Why Facebook is so Scary


The New York Times is now reporting that Facebook has 175 million users.  If it were a country, Facebook would be the 6th largest in the world.  Currently, its half the size of the United States.  With a reach like that and its amazing News Feed and Mini Feed applications that push content and interactions directly to a user’s profile page, is it any wonder that Facebook has become a marketer’s dream?

Facebook forces you to look in the mirror.

Facebook forces you to look in the mirror.

Facebook has started to replace phone calls and email inboxes as the preferred method of communication.  It’s messaging system allows an IM like experience with your network of friends.  It’s instant – and easy.  As a result, people are spending more time using it.  I keep it open on my desktop for hours a day because that’s how peers and clients communicate with me.

I use Facebook primarily for business.  As a public relations and communications consultant, I work in new media and have accounts on LinkedIn, Twitter, and actively write two blogs. I also have accounts at Technorati, Digg.com, Reddit, StumbleUpon and Delicious (although I’m not as active on those platforms).  Social media is part of what I do.

Yet as Facebook becomes more mainstream and stretches its demographics (right now the fastest growing segment is people over the age of 30), I worry  about the uncharted territory we’re heading into.  We have yet to realize the full societal impact of a platform like Facebook, which for a new generation of people already means never having to say good-bye to anyone – ever.

And that might not be a good idea.  Life is segmented on purpose.  A person isn’t the same person in high school as he is in college.  People in their 20s are different when they reach their 40s and 60s.  All of us change and evolve.  Part of that natural growing process is a result of cutting off ties with the past.  There’s a reason why we lose touch with acquaintances from high school.  There’s a reason why we didn’t stay in connected with co-workers from our first job.  A person has to let go in order to grow — to become who we are right now.

Will people still be willing to take chances?  Experiment with new thinking and lifestyles if they know their old boss or Aunt Betsy is watching?  By letting go of those people, we also open up to make room for new relationships.  Facebook and other social media platforms eliminate that process.  Now everyone from your life – no matter how peripheral – can remain intimately connected to you.  They can share in your photographs and videos, see and befriend your new relationships, experience your spouse and children.  Go too far down this path and it can get downright creepy.

Besides, how much capacity for intimacy does one person have?  Is it possible to be “friends” with several hundred or even a thousand people?  Is that even desirable?  So it will be extremely interesting to watch how the younger generation manages their lives in the age of Facebook and to witness what happens when a bunch of middle-aged and older people discover each other again (and realize why they let go of these people in the first place).

Be prepared.  Facebook can be an incredible tool — but it can also be a time machine.  You’ll probably awaken old friendships, but you’ll also dredge up painful memories and be whisked back to places you might not want to revisit.

It’s going to be quite a ride.

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Read our post on Confusing Privacy with Security

Read our post on Privacy and Facebook

14 Responses to “Why Facebook is so Scary”

  1. Hey George,

    Interesting commentary on Facebook. I have been weary to connect with old relationships…but it some ways it has been great. There are people I could not stand in High School or College, but seeing them with children and weathered by life changes my perception. I agree though…how can anyone maintain over 1k relationships online… it will be interesting to see where it all goes… will it go the way of the dinosaur? I think at some point people will want to get off or disconnect…. Many people I speak to feel as if Facebook and other platforms is the work of Big Brother… they found a way to track our every movement without having to force to tell them… Keep up the blogging!!!

  2. Thanks John:
    Who knew that Big Brother would be opt-in? Certainly Facebook’s recent dust up over its Terms of Service is going to intensify the debate of ownership of user-generated connect – including profiles at social media platforms. People get a false sense of security and don’t realize that their Facebook profiles (and photos and videos) are public. Right now it is a rush to get linked in. We’ll see if that desire remains in the long term.

  3. George –

    Great post. I completely agree with you and feel that it is healthy for people to phase out certain areas of their lives, and Facebook does hinder a person from doing that. Especially when there’s tools like People You May Know – all of a sudden someone sees you on there and wants to be your friend. Do you accept the friend request or ignore it? Are you the bad guy for ignoring it? Has the person changed as well and is looking to reconnect professionally?

