By the numbers, Facebook is well over 500 million members strong.
As a community, its members spend over 700 billion minutes a month and share over 30 billion pieces of content (per month) in the Facebook environment (via status updates, comments, videos, links, etc.).
If you compare Facebook to the populations of the largest countries around the world it would rank 3rd behind China and India.
Like China and India, Facebook is an 'emerging' economy that business professionals are trying to understand. It has its own social norms, privacy issues, cultural sensitivities and community rules that govern how business is done and how its members engage and derive value.
Unlike China and India, however, the 'Facebook Nation' has no borders (with amost 70% of members outside of the U.S.) and is growing at a rate that will likely eclipse China and India over the next 3-5 years - in terms of population.
The rise of Social Business.
Online social communities like Facebook have reached a level of maturity in that their value is more than just about 'connecting people' or helping people manage their relationships. The power and impact of communities like Facebook, Twitter (175 million members) and Yelp (33+ miilion members) have reached impressive milestones over the last 18 months on a number of socioeconomic, business, and political levels.
From a business perspective, just as business leaders are actively looking to emerging economies like China and India for opportunities to grow and expand their business; they must also take time understand the opportunities of doing business and managing their corporate presence in any of the growing number of powerful social communities (like Facebook) - beyond maintaining fan pages and advertising/sponsorship campaigns.
A Shift in Perspective.
Business leaders must shift their perspective on social media to think more in context of social business and how principles of social thinking can help them be successful and more competitive in this new environment.
As I have written before, I see that there are essentially three fundamental principles of social thinking that business leaders must align to, in order to be successful in a social business environment. You must:
- Be open to ideas outside of your own
- Be flexible and open enough to incorporate those ideas into what you do
- Have a genuine desire to achieve continuous competitive advantage where your relationship with the customer is the key differentiator
The tipping point.
Although Facebook is the example that I use to draw comparison to emerging economies based on 'size and scale' of populations, I would be remise in saying that Facebook is 'the only' online social community or approach that companies should tap into - to build and grow their business.
Vanessa DiMauro, and I have conducted research as part of our fellowship with the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR) to understand how professionals use, engage and depend on their online social networks to support (among other things) their decision making.
Through our research we have found that online communities and social networks (as a whole) have reached a heightened level of trust and maturity in that 'decision makers' are becoming increasingly reliant on their online communities or social media peer groups to support, inform and shape their decisions and opinions.
Another key observation is that behavior in how people engage in online social environments has reached a tipping point based on the level of trust and depth of collaboration (sharing of experience and insight) that matches if not slightly exceeds the trust and engagement in one's more traditional offline social environments.
What does this mean? If the online social network or community fits the need of any given population of users (by role - profession, famility, industry, etc); interest or hobby; social or professional issue; etc) people are ready to engage and do so with purpose.
The opportunity in B2B.
In a B2B environment, purpose-built online communities such as any of the nine Social Media Today communities that include MyVenturePad.com, TheSocialCusomer.com and TheEnergyCollective.com; or corporate driven communities such as SAP's massive SAP Community Network with 2 million+ members; or general purpose professional communities that have grown organically within LinkedIn (via LinkedIn Groups) - are the types communities that companies should engage and/or build to support their business efforts.
Vanessa DiMauro's company, Leader Networks, is successful in working with businesses to create purpose-built online communities that deliver strong measurable results. She shares excellent case examples, approaches, frameworks and steps to support the development of specialized communities on her company site and through her blog.
The opportunity in B2C.
There are also amazing examples in the B2C space where companies are using social networks like Facebook to develop and grow their businesses. Brian Solis showcases how companies are building communities around their brands in Facebook in a recent blog post.
And finally, here is a great list of specialized online communities and social networks defined by topics of interest/issues-based, profession, hobby, etc.