The dust still hasn't settled over the controversy surrounding Facebook and its Beacon ad-tracking program. Users and consumer privacy groups protested vehemently, some advertisers suspended their Facebook activities, and last month the company modified the Beacon program twice in just a few days.
Industry observers are falling all over themselves commenting on the company's misfortunes -- one columnist says Facebook has gone beyond "jumping the shark" and is now being devoured by it.
While the future of Facebook remains uncertain, though, it's important that online publishers not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Social networks are still an incredibly powerful weapon in an online marketer's arsenal. The massive size and explosive growth of the space are impossible to ignore, but how can an online publisher participate in and benefit from this phenomenon?
In a recent Advertising Age article, Matthew Creamer writes about his experience using a search engine marketing (firm to raise his personal search ranking, and he learns how critically important social networks (and blogs) have become in driving search engine query rankings.
Online publishers should apply this kind of thinking to their own content to increase their visibility and traffic. The high volume and multiple interconnections of social networks directly influence the algorithms that search engines use to rank their query results. And we've all seen the data showing how much Web traffic is driven directly from the search engines. Participation in social networks can have a direct, dramatic impact on your traffic.
So what will become of Facebook? It may not be worth $15 billion as implied by Microsoft's investment of $240 million for less than 2 percent of the company, but it still has 57 million users and is a significant, daily habit for huge numbers of people. Facebook, and MySpace and Twitter and LinkedIn and the scores of other social networking sites still to come, present a major opportunity for online publishers that should be impossible to ignore
I'll leave it to others to forecast the fate of Facebook, but I will make one prediction: if Facebook falters, something else will take its place. Learning from Facebook now should translate to whatever the next big thing is.