Facebook needs to become more useful

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Facebook needs to continue being useful. If it stops being useful, it will quickly shed users and, ahead of an expected stock market flotation, value.

A small but significant percentage of people I speak to say they are sick of Facebook. Some friends have even removed their profiles from the social networking site while others say they rarely use their Facebook pages any more. Some of the anti-Facebook feeling among people I know is a little to do with worries over privacy, but far more of it is to do with the novelty factor having worn off.

In marketing circles, social media is still an amazing new channel of activity and communication, and at times, seemingly, all that anyone wants to talk about.

But it’s worth remembering that outside marketing circles, nobody calls it social media. They call it Twitter or Facebook. And they measure their love for these destinations by how useful they are or how much value they add, not engagement.

Facebook’s dominance of the world is unprecedented and it is now so easy to access through smartphone apps that many of us use it in the way we used to employ email and text messages.

However, a close friend says he is tired of receiving “banal” Facebook updates from people he barely has any contact with in real life. “If they’re truly friends of mine then I’ll give them a call to arrange getting together,” he says.

“If it’s somebody I haven’t seen since I was at school then I don’t want to hear what they’re up to.” I’m finding this point of view is becoming more frequent.

This week’s lead story, broken by Jessica Davies on our stablemate New Media Age, is a timely reminder that Facebook’s reach and emotional brand equity can’t be rivalled anywhere if the Facebook team focuses on increasing the brand’s usefulness.

The deal brokered between Channel 5, Endemol and Facebook to create a voting app for the imminent series of Big Brother is a stunning case in point. It sees Channel 5 adding a totally new dynamic to the show on its first airing of the former audience favourite that had previously lost its sparkle after a decade with Channel 4. Endemol will enjoy the chance to use the Facebook platform to communicate with its audience and provide it with a huge array of new content. And Facebook, of course, will increase in usefulness to its audience outside its core social network territory.

I can name only a handful of brands that are doing anything more interesting with Facebook than collecting a meaningless number of ’likes’. Facebook advertising may take on a new lease of life with the help of its new client council but so far there are more questions than answers. I predict that most of Facebook’s value to brands will be through either sharable content or the creation of useful apps like the BB voting tool that compels people, not just social networkers, to log in and take action.

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