My friends demonstrating why Facebook will never make investors a heap of money

September 2012

Way before the furore which marked the flotation of Facebook on the Nasdaq back in May, many in the world of marketing were saying that this social media platform, and despite its mind-blowing stats on users, was not one where investors were going to make their millions. In very crude terms and when compared to other stuff people do on their PCs, laptops, tablets and smart phones, social media isn’t normally about spending money. So all the talk about ‘social commerce’ – so buying products when using Facebook – was from people who didn’t really understand what consumers were doing online. In even cruder terms, if you’re on Google then you’re probably in the market for buying something, but if you’re on Facebook then you’re probably just there to tell your mates what you just had for dinner.

In fact, recent research has shown that a staggering 91% of 16-24 year olds say they have no intention of making a purchase of a product or service directly through Facebook.

But of course that doesn’t mean there isn’t a commercial value in brands having a strong presence on Facebook or indeed other social media platforms; patently there is. Indeed my March 2012 comment outlined some of the more obvious uses including brand building and market research. However, all of these things, and certainly relative to straight sales, are more difficult to put a true commercial value on – and hence why it’s now acknowledged that the opening share price for Facebook was artificially inflated at around $38, and now stands at a more realistic $21.

But anyway and given what we’re talking about here, I thought I might do my own piece of (not terribly scientific) research based on a selected pool of my friends on Facebook, and put some individuals into (somewhat unfair) groups, keep others on their own, and determine which, if any, might purchase something when absorbed with posting photos of the pepperoni pizza they were just about to eat, or their award-winning child laden down with prizes for being best young performer at the annual school play. So here goes with my assessment, and the first stages of reducing my already dismally-low number of friends on Facebook…

1.  Look at my airline ticket

A friend I haven’t seen for many years, and someone who is quite possibly one of the most intelligent people I have ever met, now jets around the world on business and in particular to Japan. But does he ever tire of posting an image of carefully-grouped BA airline ticket, passport and cup of coffee whilst waiting in the lounge at Terminal 5? Apparently not, and for me the novelty of his globe-trotting exploits wore-off some time back. I was dead impressed when the new job started, but the continual posting on largely the same subject matter would be a bit like Jeremy Clarkson continually telling us how many fast cars he drives a week (which, thankfully, he doesn’t tell us). Would my ultra-clever jet-setting friend use Facebook to buy stuff? Probably not, but if he did and the purchase was impressive, then I guess we just might get to learn about it.

2.  Look at my wonderful child

If Facebook was around 20 years ago then I don’t doubt for a minute that my every-other post would have included a pic of my then young daughter and her latest achievements. So my friends whose offspring are a decade or two younger than mine now is, I completely forgive you for sharing every microscopic detail about your child’s life – just don’t expect me to be interested. Would my younger friends with their beautiful babies and pre-teenage years children with an IQ bigger than yours or mine, take time out from posting to buy a three piece suite on Facebook? Only if their future nuclear scientist child was having a rare off day – which they never do of course.

3.  Look at my dinner

I actually only have one friend who routinely does this, but given he’s an intelligent fellow and holds down a good job, I have to question his sanity for posting not only an image of his dinner, but also the empty plate some ten minutes later. Of course such specific actions are really just symptoms of a wider mental health issue, which I refer to as ‘obsessive compulsive Facebook disorder’. Would this troubled individual use Facebook to carry out an element of their weekly shop? Only if the day presented no more trivia to share with us – and there’s always cleaning your teeth and taking your slippers off…

4.  Look at my interesting life

Which, from where I’m standing, actually means they don’t have one. In fact for this particular individual I know that to the case, but that doesn’t make them a bad person – just one who is now retired and whose life revolves producing a cynical but ill-informed running commentary on world affairs and sporting events (neither of which they know bugger-all about). And a propensity to shop online through their beloved social media platform? Hardly; wouldn’t know what buttons to press.

5.  Look at my witty observations of this evening’s TV viewing

At least three of my friends must be fondling their laptop, tablet or smart phone as they watch TV most evenings, as my daily post-dinner check on Facebook normally reveals a string of posts related to the evening’s viewing. One individual does succeed in being witty and I generally enjoy his contributions to my newsfeed, but that’s rather less the case with the other two (who, as it happens, both feature in 3 and 4 above). Time to book a holiday from that ad that keeps popping up on the right of their Facebook page? No, and even if they did have time between posts about how annoying the Irish judge is on XFactor, then why wouldn’t they switch to Google and search the world for online offers like the rest of us.

And my own habits on Facebook? Well I certainly don’t fit into any of the above classifications, but if there was one for ‘Look at my latest share with a secular or atheism message’ then no question I’d be comfortably sat within that. (I use Facebook to further the serious causes I passionately believe in.)

And no, I’ve never used Facebook to buy anything and can’t imagine I ever will. So does that make me the same as my friend who routinely posts images of his dinner plate? To my mind, strictly in an online shopping sense only.

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