Someone noticed that Facebook had 155 million active users in the United States in the beginning of May (people who checked in at least once) and only 149 million by the end of the month for a net loss of 6 million active users.
Is Facebook sliding into oblivion? It's laughable to look at the slowing growth of the behemoth as some precursor to a MySpace-like death spiral, brands are always asking what's next. I would argue that many do this as they feel late to the party on platform F (i.e. Facebook) and feel if they could just forecast the next Facebook, they could enter into the fray early and forever be known as an innovator.
It's the wrong question, especially for brands.The more relevant and immediate question for marketers is how should they change how they use Facebook and social media. If the name of the game is not acquiring fans, then what is it? Facebook is still growing strong albeit that growth is faster in some emerging markets. Farhad Manjoo from Slate has a great POV on what is happening with Facebook growth in his Slate article:
"...why is Facebook losing customers in America? Because there's no one left to go after. As Inside Facebook's Eric Eldon points out, Facebook's growth always stalls when it hits 50 percent market penetration within a country. Facebook is now experiencing something unprecedented in the short history of social networking—it has captured every plausible user in several countries, and the only people who are left are folks without Internet access, people who do have access but don't spend a lot of leisure time online, and the few lonely die-hards..."
And on the next phase of growth for Facebook:
"Instead of growth, then, what we should consider, now, is what Web stats nerds call "engagement"—how much time people are spending on Facebook, and how they're using it. Inside Facebook's Eldon points out that this is a tricky number for third-party traffic researchers to glean (Facebook itself says only that half of its users check in at least once a day). But he suspects that in established markets like the United States, engagement isn't declining. "Every person has a reason to come back to Facebook pretty often," he says."
If finding the next Facebook is not the right question and if asking how to sustain limitless growth is not the right question, then what is?
How Should Brands Be Using Facebook Next?
1. Integrating Facebook as part of an overall customer/fan relationship management solution
Laurence Buchanan who works for Capgemini had a simple post on what comes after the mad rush of growth on Facebook. I would call it getting back to the new fundamentals. These are not quite the way we thought of our business pre-social network yet they do represent business fundamentals freshly illuminated by the constant state of change we now exist in. Here are some of the questions that he thinks we ough to pivot to:
- "How can we build stronger customer relationships based on true value co-creation that will be less susceptible to cannibalisation by passing fads?
- How can we keep track of where our customers are currently engaging with our brand and with each other? How can we spot changes?
- How can we cut through vast quantities of customer data with accuracy and drive insight into action faster than the competition?
- How quickly can we embrace change within our organisation?"
These are very marketer-centric questions. Lest I come off siding with the marketers in the ongoing communications (PR) vs. marketer debate, you could easily rephrase each as communications-centric questions - e.g. how can I build a large base of advocates who will support the brand in good and, more importantly, in bad times.
Either way, we are better off re-examining our use of Facebook, Twitter and the rest to meet these business goals. Too many executives settle for a Facebook fan number as a end onto itself. Think of all the email lists with millions of names being squandered by companies around the world. Many marketers grew those lists and under-leverage them to this day. It's what you do with these followers that matters.
2. Figure out how to make social commerce work for your brand
Social shopping or social commerce is the next frothy frontier. Everyone remembers P&G putting the stake in the ground by saying that 39 of their brands will end up selling product on Facebook. Who else is selling via Facebook?
According to the 2011 Social Commerce Study from Shop.org, purchase behavior fueled by social media is on the rise:
- "42% of US online adults follow a retailer via Facebook, Twitter or blog
- Average US adult follows 6 retailers; and does do primarily for special deals (58%) – other top reasons were for new product news (49%) and to participate in promotional contest and events (39%)
- 28% of Facebook users have purchased something online via a Facebook link"
It all makes sense, of course. We all should be able to purchase products and services in the same stream where we recommend them (or warn people off). Or put another way, if recommendations from family and friends are amongst the most trusted sources for purchase decision then putting those recommendations right on the store shelf makes sense.
We will be defining what social commerce and social shopping is for some time (here are some trends from The Next Web that are helpful). Inevitably, Facebook will play a significant role either by embedding storefronts in the social network or by connecting Facebook to every sell-point available.
How Will Facebook Drive More Value to Brands?
If limitless growth is out of the question, how will Facebook deliver more value to advertisers and business partners beyond better ad targeting solutions? What may be next from them?
1. Unlock more data: We have only begun to see what is possible using aggregate data from Facebook as most remains behind lock and key in the vault. Facebook will enhance the value they can deliver to brand marketers by unlocking data and using it to target and actually be predictive.
2. Constantly deliver new ways to engage a fan base: Between facebook, itself, and the broad developer community building solutions on their platform, we will see a coming together of the options to deliver more value to fans (i.e. thus earning their attention and engagement) and the tools to monitor the effectiveness of our real-time efforts. The net result is more ways to engage fans to deliver and derive value.
3. B2B services to integrate Facebook social graph data to legacy CRM systems: the emergent efforts to connect social data from Facebook with customer databases are intuitively exciting. Most are happening with social CRM start-ups like What will happen when Facebook gets in the game by providing IBM-like integration services between FB data and corporate CRM systems?