Facebook, subject of many an endless morning spent looking at galleries of pictures, tagging, commenting, and playing Mafia Wars. It seems like such a wasteful activity, until you count in marketing data, film promotions, band fan groups, political groups and the hundreds of thousands of uses it seems to be developing with each day.
In June, the site hit over 141 million unique visits in the US. So, in one month, the site’s visitors were over twice the amount of people living in the UK, that’s nearly half the population of the United States. It’s a huge figure and demonstrates how large and far-reaching the networking site has become.
But people are no longer simply creating holiday galleries and messaging and commenting about each other, as they were in its infancy. The ever-increasing list of Facebook features available to all users from the moment of registration is getting longer all the time, and this has opened the door to businesses who have finally recognised that the Facebook picture of their drunk CEO is going to matter.
Have you ever seen someone get caught out via Facebook? Everyone who’s aware of the social media industry has likely heard at least one dark tale of the consequences of careless social networking. Lost jobs, lost boy/girlfriends, broken marriages, legal suits. Privacy on the web is now at a premium, and with the average net-user racking up an increasing amount of social media and communications accounts, it’s becoming harder for businesses to keep track of the reputation of individual employees.
If you’re a company that deals in products or services that would encourage people to find you via the web, think about what else they might be finding. Your PR rep with the public gallery of his drunken week in Bangkok is suddenly going to look a lot less competent when another company is sizing you up for a merger.
But what to do? We can’t ban these people from Facebook or make them go private. If anything, social networking has become such an integral part of modern online PR that doing so would seriously cripple your online presence as a company. However, setting account privacy settings or moving certain photos into an area unlikely to be seen by a business is a wise idea.
Sure, when you’re dealing with a new company, you Google them. Of course, when you’re dealing with an individual, their social networking profiles will come up (and it may interest some to know that Facebook actually received higher traffic than Google in May) alongside their company profiles. LinkedIn contains very few risks – for all its “cool office-worker” image, it’s an online CV with few social interaction capabilities.
However, that MySpace account you had when you were fourteen – you know the one, “Bio: I hate PR!!! lol!!” – may haunt you when you’re looking into working for Saatchi & Saatchi. Think about your online presence, and, even better, pre-empt the haters. Set up fan groups for your company, but be open about it – the last PR disaster you need is to be seen secretly making yourselves look popular. Why not offer your clients a social space to meet and talk, to recommend you and link to you in their comments and status updates?
Offering them a way to interact via a medium that could, in ten years, become our main source of communication, is wise. Embrace the new if you want to stay on top of your target market, and get interested in their interests. If they’re “liking”, wasting hours on Farmville and posting pictures from the office drinks night, then consider whether your CEO might want to mention his love of pixelated pigs on his profile.