Why Facebook Works

Twitter is main stream – I know, because someone told me it was. When something gets mentioned by the talking heads on the Today Show or Good Morning America or, to a lesser degree, NPR, by God it’s mainstream. Thing is, none of those people know what they’re talking about when they talk about Twitter. I get the distinct impression they use terms like “tweeting” or “tweets” because their producer put it up on the teleprompter, and he did it to keep people from realizing that network television and to a lesser extent public radio are wildly out of touch with what people are into.

Because while I lot of us are really into Twitter, a lot more of us aren’t.

The same isn’t exactly true for Facebook. Facebook gets people to use it who otherwise do nothing on their computers but look for answers to today’s crossword and occasionally shop. Why? Because Facebook gives them something relevant to their own lives. It connects them with friends both current and long lost, and allows them to get social with people they’re already social with. Twitter is great if you want to find new information from a gaggle of authorities who are on it, but its biggest problem is the numbers of people who only talk and don’t listen. You don’t get that with Facebook.

This came up for me when I introduced my Sister to Facebook. She recently got high speed access and wanted help setting it up. I did, and afterwards showed her all the neat things she could now do with it. (As a marketer, I find I’m really allergic to pitching clients on things because they are “neat,” but as an end user I know what’s fun and what isn’t.)

With over 200 million active users worldwide, my Sister needed me egging her on to give it a shot before she would. But once she did, she became an addict. She’s now in touch with friends from high school, junior high, even grade school – which is alarming to me, since I can’t remember anyone I went to grade school with, except for a few but only because I vowed horrible revenge upon them years ago. My Sister is naturally social – so something like Facebook that affords her the opportunity to be social without having to learn any of these nasty computer things we geeks love so much is right up her alley.

The reason Facebook works is the same reason social networking in general should work: It compliments our own need to communicate with others. That’s it. It’s the reason something like Flickr, which has socializing tools of its own, is instead used more often for the storage space and editing tools. For this stuff to work, it has to let us communicate with others, not just listen, or publish for the sake of doing it.

The number of other social platforms out there is legion. If you want to know which ones are going to work, look at how they help the people using them, not the tools or inventive approach to what’s already being done to see if they’re the next big thing. Plurk, for example, is just Twitter – but it scrolls right to left. (“Oooooh!”) It’s also largely ignored because Twitter got to micro blogging first, and so it wins. All of the others pick up scraps. Myspace won at first for the same reason – then Facebook just did it better, making it easier for people to connect.

This is all proof that what makes social networking work for business or public entities trying to reach a broad audience is not broadcasting, but interacting. If a company has a lot of people following it, it doesn’t mean anything – give me a PR and media budget, and I can get millions of fans to ignore as well. It doesn’t mean any of them are actually listening to me. And if this is your social media marketing strategy, I can all but assure you, it isn’t going to help you sell products either.

If you want to get with those aforementioned times, you’re going to have to give up on the idea of a cookie cutter solution – the masses won’t be interested, not when you have to compete with meeting up with their friends from high school or party invitations for this weekend.

If you want to make Facebook work for you, you’re going to have to get in the trenches are start turning your future customers into friends first.

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