Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Facebook: The Broody Teenager, Marketing [May 2008]

Facebook the Broody Teenager!

Julian Cole completed a Honours thesis in Online Social Networks at Monash University and is currently writing his Masters thesis on Blackberry addiction. Julian also works as a Digital Strategist for Naked Communication. He writes the blog and is an active member of STBz.

‘Mum, Dad - get out of my life, you just don’t understand me.’

Facebook users have just thrown the brooding teenagers fit. They have slammed the doors on marketers and told them there is as much chance of me becoming Facebook friends with your brand as there is with me being entertained by your annual report.

Like good parents, marketers have tried to have a go and failed and now are probably moving on to try to save the younger child/newest trend or just giving up on Facebook.
Which is fair enough, there hasn’t been any real success story of a company marketing through Facebook. However as much as we would like Facebook to go away, it is not going to happen. Facebook is still getting a lot of attention from Generation Y. The average time spent on Facebook is a whopping 14 minutes compared to the average stay on other website that is less than 3 minutes.

In the case of Facebook it maybe that the broody teenager might just be right.

There could be a possibility that we do not know how users are using Facebook. Take a minute to have a guess how much time people spend using Facebook to personally communicate with others, remember this was the original intention of the site?

Personal communication makes up a measly 10%! So what are people doing for the other 90% of time they are on Facebook?

Surveillance ranks as the number one use of Facebook*. Instead of people reading about Britney’s new drug addiction, they are now more interested in finding out on how their old high school friend Anna ended up with her head around the toilet bowl at the local bar last Sunday.

Facebook gives these amateur voyeurs all the tools they could want to find out this information. Whether it looking through friends’ online photo albums or reading other people’s wall comments, there are a number of clues for people to piece together what is happening in their friends’ social lives. The second clincher for Gen Yers is that the source of information is constantly updated and new watercooler gossip stories are being created every minute of the day.

User profiles stand at the centre of this pit of gossip. Information from these profiles is now being used to judge other people’s coolness. There is a certain Melbourne nightclub who chooses their members’ list solely on a person’s myspace profile. Therefore creating the perfect digital self is a time consuming activity. This is the second major use of online social networks. Offline, people make impressions of others on the clothes they wear, the way they speak and the people they hang out with. Where offline you only have limited time to form this impression. Online offers you a rich source of never-ending data to work out whether this person is cool or not - for instance you can search their friends’ lists, read their conversations they have been having with people for the last few years and see all the photographs from all the parties they have been attending. Everyone can now perform their own background checks on new friends.

However there is further explanation for the large amount of time people spend on Facebook, this is explained by a psychological state called flow. The term was coined by psychologist Csíkszentmihályi and refers to a mental state that people get into where they get so involved in one activity that they block out everything else that is happening around them. You have probably more likely heard about this from a footballer being interviewed after the match who dropped the unique line of ‘just being in the zone’ - another example of flow.

There is a high case of people falling into this state of flow because of the way that Facebook is set up. The navigation through Facebook has been set up so that people can go through the site with ease and no direct purpose. The average Facebook page has over 200 links to other pages within the site. Link this with people’s innate desire to know about what is happening with their social circle and you have a big number of people entering this state of flow and spending hours surfing Facebook pages, losing track of everything else that is happening around them.

It is important for companies to realize that Facebook is not just used for personal communication but more like a soap opera being played out in real time. If you can understand what users are doing with the technology, then you are opening the door to a large group of broody teenagers.

• Cole (2007) The Uses and Gratification of Online Social Networks, Honours Thesis, Monash University.

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