Businesses embrace the great internet shift, says Facebook CEO
by Keris Lahiff
There’s little doubt the internet has turned the pursuit of knowledge on its head and up to now this was one of its shining qualities – sourcing, gathering and collating to create our 21st Century information renaissance.
But are businesses ready for the next phase of the internet’s evolution? Speaking at the 2011 CeBIT conference, Facebook CEO for Australia Paul Borrud says the internet’s growth driver has moved from anonymity to personality – and those businesses who embrace this shift into their strategy will be light-years ahead of those who don’t.
“The web is evolving, it’s changing,” he says. “Borders are being replaced with connections. It truly is about people today.”
“There’s a great opportunity for brands to connect with their customers.”
The statistics alone speak volumes. Facebook usage in Australia is the highest in the world, based on time spent per user, with the average user racking up 7.5 hours Facebooking per month. Amazingly, 68 per cent of Facebook users return every single day and this, combined with a breaking down of geographic barriers, presents a major opportunity for brands to make an impact in a big way.
Retooling the web
“Back in the 90s, the way in which you got around the web was you browsed … from one link to the next link to the next link,” recalls Borrud. “[Then] search came out, helping you identify the websites that you were looking for based on the keywords you typed in.
“Today it’s about discovering content and discovering things through the lens of your friends and that’s why it’s all about people,” he says. “These are real people with real identities connecting with each other and sharing real information.
And this shift provides an opportunity for brands to really capitalise on word-of-mouth marketing and brand authenticity.
“It’s like the whole Amazon theory back in the 90s. When I saw a review about a particular book, that had a certain amount of impact over me because it came from another user and seemed really authentic,” he says. “By actually creating a marketing system where you include your friends as part of that, that has a greater impact over you and that’s what we’re trying to unleash.”
The user’s universe
Many products and services embracing this shift from “from the anonymous web to the authentic web” are making massive headway. For example, social networking game Farmville, with more than 80 million players worldwide, owes its popularity not to amazing graphics, but simply because people and socialising is at the core of the user experience. Even Xbox, simply by including Facebook Connect in their product, are seeing increased profits from their consoles.
The success of these products can be attributed to the fact they are social by design – “this concept of really building your product and thinking about it with people in the centre”.
Borrud says the social by design philosophy is at the core of Facebook’s developments. Take Facebook’s photo application, a tool that sees three billion photos uploaded every month. Unlike competing photo sites online which may offer better services – complete with advanced features such as red-eye correction or cropping – the Facebook developer who designed the application integrated on key feature.
“What he did was he thought very easily, very simply, I’m just going to build a very basic product, I’m going to build it social by design by creating one feature which was tagging. That’s why there’s three billion photos uploaded every single month. It’s not because it’s a superior photoproduct. It’s because it’s social by design,” says Borrud.
The business moral of this story is simple: build ‘social’ into your business, into its very core, instead of as an afterthought.
Marketers “try to dash a little bit of social on top to make it social,” says Borrud. “Social is not the salt on the French fries here. It’s got to be baked into the product at the beginning”.
Edging towards 700 million users globally, with the average user amassing 130 friends, the scope for word-of-mouth marketing is massive.
“In the past, the way that you would reach these people is you would send out an ad. You would lob it out there and say I am targeting this type of person,” he says. On Facebook, the rules for marketing are changing – if you have 25,000 fans, for example, those people then have the potential to share their content with millions of other touchpoints.
“The opportunity there lies with you to be able to connect with those fans with their friends. That’s word-of-mouth marketing at scale.”
Just look at Old Spice’s ‘The Man your Man Could Smell Like’ 2010 campaign, an online advertisement which quickly turned viral and became one of the top videos shared in last year.
“That’s marketing content that’s being shared, being passed around by people with people in the centre,” says Borrud.
The scope for socially-designed marketing material is massive, with a total 50 million users globally ‘liking’ a Facebook page every day.
“These are things that happen naturally on the site. Brands that work the best and perform the best are those that think about leveraging and interacting with their customers in the same way that users do.”
The key, says Borrud, is to first establish a presence in the space.
“It starts with you building brand page’ and that’s a free tool, a free service and it allows you to really start to build those relationships with your customers. Then you can add things on like check-in deals, applications, engagement ads etc. but the process starts with the presence.”
Nike is a case in point. In 2010, they partnered with Facebook to feature a video on Facebook’s homepage in celebration of the World Cup. And, despite Adidas being the official sponsor, Nike forged strong ties with the World Cup brand in the consumers’ mind.
“They wanted to find a way to share that with as many people as possible so they could be perceived as the official sponsor,” he says. “They got a tremendous amount of engagement. They doubled their fan count from 1.3 million to over three million over the course of a weekend. And when asked who was the official sponsor of the world Cup, most people mention Nike.”
So what’s the Facebook of tomorrow? Borrud says your guess is as good as his.
“The people who we have conversations with on a regular basis help us evolve what’s next, not us. That’s why we opened our platform three years ago to developers around the world to help us find what the next evolution of Facebook actually is.”
The company is very much a hacking organisation – “whatever we do today, we want to try and break and make better tomorrow” – and will continue to refocus the brand with the aim of empowering the user with the power to share and create a world more open and connected.
Quoting Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, Borrud says the company is closer to the beginning than the end.
“We are truly one per cent of the way there,” he says.
Published on: Thursday, June 23, 2011