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Mississippians on fire for Facebook

If you think social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are just for kids, think again. Facebook, which has fewer security problems than MySpace and is more geared toward adults, is catching on in Mississippi—and across the world.

It is estimated there are approximately 86,000 Facebook users in the Jackson metro area alone. Facebook has an estimated 120 million users worldwide, and is the fourth most heavily trafficked web site on the Internet. The phenomenon is expected to continue to gain in popularity.

“The web is shifting from a vast encyclopedia of information to a social environment that reflects our real identities, and the relationships and information we care about,” Facebook says. “Facebook is at the forefront of that change. We’re leading a social movement by building ground-breaking technology that gives people the power to share and makes the world more open and connected.”

Signing up for and using a Facebook account is free. The way it works is you create a profile, and then add “friends,” which can include family members, old school friends, business associates and also people with similar interests who are recommended by other friends. When you post messages about what you are doing, it is included in a summary your friends receive that reports what their friends are doing.

One popular feature is to post photos. You can then zero in to “tag” people in the photos who are other Facebook users. Then their friends get notice about the photo being posted. You can join or create causes, which will send messages to friends on Facebook asking them to join the cause. Or you can post invitations to special events for everyone who is part of your group of Facebook friends.

You can find friends yourself by searching under their name. Friends can be recommended by other friends. And Facebook can recommend friends based on social or business networks you have in common like graduating from the same college.

There are a number of ways Facebook can be valuable to business and professional networking. Imagine you have a big open house at your business or participate in a charity golf tournament, and then post photos on your site. All the Facebook friends of the participants you “tag” also learn about the event.

Facebook is paid for by advertisements that appear alongside the Facebook profiles and information. And while you aren’t likely to want to replace traditional advertising in print or broadcast medias, Facebook could be a good addition to your portfolio of ways to connect with colleagues and customers.

Liza Looser, CEO, The Cirlot Agency Inc., Jackson, said Facebook is considered “a social media strategy” that is useful for connecting to customers.

“It just works as another added value to a total media strategy,” Looser said. “You can quickly communicate information and get an immediate response back. That is what we use it for in many ways. It doesn’t necessarily replace other media. It is also used for business-to-business communications. There is a ton of information exchanged this way in the business community. LinkedIn is for business to business and the professional market. LinkedIn allows for professional communications to other professionals, just as Facebook is to consumers and the general public.”

The Cirlot Agency composed a Facebook strategy for promoting Ole Miss when it hosted the Presidential debate this past year. It recommended a Facebook group be created to assist Ole Miss in the promotion of the Presidential debate to current and prospective students across the U.S. The page served as an educational tool, as well as assisted Ole Miss in student recruitment efforts.

The site featured some of the same information included on the Presidential debate web page: debate calendar of events including lists of debate watch parties, changes to university schedules and operations, photo gallery, Ole Miss political expert biographies and contact information, discussion forum, online candidate poll, a campus tour/video with message from Dr. Robert Khayat and prominent alumni, a message from student body president, voter FAQs, etc.

Two thousand Facebook members joined the Ole Miss Presidential debate group in the months prior to the September event in Oxford. A total of 1,697 Facebook group members visited the official debate web site. One of the most successful aspects of the Facebook group was a voter registration drive, which linked members to Rock the Vote. The Cirlot Agency sent regular messages to group members reminding them to register.

By the voter registration deadline in October, 1,000 new voters came from the Facebook group and the debate web site. Rock the Vote ranked The Cirlot Agency and the University of Mississippi as one of “the top 100 partners in Rock the Vote’s voter registration campaign,” according to Amanda Eckerson of Rock the Vote.

Facebook has taken steps to address privacy issues. MySpace has received a lot of negative publicity over the past few years where privacy is concerned.

“While it cannot be completely regulated, Facebook has taken additional measures to regulate potential predators,” Looser said. “On Facebook, the user controls who adds friends, who sends them friend requests, messages and everything else. And in turn, Facebook users can only add or view the profiles of people they know. MySpace allows all users to try to make friends with other users and users are allowed to send anyone bulletins. On Facebook, users can find their friends by searching for their names or social network, while on MySpace almost no one uses a remotely recognizable name.”

Looser said with Facebook, people know the audience that will be reading their information, and they feel comfortable publishing more details about their lives. MySpace is less private. She also likes the Facebook design, which is clean and simple.

“MySpace, on the other hand, has the ability to completely change your profile with badly designed templates, moving backgrounds and poorly sized images,” she said. “On Facebook, a user can be guaranteed of knowing what they are looking at on any of their friends’ profiles.”

Looser also likes the low-key advertising on Facebook. She said most Facebook users do not notice the advertising messages on their page, though they are consistently being marketed to.

“Because the messages are specifically targeted to them, these messages are much less intrusive than those on MySpace,” she said. “Advertisers on Facebook are also of a higher caliber. Instead of online dating sites, Facebook’s advertisers tend to include companies such as Blockbuster, CBS, Careerbuilder, Coke, Verizon, etc. These companies often create pages, flyers and bulletins to target users instead of typical banner ads.”

Another ad executive in Mississippi, Debra K. Shafer, queen, Dux D’Lux Inc., Starkville, is not yet using Facebook or other social networking sites that much. At this point, her firm does not use it for business except for advertising for employees.

“We put some want ads out on it periodically,” she said. “We don’t at this point use it for our advertising business. That is something we may look to in the future. I don’t have a Facebook account and don’t have that much interest in it. Some of our younger staff might be more ready to us it.”

Shafer suggests some of her clients look at Facebook or MySpace as a marketing tool depending on their targeted audience.

“If their demographics include that younger generation, definitely that is a place to look,” Shafer said. “I find most of my client base is not real active in that FacebookMySpace arena at this point.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.

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