Will Commercializing Facebook Change Its Character?

You remember the Facebook from the early days of 2010, don’t you? It was that innocent social network that let friends connect with each other and make new friends.

Turns out that memory may be fading fast as Facebook re-engineers itself to be a commercial powerhouse. Social media has grown up and this year it will be all about business. That’s why Facebook may be turning into something that looks nothing like its former self.

Consider Facebook Deals, introduced late last year, as just one signal of Facebook’s move to commercialization. Intended to maximize the value of Facebook Places, which itself was commercially motivated, Deals is really a way to get local businesses to fuel their sales using Facebook – and to give consumers a reason to view Facebook as a useful tool for local commerce that extends beyond simply networking with friends.

But Deals is just the beginning. Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Facebook has been meeting with major companies like Delta Air Lines and J.C. Penney in an effort to supercharge its business partnerships through a newly created “commerce partnerships group” headed by David Fisch. Fisch told Businessweek that the group will help companies “build tools that let Web users interact while buying” and that Facebook will build “analytic tools to let retailers learn more about who’s drawn to certain products.”

Interestingly, Facebook’s commercialization push isn’t limited to traditional retailers looking for a way to leverage Facebook’s enormous user base. Apparently, even online competitors are getting in on the action. According to Facebook, “more than half of the top 25 retail sites” link to Facebook. That includes Amazon and eBay. eBay spokeswoman Johnna Hoff told Businessweek that eBay “will continue to add options for integrating shopping into social networks, and sharing listings and other eBay pages.” Co-opetition makes more sense than fighting each other when huge dollars are at stake.

A strong indication of things to come was the announcement by Procter & Gamble that the consumer goods marketing giant would be throwing its considerable weight behind social media, most notably Facebook, in 2011. If any marketer is watched closely for their strategic media moves it’s P&G. They spend more money than any American company on advertising – so they must be pretty confident that social media is deserving of big bucks.

Okay, the evidence is clear – Facebook will be the big commercial thing this year. And this raises an interesting question: Will commercialization change Facebook’s character – and maybe even subvert its original purpose?

Think about the consumer’s perception. How will the average Facebook user, long accustomed to a Facebook that seemed like a friendly, non-commercial e-diary, react to a Facebook that is now becoming a big sophisticated marketing machine? Will Facebook fanatics get turned off by Groupon-like deals and the increasing presence of big brands trying to entice fans to “like” their pages? Will Facebook users accept the idea that Facebook is now becoming another online shopping venue – or will they rebel at the thought of their beloved networking tool turning “green” (as in money)?

This should be an interesting transition for Facebook and the half a billion people who use it. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the commercialization of Facebook.

About Barry Silverstein

Barry Silverstein is a freelance writer/marketing consultant. In addition to writing for ReveNews, he is a contributing writer to Brandchannel.com, the world’s leading online branding forum. He is the author of three marketing books, The Breakaway Brand (co-author, McGraw-Hill, 2005), Business-to-Business Internet Marketing (Maximum Press, 2003) and Internet Marketing for Technology Companies (Maximum Press, 2003). Barry ran his own Internet and direct marketing agency for twenty years. You can find Barry on Twitter @bdsilv.

5 Responses to Will Commercializing Facebook Change Its Character?

  1. Barry, great questions. The sad thing about all this is that Facebook, and probably Facebook alone, has the opportunity to turn commercialization the other way around, in favor of the user or consumer. That is to say, instead of exposing users to advertisers, Facebook could use its power over advertisers to force them to expose themselves to users. It will be quite an underwhelming lack of imagination for Facebook to leverage its success to simply . . . perpetuate 20th Century consumer commerce. You may be right; it may be simply commercialization that could turn people off. But I think a new kind of commercialization would keep people, something the opposite of what the offline world traffics in.

  2. bdsilv says:

    Thanks for your input, William. I'm intrigued by your comment that Facebook could promote "a new kind of commercialization" to engage and involve its users. If they have the vision and capability to do so, it could be very exciting for a new type of relationship between the consumer and the marketer.

  3. Rodolfo says:

    Excellent question not just for Facebook but it does and will apply to many more companies as time passes. I remember when Microsoft was the big software monopoly that everyone loved to hate well in the future it could well be one of the social media or internet companies as they continue to grow and try to find a way to keep the growth to please shareholders. Facebook, Google, etc.. will need to commercialize their websites to increase revenue to keep shareholders happy.

  4. Jim E says:

    Most people are weary of being 'commercialized'. The inherit weakness of sites like facebook, twitter, etc, is that they have to 'sell to' people.

    Buying something is not a social activity for many people. They like to initiate the process on sites like google, not be 'sold to' socially.

  5. […] I’ve questioned the impact that commercializing Facebook may have on its consumer-oriented character, I can’t […]