Sophy Silver, Facebook: The sway of social networks

Brands that manage their reputations on social networking sites are reaping the rewards.

Sophy Silver, Facebook: The sway of social networks

When Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook seven years ago in a Harvard dorm, no-one could really have known that it would turn into a social utility enabling half a billion people to connect with their friends, share information and experience the internet. Facebook is helping the internet change from an information web to a social web - from the wisdom of crowds to the wisdom of friends. In the UK alone, 30 million people now live in a world where 'liking' something has taken on an entirely new meaning.

This growth has been driven not by complex technology, but by people, and the ways in which they like to interact. This is about a fundamental need for everything we interact with to be social, to be experienced with the people we know and like.

It was not too long ago that people used to add their pictures to photo sharing sites. They gave people a way to archive their images, but they were awkward to share with the people you wanted to see them. When Facebook first launched its photos application, it did something different - it let people tag their friends, creating a social experience that sparked sharing and conversation. Now, people add more than 100 million tags to photos on Facebook every day.

Facebook's growing size has made it a shorthand for 'everything on the internet' and that brings with it reputational issues. Similarly, when the internet became widely available, some blamed its existence for the ills of the world. Today Facebook is in a similar situation. It is a communications service, and a house party that gets out of hand is not a 'Facebook party'. It is just a house party.

While Facebook is based around the way people have always behaved, major technological shifts can make some uncomfortable. The debate about privacy - and the security of personal information in particular - is more important today as a result. Facebook leads the sector in these areas by giving the people who use the site the most powerful tools to control their data, their identity, and their safety. Our reputation is built on how the people who use Facebook feel about their everyday experience.

Those reading this may be more interested in how they manage their brand's reputation on Facebook. The web is being reorganised, with people put at its heart. Successful businesses are now social by design, so we must create and nurture brands around people and the things they care about.

Some brands are already leading the way, creating lasting connections to people and developing inspiring and relevant creative content that people want to share with their friends.

Facebook is a blank canvas for creative ideas that get people talking and sharing. Its value to marketers lies in the ability to spread your message as the people connected to your brand engage their friends.

It isn't just about engaging your supporters. Facebook can help you reach critics too. Just as a person excited by a new advert or jacket might want to tell their friends, if someone hasn't received what they've been promised they'll want to complain about it too. Engaging with critics on Facebook enables brands to understand the issues that matter to their customers, and evolve their business to meet expectations.

As managing the relationship between brands and their audiences on Facebook becomes increasingly important, the most successful brands show an understanding that to manage reputation effectively, we first have to manage conversations.

Sophy Silver is head of communications, UK & Ireland at Facebook.

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