Facebook as a Digital Channel (and the Future of the Web)

I was just reading Andy Piper’s excellent post on the suitability of Facebook as a B2B marketing channel Is Facebook really useful for B2B? I posted my thoughts as a comment over there:

I’ve talked a lot (more in presentations than on the web – must fix that) about Facebook as a channel to consumers. It seems to me after reading your piece that there probably is still a role in B2B marketing around the ephemeral engagement you mention, because Facebook as a channel is fundamentally a way of reaching individuals (in a personal context) not businesses (or people as an employee). I guess Facebook could try to change that in the future, but right now they are focussed on the individual.

Of course, you could say the same of billboards at airports, and they are full of B2B marketing (including IBM’s Smarter Planet). Whereas billboards at bus stops are generally consumer focussed. So I can see a role for B2B brands on Facebook getting generic, brand building messages out – and maybe also engaging with individuals to understand their personal opinions of a brand (which is going to influence their business decisions) rather than a traditional marketing channel supporting sales. More for Social Marketing by a Social Business.

With the 20th Anniversary of the Web falling this week, there has been quite a lot of discussion around what the web might look like in another 20 years. I can imagine many different possibilities, but how about this for a possibility…

One service provider becomes the single landing point for individuals using the web. OK, not an original thought – that was what Yahoo! was set up to do, during the era of search it seemed like Google was everybody’s home page (and the future of bookmarks seemed dated as it was easier to just search for what you wanted) and now Facebook seems to be on a similar path to Net domination.

It was an interesting journey, that sort of mirrors what we have seen with Knowledge Management in the enterprise. First it was all about Taxonomies. Then it was all about better enterprise search. And now it is about using social connections to discover knowledge. But I digress.

Let’s assume for a moment the "next great thing" doesn’t come along, and Facebook adapts to the evolving needs of its customer and so continues to grow, until eventually everyone on earth has a Facebook account where they live their online lives. Not just their landing page, but the bulk of their web experience – as it is all linked to their social circles. What would that mean?

Well, it could mean that corporate web sites become irrelevant. If users live their online lives in their social world, then to get their attention all B2C retailers will need a presence in that world. Facebook becomes the intermediary for commerce. Of course, to do that they don’t only need to replace corporate B2C web sites, they also need to replace Amazon and they need to convince news organisations, music vendors and many others to use them as the most effective way to reach consumers.

Quite a challenge. But groups like the music industry definitely need help in creating a new channel to consumers. I wonder if Facebook is smart enough to give them a compelling solution in the way Apple did – and then leverage their engagement with users to make it even more effective. At the same time as carving a role for itself in the future of news organisations. Not to mention television at it moves online. And the delicate role they would need to fill as intermediaries between governments and their citizens.

Far fetched? Probably – and there are many alternative visions for the future of the web. But an interesting thought experiment – and I expect there are some bright people in Facebook trying to think through what would be necessary to make it succeed.