The Facebook IPO

Salzman: The Real Impact of Facebook 

Dan Salzman,|Guest Colmunist
Thomas Coex | AFP | Getty Images

As the celebration of Facebookreaches its crescendo with its IPO it is useful to consider the transformational impact Facebook is having on how companies interact with their customers. 

For marketers, the task used to be largely driving awareness for a product or service in a way that was compelling enough for a consumer to buy. Communication was one-way, and the unit of measure was the number of people we made aware and the number that responded. Today, Facebook creates a forum – a public square – where people share reactions and experiences, positive and negative, to products and services.

Certainly, this dynamic existed before Facebook. This community-driven shift toward conversation was first initiated by blogs that emerged a few years before social networks. But where blogs created millions of disparate, loosely connected communities, Facebook brought the audience – and the subsequent conversations – into one place, creating a more inviting and intriguing opportunity for us as business leaders.

So how have smart brands made the most of the opportunity Facebook provides? We’ve started by recognizing what the audience is looking for from us. Being part of the Facebook community doesn’t mean pushing the same old messages in the same old ways. The people who subscribe to our communities aren’t signing up to be part of a mailing list for marketing messages. They expect a relationship. They expect interaction and response. They expect a voice in how we talk to them and in what products we create. So savvier brands now enter their Facebook community’s conversations looking less to promote than to learn.

That change in mindset has led to a shift in emphasis in how we measure success – and that shift has been liberating for the brands willing to embrace it. No longer do we have to look to sheer numbers as the arbiter of our marketing success. The conversational approach allows us to aim for quality over quantity, because you’re no longer simply aiming to just put your message in front of as many eyes as possible.

Thanks to Facebook, we’re trying to reach customers through interaction with them. Gauging the depth of the relationships we build and the communities we create on Facebook rather than purely seeking “reach” has changed the way we look at measurement and metrics.

Effectively building these relationships also calls for changing our tone. Businesses that succeed in this environment are those that speak genuinely and authentically, those that deliver on their promises, and that share and build on the interests of the community.  Blatant marketing and selling should be done at your own risk; the Facebook audience will call you on it. Thanks to the ease with which community members can share their experiences, good or bad, with everyone in their Facebook network, one simple misstep can resonate negatively with audiences orders of magnitude larger than just our communities.

Perhaps the most transformational aspect of Facebook for businesses is that it creates a branded forum “owned” by the brand, where we still get to hear what customers really think.  Focus groups and surveys will always play a role in understanding our customers, but they are by definition one step removed from the real conversation. 

A good comparator is an HR survey on employee satisfaction versus the authentic conversation that happens over lunch with a group of disgruntled employees.  Facebook gives us a place where our customers willingly gather to tell us what they really think about our brands, our services, our products and our marketing, and what they expect from us – for free. The smart brands are listening, are learning from what they hear, and are using the learning to take action.

Shifting marketing from push to relationship. Changing the way we measure success. Creating a natural watercooler where brands and our customers connect on an equal playing field with equal voice. Facebook didn’t cause or initiate these changes, but it certainly has amplified them. In doing so, it has shifted the balance of power between company and consumer perhaps irrevocably in the consumer’s favor. That’s a legacy all companies would do well to understand and acknowledge – and in which Facebook and its communities should take pride.

Dan Salzman, Vice President of Customer and Market Insights, Hewlett Packard. As Vice President of Insights, in addition to overall global functional leadership, Dan is responsible for defining HP's Insights foundation including market sizing, segmentation, customer tracking, ROI, share tracking/reporting, global business unit insights support and methodology development.