    In my opinion, we are only going to see sites like Facebook grow and evolve into an even bigger monster once more mobile devices are equipped with Facebook applications. You look at the younger generation now and what they do with texting (perfect example). Once mobile devices evolve you’re going to see the average number of friends jump into the thousands as tweens, teens and young adults stay connected 24/7. Just think, their profiles are going to go with them from middle school, through high school, through college, and on!

    I also think this is where organizations who leverage social media correctly can capitalize because the reach of a campaign can go further than it has ever been able to before with minimal activity — but of course it needs to be the right activity.

  4. Hi Scott:
    Great points. Now think about the Facebook News Feed application and how powerful it is. Think about a business starting a Page on Facebook. If they update their Page regularly – those updates are captured by Facebook and displayed on the individual News Feeds on each fans’ profile pages.

    If the business has just 1,000 fans then those updates are read not only by the 1,000 fans, but by each of their friends (the average user on Facebook has 120 friends).

    Do the math: That means news and updates on the business’s Facebook Page reaches a potential audience of 120,000 people. Now imagine the business growing its number of fans to 5,000, 10,000 or even 100,000. Those are massive audience numbers.

    And that’s the real power of Facebook.

  5. That’s exactly it. Still one hurdle remains – convincing organizations that the time to join social networks is not next quarter or next year, but NOW. It takes year’s of active participation and engagement to reach a number in the 5K-100K fan range. And honestly I don’t necessarily think the primary objective of an organization should be to have a high number of followers. Instead they should concentrate on putting out content that keeps the followers they do have (50, 100, 500) engaged in the conversation. Give them something of value so they continue to visit and tell their friends via WOM.

    We as marketers need to get the message out that its not about how many people are talking about your company these days, it’s the quality of the conversations that are occurring.

  6. So true. Micro-targeting is really what social media is all about. Why shout to thousands to reach hundreds when you can interact and engage with those hundreds one on one.

  7. Hi George,

    I just stumbled upon your blog, but find it fascinating. I agree that managing all of this technology in our lives is the challenge and opportunity of our time. As a tail-end baby boomer, I find that keeping up with it all can be overwhelming and over-stimulating, and I yet at least we were raised in an era when people talked about “time management.”

    I don’t see anyone teaching the next generation how to prioritize their time online, and for that matter, the relationships in their lives. I agree, we can be OVER-connected, and yet I do find there is opportunity to stay connected to people who matter to you by using tools like Facebook purposefully.

    I think you are also right that the anonymous online connections are leading to a decline in civility. Are you doing any consulting in schools or educational settings about managing our technological time and/or our on-line civility? I am involved in public education advocacy and I find this topic to be absent from the conversation.

  8. scintillatebrightly April 24, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    Its interesting to read this article. I’ve had FB now for five years and have gone through all these concerns at one point or another. Now in 2012 my usage of it has completely changed from what it used to be. I have more connections then ever before and I use them to maintain a social and thereby potential professional network.
    As the security settings have evolved less and less people are privy to the “real” me and thus it doesn’t bother me that much. Though in all fairness, they are still privy to much too much information.

  9. Hi Scintillate Brightly:
    More than you probably realize. I think you experience speak volumes about the ways people are evolving their usage of social media platforms like Facebook.

  10. scintillatebrightly April 25, 2012 at 9:52 am

    Be that as it may. I think the younger generation basically accepts that there is no such thing as privacy. Our lives are open books, only now the illusion that they were anything else is understood to not exist. I would argue it never really existed at all.

  11. Privacy is an illusion on social networks. I was at a conference early this week when the presenter shared an interesting story. There is a company that will analyze Twitter data for brands. They can discover that the people who tweet about Brand X also tweet about a specific TV show – showing the brand which TV, movies and music that their fans like the most. Amazing and creepy all at the same time.

  12. Great points from all. Fb has pros and cons, cons for me was ended up having argument via message thread with some friends over one silly word. It was taken out of context. It is so engaging to write what we feel even while we are angry, I learn my lesson. Keep blogging Mr. George I enjoy reading your blog.

  13. Thank you, Anonymous! Come back any time.

  14. great piece! amazing points. thanks for sharing george.

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