The Two Faces of Facebook

by TedV

Is Facebook two different sides of the same coin, or is it two different entities evolving within the same website? I see it as two sites existing in one framework and domain name. It is defined by two different user types:

• The Facebook-Generation – those who discovered Facebook while in school, be it college or high school
• Post-School-Facebook-Users – those who have started using Facebook after they left the hallowed halls of academia

Assuming I am correct and it is two sites in one, if you want to relate to both of the two major user segments you’ll need to finely tune two different Relevance Marketing efforts on this, the most popular site of the web.

The Original, Unprofitable Facebook

In 2006 they opened Facebook so that people other than students could become members. At that time I asked the college-aged offspring of a cousin of mine if they Facebook-ed, and if they did, how they used it and why.

They explained it and I didn’t get it.

This was not like not understanding a new technology. They told me about “putting what they were doing on their wall,” and how they “read about what their friends were doing on their walls.” They could get a message out to all of their friends that way – something like, “…let’s go to the cafeteria at 7:00.” Sometimes they would just “write about anything they found interesting” in class or the student center, etc.

I told them that I saw nothing that couldn’t be handled with emails and cell phones – texting or calls. They looked at me like I looked at my parents 35+ years ago when they didn’t get rock-n-roll, long hair, or blue jeans with peace symbol patches on them.

Somehow Facebook was easier and more social to them. I asked them about privacy and they brushed off the concern like a parental warning of taking candy from strangers – at their age.

Don’t get me wrong – they understood Facebook and I didn’t, and at their usage level I don’t know that I ever will.

Just remember that Facebook, without changes to make it a profit producer, would probably have died by now.

Since talking to my first-cousins-once-removed in 2006 I have always taken the opportunity to talk to college Facebook users about their experiences. About two years ago I began asking them about the possibilities for businesses to reach out to them on Facebook. For the most part, their opinions have not changed:

Facebook is purely social to students – they don’t want it to be a business system. They don’t really want to buy stuff on Facebook.

Last week I attended a conference for retail merchandisers. There were over a dozen business students there affiliated with the Kohl’s Center for Retail Excellence at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The Kohl’s Center Director, Jerry O’Brien spoke several times at the conference.

It was a delight to see these youngsters’ enthusiasm for the business world and to hear their views and opinions on the matters discussed in breakout sessions. Of course I took the opportunity in conversations to ask my favorite questions on how they use Facebook and if they see it as a place to research products and make purchases, now or in the future.

I received an almost universal NO. One young lady did mention that she might look favorably on a company sponsoring a social issue on Facebook such as world hunger, but no student would want to “…endorse a product by favorite-ing it on their Facebook page, wall, etc.” (I believe “favorite-ing it” was the phrase she used.)

STOP RIGHT HERE – I know that the ads are the commercials and Facebook fan pages and groups are all about building community and such honorable and esoteric reasons. But let’s get real – businesses and business people are going to build groups and fan pages to create customers. And not too many people, including college students who occasionally are too idealistic will believe otherwise for too long, no matter how pure the motives. Being good corporate citizens in the communities we live in is enlightened self-interest, a noble virtual. We do good to give back but we give back publicly to increase profits to have more to give, etc.

The Facebook that Creates Zuckerberg’s Fortune

Wikipedia states that Mark Zuckerberg is worth roughly $4 billion. Regardless of what you feel about Wikipedia, do you doubt their projected net worth for the 25 year old is far off? If anything that number is low.

Whatever Facebook’s true market value, it has that many zeros to the left of the decimal point because of its monetization efforts. It is more than just advertising, although like Google, how Facebook eventually rewards its investors will revolve around online advertising as we know it and methods that will be created as Facebook goes along. (No one had ever heard of an AdWord before Google invented it.)

I’m no economic prophet or futurist if I say Facebook has only begun to crack the code on making money, but the truth of it is that people are only now starting to realize the number of ways they can use Facebook to make money.

Facebook’s phenomenal user growth is coming from the non-student arena. We Baby-Boomers and other generations are signing up in droves. Most of my peers have joined to reconnect with school friends we’ve lost touch with.

