Ever had millions of people yell at you at once? Mark Zuckerberg has-many times. When social networking giant Facebook updated its terms of service, users revolted (albeit through Wall Posts rather than placards), publicly expressing disapproval of the changes. With global membership cresting 250 million, the power of the people took hold: Zuckerberg, the site's cofounder and chief executive officer, relented. And why not? Facebook's the hottest place on earth for consumers to connect to each other. But is it the place for businesses to connect to them, as well?
Brad Shimmin, a social networking analyst with Current Analysis, calls Facebook "mainstream consumerism," but notes that companies are taking a more active and participatory role. And it's not mom-and-pop shops either-it's brands people respect and know. Just two years ago, customer interactions on Facebook were rare. Today, however, business fan pages are everywhere, and Facebook members can suggest to their friends that they become fans of companies such as BMW or Coca-Cola. Ongoing redesigns to the site are slowly blurring whatever lines remained.
Shimmin proposes that this shift began to take place when Facebook opened up a new application programming interface in late April. With the advent of Facebook Connect, a mechanism that opens up Facebook to developersof other platforms, vendors and various platform providers have become serious about linking up with Facebook. (And, after all,with 250 million potential customers residing there, how can companies pass it up?)
The recent addition of vanity URLs illustrates Facebook's understanding of the role it now plays in the customer marketplace, as an enabler of CRM and a medium for the relationship between a company and a customer. The site's reorientation toward event streaming emphasizes the "What are you doing now?" aspect popularized by Twitter (a 2008 Rising Star). Other evidence that Facebook has "made it"? Its fastest growth is within the 35-to-54-year-old cohort. "If Facebook was built only to appeal to 20-year-olds with no flexibility, [it] might have had a small uptick and people would have fallen off," Shimmin notes. "But [it's] shown [it has] that flexibility to move with the audience-and that's why [it's] succeeding."