Welcome to Facebookville
I was driving around town the other day taking care of some errands when the thought occurred to me that one way to analogize Facebook is as a town. In fact, let's call it "Facebookville."
Think with me for a moment. In every town there are residential neighborhoods where conversations take place across the backyard fence or on the front porch, where those can still be found. Similarly, "backyard fence" style conversations take place all the time in Facebook, as people share that which interests them.
Towns also have clubs and organizations in which people gather. Facebook's version is called Groups. A quick search reveals groups of all types. For example, in the city where I live (Lafayette, LA), there is a group called the "Sushi Snobs of Lafayette" that numbers 176 members.
One of my favorites is a group called Lemonade Day, which was started by Prepared 4 Life, an organization that teaches young people how to start, own and operate their own lemonade business.
Almost every town of any size has at least one library and perhaps a museum. Thanks to a new component of its platform called Community Pages, Facebook now has that too. These are wikipedia-like pages dedicated to a topic that is "owned collectively by the community connected to it," according to a Facebook blog post.
Finally, every town has a business district. In Facebook parlance, that is simply (and somewhat ambiguously) referred to as a "Page." Most of us typically call them Fan Pages.
Rather than using a personal Profile, a Page is the place where Facebook wants businesses to hang their shingle. Facebook's terms of service carry a mandate which says, "Pages are special profiles that may only be used to promote a business or other commercial, political, or charitable organization or endeavor (including non-profit organizations, political campaigns, bands, and celebrities)."
What is a town without a grocery store, doctor's office or clothing store? In the same vein, Facebookville would not be complete without its business district comprised of millions of fan pages.
Though people don't normally come to the social network with the intention to buy or sell, Facebook does report that the average user becomes a fan of up to four pages every month. Some 20 million users become fans of a page every day. The number of businesses which have set up a fan page now numbers 1.5 million, according Inside Facebook.
A recent study by research firm Morspace (as reported by BizReport) states, "41% of Facebook users say the primary reason they join a fan page is to let friends know what products they support, and 68% say a positive referral from a Facebook friend makes them more likely to buy a specific product or visit a certain retailer."
The Morspace report draws this conclusion: "Our data shows that Facebook can allow businesses to directly communicate with their target market, whether this is the exchange of product information, the offering of exclusive coupons and discounts, or the viral product buzz from Facebook friends."
Perhaps a more appropriate way to analogize Facebook is not as a town, but as a large, bustling metropolis, or, even better, as its own country. (With over 500 million members, it would be the 3rd largest.)
Regardless, just as any town, city or country needs businesses to drive the economy, so Facebook needs business to drive social commerce within its borders. If you have yet to establish a presence there, let me encourage you to do so. And when you do, let me be the first to extend a hearty "Welcome to Facebookville."