Facebook: Great Marketing Tool or Annoying Distraction?

Profile shown on Thefacebook in 2005

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Facebook: Good business tool or annoying distraction?

            Facebook was introduced at Harvard University in 2004 and was originally called TheFacebook.  Its core idea was to be a network for college students to communicate.  Facebook has since grown to be one of the largest social networks on the web, at over 8 million unique users in the United States alone.  (Yadav)  Many thought that social media would fade away and become a dying fad but the truth is that Social Media, “in less than three years, has become the most popular activity on the web.”  (Swartz)  Facebook has found a way to facilitate engagement and connection between people like never before. 

With these facts, it is no wonder many businesses have started exploring the use of Facebook as a business tool.  However, there is huge debate going on in the marketing and corporate world as to the benefits and drawbacks of using Facebook as a way of connecting and engaging with customers.  Many businesses have not yet embraced social media networking as a major component of their success strategy for a multitude of reasons.  Some companies steer clear of Facebook because they feel it is a distraction to their overall goals, too time consuming, results can’t be measured, investing more effort than getting qualified buyers in return (poor ROI). 

When considering whether Facebook is a solid business tool or a distraction for your business, all things must be considered and weighed equally, without preconceived notions or bias for or against the medium.  Consider the fact that it wasn’t until 1997 that the Internet reached 50 million users in the United States, while Facebook gained over 100 million users in the United States from January 2009 to January 2010, marking a 145 percent growth rate within one year, according to research by digital marketing agency iStrategy Labs.

While some businesses might argue that Facebook is completely for personal and social use, it is clear to those on both sides of the fence that Facebook helps set the stage for building relationships with people who share the same interests, activities, or personal contacts, as opposed to primarily disseminating or digesting information feeds.  Therefore, it can’t be ignored that this also means social networks enable companies to invite audiences to get to know its brand in a way that traditional forms of marketing or advertising can’t. It just makes sense that, if you are “out there” more, more people can find you.  But Facebook goes beyond that. Being present in social media gives businesses more time to listen.  Companies can keep an eye out for what other people are saying about their brand.  It is commonly referred to as “Brand Monitoring”.

In today’s digital world people care more about what their friends and family think of a restaurant, retail store or service provider than what they may find on Google.  This truth demonstrates the necessity for engagement and interaction among customers and peers about business.  Facebook is one of the most effective means to engage and interact with customers on a personal and professional level. 

Facebook has opened the way for businesses to connect and promote their business through a “Business Page” which allows for brand customization, a section for specials and discounts and also allows for feedback.  The introduction of the “like” button has completely changed the way businesses market on Facebook.  This feature, when selected by the customer or prospect, “subscribes” them to that particular business page feed.  What this means is that when someone “likes” a business’s page they have now “subscribed” to receive constant updates of that particular business.  This feature is revolutionary and has changed the way businesses can market. 

The goal of marketing has always been to produce a high ROI or Return on Investment, providing the advertiser with a positive return on dollars and/or time spent marketing.  The beauty of Facebook is that it is free to use and yet has the potential to reach a target audience of almost 9 million users.  There are also excellent tools on the Internet for small businesses or divisions of larger businesses that spread social media duties among team members and have a customer-service approach to engagement, such as www.Hootsuite.com, www.CoTweet.com and www.TweetDeck.com that are designed to help businesses streamline, automate and schedule their Facebook interactions to save time as well, also increasing ROI.  Since the inception of Facebook, many tracking and analytics tools such as www.SpredFast.com and www.Radian6.com have been developed to closely monitor a company’s ROI in social media with presentation-ready graphs and benchmarking features so companies can compare social media campaigns to other strategies in the industry or to the same type of campaign as it was run in another industry.  Businesses that have learned to engage well and track their results are seeing a significant increase in web traffic with only a few hours of time invested per week.  They also have a noticeable increase in their search engine rankings and have even been able to track deals that were closed due to their participation on Facebook. 

Potential customers are using Facebook every day to talk about local businesses, restaurants, retailers and service providers.  Therefore, the potential for that user base to notice and talk about a particular business that is visible on Facebook is huge.  When coupled together with good products and services the power of Facebook is almost limitless.  Eric Qualman, in his book Socialnomics, said it best, “It’s Word of Mouth on steroids.  A subset of this in the future is that we will no longer search for products and services, rather they find us via social media.”  (Qualman)  So it seems to me that the deliberating about Facebook should not be whether or not to embrace it as a business tool, but rather about developing an individual business strategy for social media.  Once companies learn how to get involved, while making the most of their time and money, aligning with their overall marketing plan, and properly track their return on investment (ROI), the argument will be no more. 

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