Facebook: A collision of private & professional

I promised myself I wouldn’t write about Facebook. Everyone’s writing and talking about it. And I just hate being part of a mob.

However part of a mob I am, as I am a Facebook user. And I need help. I must admit I love it and I love burning my company’s bandwidth while using it. I am addicted to the thing and I’m going to need to see someone about it.

But I am not alone: South Africa just happens to be one of the biggest countries on the hit social networking site at the moment. I suppose this is impressive, but we are an early adopter country. I doubt we’ll sustain this position when saturation is reached.

But it appears every Tom, Dick and Bongani is using it. All my friends are using it and all my colleagues are using it. It’s quite disturbing because it’s a place where both my professional and my personal life collide. So this means my colleagues get to see pictures of me — the upstanding media professional — in a pub, wearing a pink feather boa while slowly disintegrating one fine bachelor’s evening. My non-media friends get to see how boring I can be when I waft on about the finer mechanics of the wiki. I guess that’s life.

From a media perspective Facebook has proved to be a useful business tool. I’ve used it to create new contacts. I’ve used it to recruit staff. It works for me because I assume that if you are savvy enough to have a Facebook profile, then you are the kind of person I want working for my organisation.

At the Mail & Guardian Online, we’ve created Facebook groups and applications. Our Mail & Guardian Reader group has attracted quite a few sign-ups. We were one of the first to create a Facebook news application where users are able to add our news headlines and latest Zapiro cartoons to their profiles. We think some users will feel it’s quite handy to have news on their Facebook profiles. From our perspective, we are promoting our brand and getting readers to visit our site. And most crucially, it also allows me to surf Facebook during work hours, and call it “research”.

From a personal perspective I’ve found Facebook useful. I’ve used it to get back in touch with old friends I haven’t seen in ages. I’ve advertised my garden cottage and my second-hand DSTV decoder via the service. I now have a happy tenant and 300 bucks in my pocket.

If the significance of this is lost on you, let me put it another way: I didn’t need to advertise these in the classifieds of a newspaper or website. So it looks like Facebook has the potential to impact on this very important revenue stream of media publications. I also didn’t have to buy job listings, because I did this for free via Facebook.

Another interesting development is that I see some major South African companies advertising on Facebook. This means South African companies advertising to a South African audience by placing advertising spend on a foreign site. Although by no means unique to Facebook, the site appears to be attracting quite a bit of local adspend. It means advertising dollars are flowing out of the country and local publishers are competing with global players for a share of their own market.

Bizarre? No, it’s globalisation. And we can expect more of it. The upside is that as a South African publisher that attracts overseas readers, we should be able to attract overseas advertising revenue in other direction. It means more competition. But competition keeps us on our toes.

So it looks like the internet has produced another spoiler for traditional media models. Hold on, it’s getting choppier out there.

Originally published in Netsavvy

Matthew Buckland: Publisher


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