I admit it. I really want to see The Social Network, the fictionlized, Hollywoodized account of the early days of Facebook. Some of this interest may simply be because much of my job entails spending a good deal of time on Facebook managing pages and conversations for brands and keeping tabs on all the (daily) changes to the site’s infrastructure. “Facebook wrangler” could be an entire job title in itself. Really big brands often employ admins and interns whose jobs are entirely the maintenance and management of social media spaces. Once you dig into social spaces and start building an audience, it’s easy to see why. This is a full-time job.
But why? Facebook, as most folks know, started out as thefacebook, a closed community for Harvard University students only. It’s easy to see why folks would want to connect with, show off to, and potentially hook up with other students via social networks. We’re social creatures, and being able to connect with, observe, and engage other people remotely is a skill we’ve been working at perfecting ever since the first member of the group decided to leave the cave on its own in search of greener pastures.
The more interesting “why?” is why brands made the move into social networks. When it comes to online conversations, there are a couple of ways brands can respond: 1) let people talk about you widely without responding. 2) Respond via a traditional outlet like press releases/web page. 3) Or… jump right into the conversation with your own official presence. One of the biggest advantages to leaping in at the beginning was simply being able to clarify information and stop rumor mongering. Instead of joining a “fan” page run by a guy in Texas who’s a fan of your favorite restaurant, you can connect with someone right there at the restaurants – or at least somebody with direct access to headquarters. Have an issue? Don’t take it to five or six different complaints boards and air your anger there. Just post it to your favorite brand’s Facebook Wall or @reply them on Twitter, and all of a sudden your issue is responded to and dealt with on the spot (if the brand knows what it’s doing).
Brands suddenly had the ability to get immediate feedback on how their customers’ experiences were – good, bad, or otherwise. Forget comment cards. No more mass emails or consumer surveys. Sure, people still use those, but more and more, your customers are coming straight to you in social spaces to tell you what they think. A brand could get thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of dollars worth of research from a single Facebook page, depending on the number of fans and how successful the brand was with engaging those fans.
This works for social networks beyond Facebook, of course, because as fun as it is to see Facebook taking the lead, I can’t help but be reminded of Friendster and MySpace and how it looked like nobody was going to top them, either. Something else can (and is) coming along, and as brands, brand managers, and agencies, we have to stay on top of those. You go where your audience goes.
It’ll be interesting to see where they go next.