On the Meaning Of Facebook

Before we all get cranky at the end of this piece, let's understand that I'm asking the question, not providing the answer. Or at least the definitive answer. In fact, I'm guessing that the answer to "What's the meaning of Facebook?" hasn't been made clear yet to any of us, because even Facebook doesn't know.

I asked a few people for their thoughts -- and they ranged from the original, "It's (still) a place to check out chicks," to the more ethereal, "Facebook is a marketing accelerator." Donald Rumsfeld might say, at the present time it is simply unknowable.

But I do know it is one of the most important questions for all of us today, because Facebook has gone from being merely a phenomenon to being a force of nature. And the impact of that force will extend well beyond its online roots.

Two weeks ago it was reported that Facebook will take over the #1 spot in display advertising this year with approximately $2.2 billion in sales. It has 500 million active users who spend over 700 billion minutes per month with Facebook. It is poised to generate $100 billion in its presumed initial public offering, probably next year. There are many more statistics that are equally mind-boggling in terms of (literally) unprecedented scale. And it has made the once mighty MySpace a memory. But when you think of a theme song for just where Facebook is today in its evolution, the most appropriate title is still "We've Only Just Begun," performed by the Carpenters in 1970. (Although it's an oldie, don't worry, you can find Karen Carpenter singing it on YouTube.)



Start referencing any of the statistics in fact, and consider that $2.2 billion is paltry, almost trivial in marketing dollars invested in Facebook today, and that's the issue. Yes, it is only seven years old, and yes its essence is social, not commercial. But one of these days soon, we'll talk of the 1 billion registered users and the 750 million active users of this platform. And 2 or 5 or 10 billion will still not be the right amount of marketing dollars invested.

The problem, I suggest, is that we continue to think about the last ad platform when dealing with the next one. Our frame of reference changes slowly, which is why the original online advertising efforts were referred to as brochureware, and why mobile media, with more devices distributed than television, is fighting its way to 3 and 4 billion marketing dollars invested and not five times that figure as it should be. We realize only later that the new platforms are new in many more ways than technologically.

I've been privileged to work this year with several market-leading companies on an advanced advertising initiative. Its initial focus is on ad-supported VOD but it has implications beyond any single platform. In the just-completed first phase (the free report can be downloaded at, one of the key findings was that brand marketers today are looking to eliminate any intermediary between themselves and their consumer. We have all only just begun, it seems, to internalize and to act on the meaning of the phrase we have repeated for years: "The consumer is in control." And Facebook represents the perfect vehicle to learn how to do that. Is it advertising, or a new form of commercial conversation? It actually doesn't matter what we call it, just that we understand the difference.

Lester Wunderman taught the industry the true, broad definition of direct marketing years ago. It is a process, not a technique, he said. It involves precise understanding of your target audience by listening to them, then engaging in a personal conversation and building an ongoing relationship. An elegant model, not easy to execute. But it sounds like Facebook to me.

Maybe Facebook is telling us that we're all direct marketers today.

1 comment about "On the Meaning Of Facebook ".
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  1. John Grono from GAP Research, August 6, 2011 at 9:09 a.m.

    Is that 700 billion minutes per month a global figure or just US?

    If it's global, to put that 700 billion into perspective down here in Australia (with 0.3% of the world's population) we watch around 130 billion minutes of TV a month or around one-fifth of the Facebook minutage.

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