Facebook: Power Tool or Sink-Hole? You decide.

I got this entertaining email a few months ago from a fellow marketer who is an admitted novice in the world of social media. He asks, in the simplest of terms, Whether Facebook is in fact A “Power Tool” or a “Black Hole” of Wasted Time.

-An excellent question that even the savviest among us has surely [at some point] asked!

I’ve been too busy dealing with idiots clients to get back to him, but I thought, perhaps sharing this with you all—you Geniuses-In-Waiting—would spark a healthy discussion.

And so… please, take a read:

Dear F**king Marketing Genius,

I have just voted for your f**cking presentation, which is, of course, f**cking genius. Plus, I’m forwarding it to a client of mine who’s asking about blogging, and will therefore make me look like a f**cking genius. Or maybe just an old F**ck. Which is what you’ll think if you read on…

One of the frameworks that helped me understand the power of social media is that of the many-to-many learning model. If I have a problem with my Mac (rarely, but it happens), I don’t go to the Mac website. I seek out other users online, and get an instant read not just on the problem and solution, but how to feel about it. How pissed off/happy should I feel about my computer problem/new feature? And who should I thank or say “f**ck u” to? There’s an emotional content as fellow consumer that’s very valuable here. I’m learning from a whole community, not just one bored academic who half-answers my question.

But try as I might, and this is a question for you, o marketing genius, there are some aspects of the SM thing I do not get. A friend of mine signed me up for Facebook. Okay, I’m game, I fought LinkedIn for a couple of years until it actually brought me some very lucrative contracts. So I joined Facebook, or “MyFace”, as I was calling it for awhile until some savvy sprite like you clued me in. Soon after, I started getting emails saying that so and so had bought me a cocktail, somebody else had bitten me, others gave me hugs and kisses. Not a real cocktail, mind you. A mocktail I couldn’t even drink. And, as far as I know, they actually did have to buy it. I think.

What is this? This isn’t the many-to-many learning model I thought would change the world. It’s using the vast power of the internet to waste my valuable time! I’ve heard about another site that allows you to record your every trivial moment for your friends and all eternity. There’s a guy over at MIT doing this, too. It’s like Bucky Fuller’s Dymaxion Chronofile gone crazy, which is sort of an oxymoron in the first place.

Anyway, O Marketing Genius, throw me a line. Give me a clue. Facebook? Why?

Yours in Perfidy and CussWords,


Being the Genius that I am, I have plenty o’ answers to offer my pal J to his well-expressed question. But I’m curious… what do YOU think?

What value [if any] do you see in Facebook as a tool for connecting and engaging with your clients, customers, employees, colleagues, and friends? For building brand awareness? For building your business?

Or is it, as J worries, just another way to waste valuable time?


6 Responses

  1. Oh boy! Do I have an opinion on this!

    Facebook provides an excellent way to connect with people, share information about your company, get feedback and provide interactivity through posting and various widgets. What can be a huge turn off is having to much to fast or not clearly defining why your company is there in the first place.

    Then you get requests like, “We need to get a Facebook widget for our company! We need to get it up as soon as possible! It needs to be cool, and it needs to be viral! But first, will someone tell me what a widget is!”

    Facebook will be around for awhile, it has become a valuable tool in connecting online. As corporations start clamoring for real estate there and fight to be noticed, the same thing will happen that has always happened. People will just learn to filter out the noise. It happened to commercials on TV, it happened to banner ads and it will happen to corporate widgets and pages.

    The companies that will be able to make this work will be those who truly understand and listen to the needs and wants of their customers and create their campaigns around that.

    IMHO ;).

  2. Boiling it down (because I like boiling things – meat, old shoes, dreams…), I think Facebook’s no big deal. Just like LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. Bunch of golden calves.

    Every new tool that’s popping up on the Web seems to have a time-suck aspect. A stupid one , if we want to be frank: trying to become the most-linked person (you weren’t the most popular in high school, and having the most LinkedIn contacts won’t redress that – nothing ever will, and if it bothers you that much, find bottle of booze and stop trying to link to me); Tweets about how you’re cooking pasta with Frank or Suzie(seriously?? you think any of us give a s*#t?? we don’t. we don’t. stop.); or virtual drinks (which don’t even need a punchline – they’re just idiotic).

    That said: there’s gold in them there calves. For me – as a recruiter – Facebook’s a phenomenal sourcing tool. Tweets are proving to be a great way to get the word on our hiring, and build our brand as a destination-employer. LinkedIn’s pretty groovy for sourcing, too, once you work out how to do it for free (not that I’d ever, ever use a hack….).

  3. We have a tendency to assume that everyone sees things and understands things the same way we do. So we assume that everyone else uses online tools the same way we do. In fact, there are a number of diffferent cohorts, and a number of different demographics on facebook–which is to say nothing of yet more groups on myspace, and all the other groups throughout the rest of social media–and the reality is that they all USE it differently. Kids happen to LOVE the same facebook apps that adults think are useless. Kids and adults are ON Facebook for totally different reasons (and, of course, they have completely different interests off of facebook as well). Perhaps, for the purposes of this particular discussion Facebook is neither a power tool nor sink-hole, but a train station. Not everyone goes through there heading in same direction. If a particular destination doesn’t appeal to YOU, that might mean the folks getting on that train are very different from you, and if you’re trying to reach them, then you might want to take a look at who they are, and why THEY are going in that direction.

  4. As a history buff, I like to imagine what it would have been like thousands of years ago as a young man labors over a slab of clay scratching at it with a stick and his father walks in.

    “What are you doing?”

    “It’s the latest thing in communication, Dad. It’s called writing”

    “Oh that thing. Seems like a waste of time. I tell you, if the oral tradition was good enough for my father, it is good enough for me, and it should be good enough for you.”

    Writing letters and essays can be a waste of time, just as Facebook and other social media venues can be a waste of time. But SM is a communication medium and if used for vital communication it can be very valuable. What you get out of it depends on what you put into it.

  5. Facebook like any other marketing channel and platform can be the perfect Power Tool or a Sink Hole. Which one it is depends on:

    1. The brand using it
    2. How the brand uses it

    So long as brands use Facebook for the sole purpose of creating pages that you can become a fan of, it will be a sink hole. The problem is that brands and companies expect instant success from social networking. They also believe that the community will do the heavy lifting and thus, companies approach Facebook in a lazy manner.

    If brands want Facebook to be a power tool then they ned to start thinking of marketing as a service. Give me something of value on Facebook and the dynamic changes. Give me me something I can not live without on Facebook that only your brand can provide and we’re going to see success. Offer me a page I can become a fan of and you won’t see value….because I won’t see value in a page.

  6. Facebook is a good intro for what will be really interesting – lots of niche social networks and this is perhaps where some brands will find the most value. Currently on the front page at Ning ‘The Last Straw’ – a network for WD-40 fans and enthusiasts, 7388 members. I promise I am not making this up.

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