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This chapter is from the book

Welcome to Facebook

Facebook has about 80 million users. This is smaller than the biggest social networking site, MySpace (a whopping 200 million registered users), but bigger than the business-contact-oriented LinkedIn (about 20 million or so).

Even though it's not the biggest, I believe that Facebook provides the best opportunity for marketers. LinkedIn has a reputation for being primarily for the over-35 group, and people there are interested in their careers; they aren't as concerned with socializing. It's not a site you spend hours on; it's more of a business environment.

And, for my taste, MySpace is too chaotic and coarse to provide a fruitful environment for marketers. MySpace has the registered users, but the pages can be so hard to deal with that, unlike Facebook, I don't feel like browsing people on MySpace. People tend to spend much more time on Facebook than they do on MySpace.

The Facebook demographics are the most opportune for marketers. Facebook started on February 4, 2004 (MySpace started in August 2003 and LinkedIn in May 2003) as a site for college students. You had to have a college email address (ending in .edu) to join.

That changed in September 2006. Then anyone with a valid email address could join, but from a marketer's point of view, Facebook's beginnings were crucial. It still has the reputation of being upscale compared to MySpace, and the typical user is still college-age—with plenty of disposable income.

MySpace is a zoo that screams at you from the page, and LinkedIn is a reserved, formal world of business contacts. Facebook is home to an extremely desirable demographic—educated 18-to-26-year-olds—and it's where they feel comfortable. It's where they live with their friends online, and it's where you usually have the best chance of marketing.

What's the attraction of Facebook? What draws people and keeps them there hour after hour?

In a word: friends. That's what social networking is all about. And Facebook excels at connecting users with friends and keeping them in touch. That's a vital need for many college students—not only while they're in school, but after they leave. For that reason, you'll see the average demographic on Facebook age as time goes on.

Not only can you add other users as your friends, which gives them access to your information, you also can stay in touch with them. You can drop by their pages and leave them notes on "the Wall," as we'll see in this chapter. You can send them messages. (For some reason, many Facebook users treat Facebook messages as more handy than standard email.) You can tell them about events you've registered with Facebook.

Even better—and this is the truly valuable part, and one of the main draws of Facebook—you can watch what your friends are doing minute by minute. Facebook watches your friends' activities and reports them to you (consistent with the level of privacy that your friends have set). So you can see what your friends are up to as they perform Facebook actions.

This is one of the main ways that Facebook forms its cohesive community—by keeping you in touch with what your friends are doing without any special action on their part. It's a sort of proximity-by-proxy thing, and it's the closest that two people in different states might come to staying in touch. For that reason, many Facebook users keep a Facebook window open at all times when they're doing other work on their computer—to watch their friends.

You can also give your status on Facebook, and anyone can see what you're doing. For example, you can list yourself as online, as working, as having fun—whatever.

From the users' point of view, Facebook is really all about connecting with your friends. In fact, Facebook offers suggestions on your Friends page, listing Facebook members you may already know. It finds these people by checking what networks you've joined and what friends you may have in common with other users.

If this chapter's overview of Facebook leaves you feeling lost, take a look at a good introductory book on Facebook, because the rest of this book takes the basics for granted.

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