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July 6, 2010

Facebook? Whatever...
By Michael Grebb

My faith in humanity—boosted earlier this year when a pickle actually amassed more Facebook fans than the rock band Nickelback—took a hit this week as Lady Gaga set the all-time fan record by surpassing 10 million Facebook followers. It seems like further confirmation that Facebook is an unstoppable force sure to someday devour us all. Cable operators and programmers already make big use of Facebook to market new shows, products and, of course, to conduct customer service. But should we all be going so, uh… gaga? Must cable now devote big chunks of its advertising, marketing and customer service budgets to this ubiquitous platform that seems to attract all ages, demos and perhaps soon even species and aliens from other worlds?
To be sure, all companies now understand that Facebook is a vital component of any marketing or customer relationship strategy. During judging for CableFAX’s most recent Faxies and Best of the Web awards programs, we were blown away by the incredibly intricate and innovative social media campaigns that cable nets and operators are using to reach customers, with Facebook often a focal point. But how much time and money to devote here? And should the cable industry continue to focus so much on Facebook over other social media platforms.
A new study by online gaming site ROIWorld suggests that, like most things, Facebook’s hotness may be in the early stages of a cooling off—at least for the youth demographic that at one time made up the vast majority of its users. The site surveyed 600 teens (age 13-17) in late April and found that 19% of those with a Facebook account say they hardly use it anymore. What are the reasons? Well, 45% have just lost interest (hmmm… where did they go?!), but another 30% say it’s because too many adults are using it, including their parents! Not a big surprise, but all of this tells us something about how social media evolves over time. At some point, cool sites and activities started underground can get “co-opted” by a larger audience. With Facebook, kids are starting to feel like it’s no longer their place to hang out beyond the prying eyes of the adult world (they’re right). Before that, it was MySpace that started as a cool place to meet up and talk mostly about indie music, sharing tracks and making actual friends. But it soon became overcrowded, unwieldy and a haven for spammers and an endless parade of bands trying to friend everyone in sight. When it got too crazy, people migrated over to Facebook, which continues to do a much better job than MySpace ever did in keeping things clean and orderly. But still… the kids may be starting to tire of it. Is this a short-term bout of youthful moodiness or a canary in the coal mine? And will the rest of us experience the same kind of Facebook fatigue in due time?
The truth is that kids are smart. They’ll find places to go where they don’t feel like a bunch of adults are watching them or, worse… marketing products to them. That’s the exact reason that cable operators and programmers must be respectful in how they use social media—at least when it comes to the more fickle youth demo. Right now, the next big thing seems to be geo-location platforms like FourSquare and Gowalla… but young people are also flocking to more chaotic and unsafe environments such as ChatRoulette where anonymous users randomly connect via Webcams (Yes, this is a parent’s worst nightmare and justifiably so). Already, companies are trying to create ChatRoulette-like environments that are much safer, but what if the concept goes mainstream at some point, attracting all ages and plenty of companies pushing products? Kids—and perhaps the rest of us—will once again move on to the next thing. In the end, cable operators and networks obviously can’t ignore Facebook, Twitter or any of the other emerging social media platforms that allow them to reach and connect to their customers. Use them to full effect. But the sands of social media shift constantly. Companies must adapt every day and be ready to pull resources out of one environment and plow them into another at a moment’s notice. But understand one thing: Your customers will always be one step ahead.
(Michael Grebb is executive editor of CableFAX).

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