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Facebook: lessons for small businesses?

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By peterurban - March 26th, 2009

Everyone is complaining about the new Facebook interface. Whether its weakness is aesthetic or functional, the resounding consensus among annoyed Facebookers is that it sucks.

In light of the uproar (which, might I mention, isn’t actually stopping anyone from using FB), I thought it would be a good opportunity to reflect upon the strengths of everyone’s favourite platform. Considering its undeniable successes and insurmountable membership, I am made to wonder: other than offering a tidy space for online networking and communication, FB must be doing something else right. Can small businesses learn from their example? I think so.

FB has always mastered a powerful and vital balance between local and global networks. By indicating to the system where you are from, and unless you play with your privacy settings, you open your profile to be surfed by individuals in your area, encouraging connections among people who share geographic commonality. At the same time, the diversity of the FB community and its thousands of interest-related groups allows users to reach out to potential friends and peers outside their local area. This collapse between communicating with friends about what you had for dinner last night at the same time that you discuss the global trade economy on a group forum, makes for a pretty great one-stop interface. Small businesses can provide a similar benefit to their customers or clients: as a relatively small group of professionals, smaller businesses offer an increasingly intimate and localized experience or product, while simultaneously offering a connection to the larger business community.

While we may hate to admit it, FB has mastered a unique loss-leader: by offering a free social networking service, FB entices thousands of individuals to sign up daily, which in turn makes FB easy and quick money through advertising. A lot of sites use this model, but I think FB demonstrates new initiative: by sharing their analytic data, ads can be tailored to the user and integrated seamlessly into their FB homepage. Many people complain about how manipulative this is. But do businesses really operate differently? By tailoring marketing and advertising campaigns to a target clientele, businesses are able to maximize the returns of their marketing dollars. Who has time to sell to an uninterested audience? Certainly not small businesses, that is for certain. And what consumer has the time to be sold stuff that has nothing to do with their interests? Not me!

What else do you think businesses might learn from Facebook? Aside from, that is, the timeless maxim: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I really wish they hadn’t changed their interface….

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