Commentary

Facebook Moves Towards World -- Not Just Social Networking -- Domination

Let's just say it: Facebook rules.  

But I'm not talking about Facebook kicking MySpace to the curb some time ago, or Facebook's user base being much larger than Twitter's.

I'm talking about Facebook vs. Google. Social networking vs. search engine-ing.

In the last few weeks, I've seen a preponderance of data pointing to a few ways Facebook is ruling -- in ways I never thought it would. Read the following two examples, and allow your brain cells a few seconds to coalesce around it. Then we'll continue:

 

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  • Facebook far outstrips every other site in terms of the time people spend with it and is responsible for more time spent online than every other major site combined. According to January numbers released by Nielsen, Facebook users spent more than seven hours on the site during the month; on the next closest competitor, Yahoo, users spent two hours and nine minutes - in other words, less than a third of the time. On Google -- a different type of site, certainly -- they spent just under one hour and 24 minutes per month.

 

Of course, these stats are even more pertinent because of last week's launch of Google Buzz. No wonder Google doesn't feel it's enough to be Google. If Facebook is becoming Google, then Google better start becoming Facebook, or else. OK, oversimplification there, but in terms of being a dominant force on the Web, Google and Facebook are now officially rivals, in case anyone doubted it.

The Facebook vs. Google rivalry aside, the ramifications of this shift in online behavior for marketers, content providers -- and, hell, everyone who does business on the Web -- is massive. For one, if you've been operating under the assumption that Google was responsible for driving people to your content, and ignoring Facebook (and other social nets), think again. While Google is still the main driver to sites further down the long tail, Facebook's influence is growing there, too. If you want traffic, you'd better think of both sites as you strategize, concerning yourself as much with what I'll call SNO (social networking optimization), as with SEO.

And, if you're an advertiser, the statistics above put more of a premium than ever on producing shareable content and on taking your Facebook page at least as seriously as your Web site, if not more so. It's also time to ponder what it means to advertise on a site where people spend lots of time, as opposed to one where people dive in and then back out.

You may read this column and think I'm declaring Google over. It isn't, even if Buzz is a dud. There is plenty of room on the Web for both search behavior and social behavior. What we're seeing is the triumph of social networking activity in being as least as important as search. It's time to realign your efforts around that fact.

6 comments about "Facebook Moves Towards World -- Not Just Social Networking -- Domination".
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  1. Lisa Foote from MixMobi, February 18, 2010 at 12:59 p.m.

    Catharine - Excellent, thoughtful post. Marketers need to intercept and interact with customers at the intersection of customers' interests, in real time. That's more organic when customers are interacting socially vs searching for something specific.

    Making the hill even steeper to climb is consumers' increasing use of Facebook via mobile devices. Facebook and Google's remarks at World Mobile Congress this week make clear that both titans understand the requirement to master this emerging, mobile environment. (Eric Schmidt says Google's new mantra is "Mobile First.)

    Marketers who are already late to the social media party are going to find it's not a static target -- making it even harder for them to catch up in 2010.

  2. Hasan Syed from Systems Limited, February 18, 2010 at 1:07 p.m.

    To a certain extent it seemed inevitable. Although you cannot live without search, but the online identity that Facebook creates for users is unmatched. It provides them with a digital face in a rather anonymous world. Soon enough they were bound to interact through the vicariousness of Facebook for other transactions and means.

    Social media seemed like the next logical step, proper interactions through the Net rather than anonymous attempts.

  3. Nelson Yuen from Stereotypical Mid Sized Services Corp., February 18, 2010 at 1:22 p.m.

    The author hones in on a key point about Facebook and Google - Search is great at focusing in on the long tail; implying that FB and social media tends to attack the short tail/early stages of a consumption cycle. I.E., we are having a discussion about Drake, Gap, or our favorite smart phones. Would you like to join???

  4. Rick Graf from Digital Communications (Graf Inc.), February 18, 2010 at 1:56 p.m.

    This is an excellent post. Thank you.

  5. Tom Goddard, February 18, 2010 at 1:59 p.m.

    "Facebook, not Google, is the principal traffic driver to major sites."

    I'm afraid I disagree. You don't go to Facebook to find something you want - you go to a search engine. People switch - most likely with tabs on their browser - between a Facebook page and a search page. That shows up as a referral when it is really not.

  6. Angela Haslbeck from Minifico, February 18, 2010 at 4:28 p.m.

    I strongly believe Tom Goddard is right and the cited Compete study has exactly the described bias of people switching tabs on their browsers. If this is the case what you actually measure is not sites driving traffic, but simply what other media is consumed by a sites' audience. No surprise facebook is pretty dominant here given its huge number of users and facebook’s particular usage characteristics.

    But this really says little about the commercial importance of facebook to other sites. Nor does it say much about facebook’s ability to scale its advertising business to multiply ads income in an environment of passive consumption of targeted PPC ads in which CTRs should be at a fraction of those of Google adwords.

    Nelson Yuen's point in differentiating the consumption cycle is very interesting, too. I personally believe google and facebook are different types of media serving, in most cases, different stages in the consumption cycle.
    Context awareness the user did neithzer intend nor innitiate is great, and facebook is perfect for things that can not be done very well using SEM (or SEO), namely targeted branding campaigns and marketing innovative products and services users are interested in, but were simply not aware of.

    But when it comes down to the large majority of purchasing decisions (which in one way or the other have substantial commercial importance for most sites) I believe a very large number of users is and will continue to use search. So as long as facebook is not coming up with a completely new concept for search, comparing facebook and google (search) is little more than riding the social media hype while comparing apples with oranges.

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