All About... Facebook
Forget the numbers. For some idea of Facebook’s popularity, just ask for a show of hands in the office: who’s a Facebooker?
Then watch, with surprise, then disbelief, as the entire building sheepishly reaches for the heavens.
The latest social networking sensation to drain work productivity is, much to the chagrin of his enemies, making Rupert Murdoch’s US$580 million purchase of MySpace look cheaper by the day.
Yes, MySpace is still number one. Five per cent of global internet traffic used the site last month.
But Facebook is catching up fast. The buddy-sharing community, which opened up beyond US college circles in November last year, now has two per cent of web traffic — some 30 million users. And the last few months have seen the pendulum swing in Facebook’s favour. While the MySpace community grew by seven per cent in the last quarter, Facebook numbers rocketed by 81 per cent.
1 At a glance, Facebook’s rise in Asia is sluggish. Just 0.8 per cent of Facebookers come from China (roughly 240,000 users). Only slightly more come from India, while Hong Kong leads the way in Asia with 1.2 per cent (360,000) of global users. “But to achieve these numbers in seven months without any marketing or a clearly-defined strategy is remarkable,” says Kaiser Kuo, the group director of digital strategy at Ogilvy Beijing. “It’s exclusively an English-language site, yet half of users in China are Chinese.” Meanwhile MySpace, which launched a Chinese-language site (myspace.cn) with heavy News Corp backing in April, has struggled to build a community of credible size. Malaysia and the Philippines are the largest MySpace markets in Asia.
2 So why is Facebook more popular than MySpace? A cleaner look, ease of use and a news feed (which allows Facebookers to keep an eye on what their friends are doing) are basic advantanges. Users can also tag their photos so their friends acquire albums without having to create them themselves. With this feature, says Christer Eriksson, business director at Starcom IP Singapore, “Facebook could take over the entire online photo sharing market”. Both allow users to share media links, upload videos and message each other equally well, while MySpace has the edge for music sharing and finding potential partners — which is why it attracts a younger demographic. “Facebook is a more mature incarnation of MySpace, so has broader appeal,” says Eriksson. “MySpace still feels very young.”
3 Facebook’s trump card is its openness. In May, it began allowing independent software makers to build applications into the site. In two months, 1,700 new applications have been added, sparking a new surge in users. (A favourite is SuperPoke, which encourages users to ‘slap, chest-bump or headbutt’ their friends.) The strategy makes the site stickier (Facebookers spend an average of 19 minutes per day on the site). It also enables it to evolve in line with what its members want. The door is now open for brands to create useful or fun applications and become part of the community. Users can add or remove applications whenever they like, so the site is an instant leader board of who’s best at user engagement.
Banner advertising is possible, but only in the US and Europe for now. A better option, say observers, is for advertisers to create a group, such as the Toyota-sponsored F1 Canada.
4 But competition is fierce for Facebook in Asia. In Japan, Mixi has 10 million members, while India’s Minglebox claims to have a community of 23 million. In Korea, 90 per cent of 20-somethings are members of Cyworld — “the first to touchdown in the networking space, globally,” says Neo@Ogilvy’s Asia-Pacific CEO Ken Mandel. “In China, Xiao Nei and 51.com top the pile, but there are countless others and Facebook copycats emerge almost daily.
5 With this in mind, it’s unlikely Facebook’s popularity will last. MySpace has had its time, say observers. So has Friendster. Facebook might fizzle out too, suggests David Ketchum, chaiman of the Asia Digital Marketing Asssociation. “Facebook has plenty of venture capital money with which to innovate, but social networks don’t command huge loyalty and the next big thing could be just around the corner. The next step for Facebook is to ensure it’s accessible on any platform.”
What it means for... Advertisers
Soon, advertisers will be able to put banners on users’ profile pages, as they can in the US and Europe. Ads run along the left of the page (which is unusual for websites), below the navigational area, and are always in the same place. (Investors in Facebook expect the site to earn US$100 million in revenue this year — mostly from advertising.)
Sponsored groups are a simple way to attract a following. Some, like Apple’s ‘Apple Students’ group, are fairly popular (with 400,000 members). But so are groups which don’t like advertisers on Facebook, such as ‘Canadians against sponsored groups that don’t benefit Canadians’, ‘I really hate those stupid sponsored ads in the news feed’ and ‘Facebook sponsored announcements invariably suck’.
Ways to infiltrate friendship groups are still at the test stage, but there are some interesting ideas emerging. Music-oriented brands (such as Motorola) could create songs or ringtones for Facebookers to give as ‘gifts’ to friends, who could then remix them and pass them on, muses Dirk Eschenbacher, regional creative director of OgilvyOne Asia-Pacific.
E-commerce is already doing a roaring trade on Korea’s Cyworld. Users take pictures of their wares, such as clothing designs, then post them on their pages. Brands are starting to do similar things.
The need for agencies to recruit people who understand online communities and are part of them, is now essential. So is the need for media and creative planners to think hard about what engagement really means in a social networking context.
This article was first published on Media Asia
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