What's Your Facebook Strategy?
Third-Party Applications Can Help You Tap Its Massive Audience
By Steve Outing
NEW YORK (October 01, 2007) -- You can only envy Facebook's traffic, unless you're Google or Facebook rival MySpace. A sophisticated and slick "social utility," the website has grown to 42 million members. It's no wonder. Facebook is a truly useful and fun social networking tool -- and it's addictive.
Within the last year, it dropped its college-only membership policy and started allowing anyone to join, which has fueled its growth. And a significant move that's also responsible for Facebook's meteoric rise was opening up an API to allow any developer to add applications that Facebook members can use on their accounts.
That means that other companies can leverage and take advantage of the Facebook masses. Newspapers should be paying attention and developing their own Facebook application strategies.
A Social News Experience
To get a sense of why Facebook is so important to news publishers, I called up Facebook guru Fred Stutzman, a Ph.D. student at the University of North Carolina whose specialties include the social networking world. He points out that Facebook is simply where much of the younger generation spends time online, and if news executives expect to interact with them, their companies have to figure out how to be there in an appropriate way.
Facebook users are experiencing social interactions on the site, and "you don't have to jump too far" to go from a Facebook user interacting with his/her friends to the user interacting with content from an organization that he/she trusts, Stutzman says. The key is to understand that the Facebook experience (and of course this extends to other social networks) is about connections. And this can apply nicely to news.
Think of it this way: You're already used to search engines (Google), news search engines (Google News, Yahoo! News), and blogs sending people to your content in large numbers -- as opposed to them just coming to your website and discovering it. With a social network like Facebook, the social interactions also send you traffic.
For example, a Facebook user adds an application that includes headlines from a news organization that's supplying a headline feed. The user's friends see this when visiting the user's Facebook profile. The user reads an interesting article and highlights it -- perhaps in a Facebook group. This shows up in the "newsfeed" that Facebook users see which alerts them to activities by their friends, and within groups that they belong to. That is, if you add an article pointer to a group, your friends will all see this in their newsfeeds.
This is not trivial. You're talking about this news going out to maybe a few dozen or a few hundred of the one user's friends (which seems to be typical friend quantity of Facebook users). That's powerful because if a friend is recommending something (like a news article), you're more likely to check it out than if you discovered it in the more normal, non-personal ways.
The way Facebook works, these recommendations have the potential to expand outward exponentially. A piece of content that's particularly good or unusual has the potential to spread virally through friend networks just within Facebook.
That remedial Facebook explanation leads up to Stutzman's recommendation that news organizations should consider the obvious Facebook application: the headline news feed.
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