MEDIA's Agency of the Year 2010: Supplier: Facebook

MEDIA magazine pays special homage to the social network that exploded into the stratosphere in 2010

FacebookDo we really have to tell you why Facebook is MEDIA Magazine's 2010 Media Supplier of the Year? Perhaps we should let some of our "friends" explain it.

"Facebook is an uber portal," declares Dave Marsey, senior vice president/media director at Digitas Chicago. "It's the first place we go to in the morning and the last place we go to before we go to bed."

"You've got to be there," says GroupM economist Adam Smith. "If the consumer expects to be there, you've got to be there."

And oh, boy, are they ever there. At this writing, Facebook is approaching 600 million active users, half of whom log on to the uber portal in any given day. For those of you keeping score, that's one out of 10 people on the planet.

But wait, there's more. People spend over 700 million minutes per month on Facebook and install 20 million applications every day. Two hundred million of those active users get their face time through mobile devices. Facebook Connect, which allows users to log onto third-party Web sites, applications, mobile devices and gaming systems with their Facebook identity is just about ubiquitous at this point.

Last month, in naming Facebook one of its Top Ten Global Media Trends, Advertising Age cited a DDB study of 1,642 international Facebook users (70% of all active users live outside the U.S.), which found that the average Facebook fan is 31 years old and follows nine brands. Three out of four respondents have pressed "like" for their favorite brand. And 94% stand ready to advocate for their favorite brand, if necessary.

Most importantly, if Facebook didn't exist, would a fan-feed groundswell result in Betty White being asked to host "Saturday Night Live?"

Not even.

And in the past year, it seemed like Facebook was in our faces every week with some new announcement, product or improvement. For instance, in April 2010, it was social plug-ins; then in November, it was Facebook email.

No wonder the New York Times, not typically overcome by hyperbole, was moved to gush that the great connector "has also come to be seen as one of the new titans of the Internet, challenging even Google with a vision of a Web tied together through personal relationships and recommendations, rather than by search algorithims."

Or, as Facebook spokesperson Brandon McCormick puts it, "We fundamentally think a more open, transparent world is a better one."

There were other candidates that could make a credible case for the innovation and thought leadership by which we evaluate Media Supplier of the Year: others who have a role to play in the transformative nature of social media; and still, others who leverage their user base and the social graph that connects it.

But no one scales like Facebook, which at press time, serves 24% of all online display ads in the U.S. No other social network activates its offering for marketers and agencies with such an "open armed approach to advertising," as Forbes described it.

"It's not that Facebook is the sole transformative agent by any means but it is by far the single, most transformative new media entity changing producers, publishers, broadcasters, advertisers, agencies and media," declares David Fitzpatrick, author of "The Facebook Effect" and contributor to The Daily Beast and Fortune. "All those constituencies are restructuring their thinking around the existence of social media and Facebook is so much larger than any other entity that it does serve as an appropriate proxy."

Forget the fact that Time named Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's famously hoodied founder, its Person of the Year. Or that the movie version of Facebook's birth, the critically acclaimed "The Social Network," is an Oscar contender. That's just the media machine grinding up another sensation for the nation's endless appetite for sex, scandal and geeky tech wunderkinds.

This is more than pop culture. This is more than an emerging platform.

This is the face of the new social media order.

Marketer's Best Friend
The first thing Digitas recommends when it talks to clients is that they hire a community manager and "not an intern," says Marsey. Because Facebook, first among others, is so much more than just a chat platform.

"We quickly realized that 'thumbs up' is going to make all the difference," Marsey says. "We know consumers trust friends and family much more than they trust brands [and in] the last year, we finally realized it's not necessarily about advertising. It's more about how do we program our Facebook page."

In fact, the ability to deliver multiple marketing opportunities is a key Facebook differentiator and a major source of its transformative power. Marketing consultant, author and blogger Joseph Jaffe calls it the Facebook secret sauce.

"For me, the real shining light of Facebook has always been with respect to things like action, social change and 'Rock the Vote.' It's what I call nonmedia," he explains. "Facebook can deliver paid media, earned media, owned media and nonmedia. You can buy the engagement ads, those little viral mushrooms that got Betty White onto 'Saturday Night Live.' Create a branded space with one million likes. And then the nonmedia. People on Facebook aren't friending a shoe or liking a can. They're sharing photos and connecting with other people. That's why it has to be in the forefront of any integrated digital plan - and leaving it out of a social media plan now is almost suicide."

There's no longer much talk about whether or not social networks are advertising vehicles. They can be, but they're also customer relationship tools and PR vehicles. Facebook is the prime example of that flexibility and the reason why marketing professor Nora Ganim Barnes and social media scholar Eric Mattson, in their annual study of social media using trends inside U.S. corporations, found that 56% of the 2010 Fortune 500 companies now have a "solid presence" on Facebook.

It's not all sweetness and light, of course. Facebook still faces criticism over privacy concerns, particularly since Facebook is clearly going to be where the governing rules about online privacy will be laid down. But there's no denying its power and its reach - both of which expanded exponentially in 2010.

The Year of Succeeding Ridiculously
The past 12 months were a watershed year for Facebook. It grew from 375 million to 600 million active users. Almost weekly, it launched something new, most notably, the Facebook Messages gambit that elevates it from a platform to a fully formed communications giant that now will compete face-to-face with Google, Yahoo, AOL and the like. And it's now positioned to take the battle to rivals on mobile phones as well.

The cool idea, formerly known as, seemed to come of age in 2010. "It did kind of mature this year," agrees Fitzpatrick. So does Facebook.

"In 2009, [marketers] knew they had to have some kind of Facebook strategy, but it was really experimental," notes McCormick. "2010 was when we came out of the experimental bucket. Some of the larger brands really went big: Starbucks did a global Facebook buy in 22 countries. Nike did a global buy with us for the World Cup. So when I look back on the past year, I think our ability to prove the effectiveness of our marketing and advertising platform helped move brands into a more in-depth relationship with us."

2010 was also the year that measured Facebook more precisely. The platform's collaboration with Nielsen saw its first fruits last year with the release of its first public study in April. The research drilled into the relationship between those infamous fans and ads on Facebook. Key finding: ads that included mentions of friends who were fans of a brand enjoyed significantly higher recall and awareness, especially when a user's newsfeed carries the notation that another friend has become a fan of the brand.

That's an area that the 2010 Media Supplier of the Year plans to work on in 2011 as well. "When you think about Facebook as a platform, even on the consumer side, people use it as a way to tell their friends what they're doing in a number of broad ways," says McClintock. "It's the new word-of-mouth. That's what we're thinking about - word-of-mouth that for the first time is at scale. That is going to be an important thing for us in 2011."

Putting aside its past screw ups, false starts and nervousness over privacy, so far it's all good for the proxy for the social media revolution. There isn't a brand marketing campaign that isn't tapping into the Facebook phenomenon in one way or another.

"And it's only going to become more so," predicts Fitzpatrick, because "so far there isn't any sign of a significant threat to its growth in terms of users and time. Also because the way Facebook operates is so extraordinarily brilliant."

But don't take our word for it, friends. Ask the participants in a recent survey of business leaders regarding their marketing plans for 2011, conducted by Zoomerang in late November. Fifty-seven percent of them are increasing their social media spend next year and Facebook marketing, at 35%, is way out in front, ahead of viral campaigns at 22% and Twitter marketing at 21%.

Better yet, just ask Betty White.

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