creepy that acts that were once personal and not immediately open to the scrutiny of others are now blared on loudspeakers to everyone without distinction. Sure, none of this is information that didn’t already exist, but the difference is accessibility. It’s like the birthday feature: if your friends’ birthdays didn’t pop up on your home page, everyone would get a lot fewer birthday messages because fewer people would know.Similarly, you can always check to see what groups your friend is in and, if you’re interested enough, notice new additions or removals. However, the information is then only accessible to a few, devoted people. Now, people who don’t even know you all that well will be informed about”

Similar comments have been made elsewhere as to the propensity of Facebook to somewhat stalk its users. On the bright side it should be noted that only those users you have added to your list of friends will be privy to information about which application you just installed, and so on, but for some this is invasive rather than useful.

For me, however, I have found this to be a very useful addition as I have managed to find great new applications simply by following what others in my network of friends have discovered. It all comes down to how much you are willing to share, and unfortunately while you can delete particular items in your timeline, you can’t get rid of the feed itself from your profile, which some would prefer to do.

How Open Is Facebook?

Sam Sethi over at Vecosys doesn’t so much hate Facebook so much as question how open Facebook really is to the developers it has invited in. In an analysis of the Facebook terms and services, Sethi manages to pull out some clauses that suggest that the openness of the platform has severe limitations. He concludes:

Will Facebook impose a ‘tollbooth’ or tax on successful widgets? Sure looks like they want to. Will they be building their own competitive versions? Sure looks like they want to. Can they cut you off from the platform at any time? Sure looks like they can. Can they change the ground on which you operate? Sure looks like they can. Do you have a hard and fast relationship with this platform, making it safe to build a 20 million user widget based company on? I don’t think so.I would say that Facebook have looked at MySpace and learned a lesson : there are a lot of developers at the gates. They have built a platform that seems to open up their world in an exciting way. But they retain their fingers on the levers of power and they will exercise those levers as mercilessly as My Space when the time comes.”

And while the terms of service discussed in Sethi’s article do not provide any hard evidence of nefarious plans on the part of the Facebook team, they do at least suggest that those looking to establish a business entirely founded on success via the Facebook platform should proceed with caution.

Facebook as unoriginal

One of the (ten) criticisms leveled at Facebook by Anne Zelenka in her article for Web Worker Daily is that it just doesn’t do much of anything new. She writes that:

It has messages that are email-like, a contact list, an events list, a Craigslist-style marketplace, Twitter-style updates, and blogging via its Notes application. I can see why they’d want to be a one-stop-shop for virtual interactions, but in each case, their implementation seems weak compared to my favored solution. I prefer a best-of-breed approach for my online communications tools.

The danger according to this train-of-thought is that in trying to do all things within its own framework, Facebook may very well wind up doing none of them as effectively as the diverse range of tools and services already out there, with their tight focus on a particular task or goal.

There is something to be said for this criticism, although arguably Facebook doesn’t attempt to replace your existing tools and services so much as make it easy for your to aggregate them and access your information from a single location.

Must-Have Facebook Apps

0twitterapp.jpg

The sheer amount of applications available for your Facebook profile can be daunting at first glance. Soon enough, though, you will have found a set of tools that suits your own needs. Whether you want to create photo slide-shows or post right to your Twitter account, there is an application to suit just about any need you’d care to consider.

To a large extent, then, the applications you choose to integrate into your personal Facebook will largely be a matter of taste. There are some tools, however, that really stand out in terms of their usefulness. I personally make use of:

  • SkypeMe – which displays your current Skype status with a prominent graphic, and allows your profile visitors to quickly
    place a Skype call to your account with a single click
  • Twitter – As a service I use every single day it’s great that I can now send out ‘tweets’ directly from Facebook, display my current status right on my profile and even view my friends’ timeline without ever having to leave Facebook. If you haven’t checked out Twitter yet, you might want to take a look at my earlier beginners guide
  • Upcoming – Upcoming integrates the events you are currently watching or planning to attend, using the popular service of the same name. This is a great way to promote upcoming events of interest to a wider audience
  • Kyte TV – Kyte gives you a great way to incorporate a live media feed into you profile, letting you bring in video and an up-to-the-minute stream of images captured from your mobile phone via the Kyte.TV destination
  • Literally hundreds more that allow for monetization, media sharing, chat and messaging, video and alert setting

It’s worth mentioning that even when you first sign up for a Facebook account you will find a bundled, default set of very useful applications. My personal favorite from this selection is the Posted Irems tool, via which you can “<em
</em
.”

What all of this amounts to is an impressive host of aggregated content from every corner of your online life, gathered around core social networking functionality.

Conclusions

0twitterstatus.jpg

However you feel about Facebook there is no denying that it has managed to make a huge impact. This is in no small way down to opening up of the platform to external developers – in many ways an industry first.

As a consequence Facebook has managed to go from being a well-put-together online social networking tool to becoming a socially powered content aggregation hub. By allowing you to bring together the vast majority of your favorite tools and services from around the web, and aggregate them in a single easy-to-navigate destination, Facebook has achieved something totally new.

Here you can now combine the networking features of SNS websites, the photo and video sharing capabilities of sites from Flickr to YouTube, the presence broadcasting features of tools like Twitter and Jaiku, but more importantly than any of this – the ability to pool all of your most-used online resources in a single, accessible space.

Whether you are looking to create yourself a simple way to exchange ideas with like-minds, colleagues or friends, or a great way of promoting yourself or your other online content, Facebook is well worth checking out. I would go as far to say that if you only sign up for one social network on the web, Facebook should definitely be high on your list.

Additional Resources

If you would like to learn more about Facebook you might want to take a look at the following links:

Originally written by Michael Pick for Master New Media and originally published as: “Online Social Networking Turns Disruptive Technology: A Beginner’s Guide To Facebook


Facebook an effective communicaton source for Business

Can Facebook be used as an effective communication source by businesses? Many bosses are banning their staff from using Facebook. I’m busy with a varsity assignment to prove Facebook can be used by businesses to communicate effectively to publics.