A newbie's guide to Facebook

We examine the fast-growing social networking site and detail its offerings from a business and personal perspective

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So, what is Facebook? It's all those things mentioned above and more. It's an online dating service; a chat room; a worldwide phone directory; an e-mail account; a photo, video and file-sharing warehouse (with unlimited file storage); a place to join or create new clubs or social forums (called Groups); a personal bulletin board (called the Wall); a social calendar (called Events); free advertising in the Marketplace; personal blogs (called Notes); a voter registration service; and even more.

Creative business solutions

In this case, more means lots of creative opportunities for businesses, bands and other groups and organizations. For example, with Facebook's social ads, members can create a home page "Sponsored Story" where businesses can promote their products and/or services through the news feed feature, which provides continual updates about what a user's friends are doing. And expanding on that function is the Facebook "Sponsored Group," where businesses can "message blast" registered group members through Facebook's internal e-mail system.

In addition, companies can create mini Web sites (called Facebook pages) where companies, bands, celebrities and politicians can design custom profiles for their business or career. It's sort of like an online brochure/résumé/advertisement of your products, services and skills.

Other business opportunities include the Facebook developer's platform (for companies that want to build applications to interface with Facebook) and the Facebook polls for statistical analysis and demographics. Here's a blog that discusses more business possibilities.

And here's a look at Facebook vs. LinkedIn: Which is better for business?

Problems

But the site has had its share of controversy. Last month, Facebook responded to user protests and made it easier for members to delete their accounts and all associated data.

It earlier took a lot of heat for its advertising tracking service called Beacon that many deemed to be too intrusive into users' privacy. In December, Facebook responded to the criticism and let users turn off the feature.

In 2006, Facebook was widely lambasted for its news feed component, also because of privacy concerns. Zuckerberg apologized and instituted better privacy controls.

Michael Greene, an analyst at JupiterResearch LLC, says the news feed program has developed into one of the site's better features, especially for businesses. "By allowing users to quickly scan their friends' updates, it has helped turn Facebook into a daily addiction for many users and allowed Facebook to develop innovative browsing options such as its iPhone application."

In each case, Facebook acted to address member complaints. Greene says Facebook "has a tremendous track record for considering their members and responding to their needs."

Facebook's strength, Greene notes, is its ability to link people together in networks, whether geographically based or centered around a school or employer, and provide a fun, highly usable communications platform for friends within these networks.

And the site is continuing to evolve and build on that strength. Recently it rolled out new privacy controls that determine who gets to see members' data, and announced it was developing an online chat service.

Sartain is a freelance writer in Utah. She can be reached at julesds@comcast.net.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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