Friday, August 10, 2007

Facebook - Is It Risky Business?

There's a lot of buzz in the blog-o-sphere lately about professionals using Facebook to network and market their business. As most everyone knows by now, Facebook is one of the largest social networks in the world. What began as closed network limited to college students has quickly become a virtual playground for anyone in the world looking to express themselves online.

About six months ago a group of us here at Fast Pitch! discussed the future of Facebook and whether we thought the platform had the potential to attract the business crowd. Our discussion quickly broke into two camps. Those who felt Facebook could be a good place for business and those who were adamantly opposed. I'll admit, at the time I was in the pro-Facebook camp. Below is a breakdown of the discussion:

The argument in FAVOR of Facebook for business:

1) Momentum.
Facebook has already established a huge footprint on the Internet and is now one of those rare companies that now has the ability to easily reach a wider audience (i.e. business professionals).

2) Loyalty. College students eventually become business professionals. The natural tendancy might be for them to remain loyal to Facebook and leverage the network to grow their business (if possible).

The argument AGAINST Facebook for business:

1) Lack of Loyalty. Most people when entering the adult world tend to abandon their adolescent experiences. The Facebook experience will lose it's appeal as people mature and transition on to a more 'mature' platform.

2) Image is Everything. Businesses cannot afford to align their brand with a website rooted in social "adolescent" behavior. Here's a great article about advertisers leaving Facebook. Adults and Teenagers typically don't run in the same circles.

Fast Forward 6 Months....

I recently logged into my Facebook account to see what all of the 'buzz' was about. Facebook had recently opened up their API to allow developers to build custom applications, so I was very interested to see what kind of tools might be available to help me and others network and promote our business. I was also curious to see how many professionals were using the site and whether it would be useful for our sales team to experiment with.

At first glance, I was impressed. Thousands of widget-type applications had been designed to give people the ability to communicate and express themselves. As I searched, I looked forward to finding a couple of tools that would help me promote Fast Pitch! I also took some time to make a couple of connections and get some feedback. Perhaps even talk to a few people about doing business.

The experience on Facebook was the complete opposite of what I had been reading.

After searching through thousands of applications I was unable to find even one application that helped me market my business. Sure I could add stock quotes to my profile, a map of where I have traveled, music I listen to, and obviously photos... but, do I really want (or need) for people I'm trying to do business with to see these things? Does this type of activity really advance my business or my professional reputation?

As far as connecting with people... Finding serious professionals on the site was few and far between. The line between a professional profile and a social profile was constantly blurred. Most of the people I came across were obviously using Facebook for it's primary purpose - social networking. Countless photos of friends and family... It actually felt awkward approaching anyone with a business propostion. Needless to say, I was beginning to question the "Facebook for Business" stance I took six months prior.

The nail in the coffin for me was when my two college-aged cousins asked to connect to me. Naturally I obliged. Within minutes it donned on me that that anyone visiting my profile was within 1 click away of being able to view my cousins' profile... which meant I (and my business) would be associated with any content they were producing on their profile... which is out of my control. After looking through a couple of their pictures, I realized I was in the wrong place to network and market my business.

Facebook for Business? The verdict is still out. Too risky for my blood!

Update: Two days after this blog post, Newseek launched a cover story about Facebook in their August 13th edition. I found this excerpt from the article to be quite timely:

Despite the need to communicate, Facebook may not be the perfect networking tool for many non-students just yet. At this point, much of the grammar of the site (as well as much of the first wave of applications) are still tilted toward student life. David Rodnitzky, 35, a San Francisco marketing executive, was having a fine time on Facebook until he installed a widget called "My Questions." Unbeknownst to him, it sent out a query to people on his friend list, specifically: "Do you kiss on the first date?" "Here I was, asking some of my company's venture capitalists, along with some of my guy friends, if they kiss on the first date," says Rodnitzky. "Probably not the best way to interact." Nor is it clear whether grown-ups embrace the new SuperPoke third-party application: instead of a mere poke (the equivalent of saying "hey you" online) you can bite, slap, bump,spank, lick, grope or head-butt friends, acquaintances and, uh, business colleagues.



Anonymous Rusty Weston said...

I think that Facebook is a challenging environment for business networking. One of the interesting things about Steve Levy's piece in Newsweek was that while the article said that FB is growing up, he provided a lot of evidence to the contrary. My experience so far has been that Facebook is caught between two constituencies that really aren't on the same wavelength. I blogged about it here:

2:43 PM  

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