Facebook’s recent buzz has all been about their “Twittification”, reducing the former enjoyable randomness of Facebook to a homogenous Twitter feed. It’s caused all sorts of ructions and mutinies among users with the predictable Facebook groups being set up to demand that the system be scrapped and the norm returned to.
Haha Facebook, now you know people who don’t like Wispas feel.
Anyway, under the radar of the awful publicity and frantic petitioning Facebook have been making some very shrewd, very quiet changes to the way it works. I have, for some time now, been telling anyone who will listen (and some that wont) that the value of Facebook’s targeting information is worth it’s weight in gold and that they haven’t even began to exploit it. It now looks like they have began to actually realise what the potential of the data they hold and they have chosen just about the right time to do it. Online advertising spend is conservatively predicted to fall by around 10% in 2009 and Google has just recorded its first sequential quarterly drop in sales since 2004. Even that’s great when you compare it in the virtual collapse of traditional media ad spend which has tanked and is in the process of taking many a newspaper and TV station with it.
So in the face of all of that what of Facebook’s revenues then? Well, as I said above, they have historically been awful at making money so it’s from a fairly low basemark. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO says that their ad revenues “may climb 70 percent this year”. Simply amazing, doubly so in 2009, so how are they doing this?
Firstly there’s the ads which have up to “25 characters in the title and as many as 135 characters in the body of the text”, sound familiar? Yes, it’s Twitter. OK, theres an optional photo but that’s what it is, but while Facebook had egg on its face when it last aped Twitter it seems this time it has paid off. Tim Kendall, Facebook’s director of product marketing for monetization (ouch, nice title Tim) says the service lets companies target users based on the information they put on their profiles “You basically just have a greater diversity of people using our ad system — lots of businesses, lots of local businesses finding success. It’s really been a steady, successful growth pattern.”
They have also been *ahem* heavily influenced by Google’s adwords system with their new campaign configuration interface. Feedback for this has been pretty patchy and that’s being kind, but as someone who used early incarnations of the AdWords system I can attest to the fact that it has improved immeasurably over time.
They have also, for the first time, employed a real, human Sales Team to assist companies with more interactive promotions, rather gloriously called “Engagement Ads.” They can include features such as video and let users do things like become “fans” of a brand. Add that to the fact that that it has 200 million active users and is still growing rapidly, especially among baby boomers, then Facebook’s outlook is pretty rosy.