Irritation - I have a cousin who recently retired. She finally caught on that I didn’t want to buy her a drink or have one on her. I wasn’t going to give her a rose bush and I definitely wasn’t going to join her mafia group.

I have no idea if these different endeavors on Facebook are profit making or just diversions that don’t appeal to me. However, most of the college students I’ve talked to aren’t really into this sort of thing either, though a few are. Such an application on Facebook could mushroom with that age group given the right viral concept and promotion.

However, it is those who never used Facebook as students who generate the bulk of Facebook’s profits, and that should remain true for a while.

That is, the second face of Facebook, the Post-School-Facebook-Users who’ve only after leaving school – these are the “spenders” on Facebook.

A “Facebook-Generation” User 4 Years After School

When I flew to the conference in Tampa a young man sat next to me on the two hour flight and he proved he wouldn’t mind talking with an “old guy” by starting and keeping a conversation. I eventually asked him about Facebook.

Yes, he had been an avid Facebook user in college four years ago.

Yes, he still used Facebook to keep up with his college friends in a sort of daily or weekly reunion mode, and he also used Facebook with current friends in the town he lived in that had also been Facebook users in school.

Facebook is still strictly social to him. He rarely looks at any of the ads if ever, and he said that he had little interest in any fan page for any business, small or large, but he did follow a few fan pages for musical groups he liked. However, he didn’t plan on buying any music from such pages. “That’s what the iTunes store is for.”

The Transition All “Post-School-Facebook-Users” Faced

Now I will make my 2 projections. Futurist Ted Predicts.

Each of us who has been out of the educational system for a while remembers when it hit, “I’m really no longer in school anymore.”

It happened for me when I realized that summer was coming and I couldn’t go look for a lifeguard job. But I still went out on dates and to parties, and I still looked at rent like making student housing payments. I had a car payment, but hey, “It’s my car!” (Cue cool-guy driving music.)

Only later when I had a mortgage did it hit me:

“Not only am I no longer in school, I’m no longer a student as well.”

Prediction One - When the “Facebook-Generation” makes that transition in their psyche, only then will they be open to buying whatever is offered on Facebook – assuming it is a good deal and Facebook will have created a subset-of-the-site buying environment that hasn’t turned off the “transitioned” students. Only then will they begin to think about spending money on Facebook.

Prediction Two – The “Facebook-Generation” may reject Facebook if it becomes too commercial – before they leave school or afterwards. This is unlikely, but please hear me out.

Many of the students I’ve talked to have a sort of reverence for Facebook. It’s “Their Facebook.” They see it as sort of pure and untainted by the evils of commercialism for the most part. You know, the idealism of college that would never consider that it takes a humongous monthly nut to maintain server farms and technical staff.

Perhaps they will reject Facebook the business portal for another website popping up at just the right time to kill off Facebook as we see it now.

I remember when Alta Vista was the big name in search engines and Netscape Navigator was the browser on every computer. I remember when the dominant word processor was WordStar, and VisiCalc was the spreadsheet of choice. Then WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 replaced them. (Yes, I was there when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.)

Three years ago who would have thought Google could be threatened?

Relevance Marketing in Your Sales Efforts on Facebook

Always remember the great divide between these two groups in any marketing-in-Facebook effort. The larger advertisers in campus newspapers and such always create advertising pointed directly at this segment.

It’s still the Internet. Facebook like Google offers segmentation schemes in their advertising so make your message different like you’ve use keywords in Google AdWords, PPC, etc. Unless you are school age or work closely with students in your company, you should probably avoid selling to those I’ve called the “Facebook Generation” on Facebook.

Having said that, current and recent student Facebook users still make up a huge minority on Facebook. Given the right client, I wouldn’t ignore them in Facebook advertising. However, before I spent a nickel or a minute there selling to the Facebook Generation, I’d go to the local university and find a few sharp kids majoring in E-commerce and pay them for an in-depth conversation. I’d do that until I found one I’d want on my staff for selling on Facebook going forward.

Then I’d teach this hotshot all about Relevance Marketing and see him or her replace me in a few years.

Come to think of it, maybe I shouldn’t make “Selling on Facebook to the Facebook-Generation” one of my service offerings.