Sophy Tobias, Facebook: A future born from our past

The internet has been rebuilt as a social tool because people want to connect with each other.

The internet is changing. It is no longer just a place to get information, it is a place to interact with our friends and with the institutions that make up our society. The internet has gone social.

The web used to be about finding bits of information and it did it incredibly well. Suddenly the world and all its data was at our fingertips. We could access and search for almost anything from anywhere.

But everyone's experience was essentially the same. Websites didn't know or care who was looking at them - the experience was one-way and impersonal. The focus was on the information that was being provided and not on the consumer.

All industries put people at the heart of what they do, and yet the internet did not do this during its early years.

With the relatively recent creation of social networks, that experience is changing. Each Facebook user has a personalised experience that is based on who they are and what they like. But they also get to share what they do with their friends, turning the personal into social.

This evolution of the internet should not be surprising. It reflects the ways in which we live our lives, the fact that we are social beings who take pleasure from interacting with each other. The internet can now bring us closer together, putting us in touch with family and friends who no longer live in the same place. Grandparents who live at the other end of the country can see pictures of their grandchildren and be kept up to date on their latest achievements in a way that could only have happened in the past if they had lived close by.

It is because we are social that the web has been rebuilt around people as a social tool. This is the future, born from our past, and it is why I am so passionate about the role of Facebook on the internet and in society.

This social web means people can share their views more easily and organise themselves more effectively. Governments are starting to understand this value and are using social networks to engage and consult in ways that are immediate and effective. President Obama was perhaps the first, using social networks as the backbone of an entire campaign, raising money and getting people out to vote.

Here in the UK, the Electoral Commission worked with Facebook to increase voter registration in the 2010 election by engaging people through our platform.

If governments can do it, so can brands. The social web makes it simpler and more effective for companies to find and engage their customers in a personal way. Engagement can now be two-way - a conversation - and that is much more powerful.

If consumers like what a brand is doing, the social web lets them share it with their friends. That has huge value. We are more likely to purchase something or support a cause or brand if our friends do as well. Whether it is the 'Bring Back Wispa' campaign or the way Hugo Boss has created a competition to find its next model on Facebook, brands are getting closer to their customers.

That is why the social web is the future of the internet. We want to be connected to each other and now we have the technology that can make that happen.

That technology puts people at the heart of the web and in doing so creates a fundamental shift in the way in which we organise our relationships with each other, the institutions around us and the brands we buy every day.


What is the most memorable digital PR activity in the past six months?

Samsung's use of Facebook to launch its Galaxy Tab product was a recent success. It combined great content with smart use of a range of advertising products on Facebook to get people really engaged with the tablet computer. As a result, two Nielsen studies proved intent to purchase increased by 18 points over the course of the campaign.

Sophy Tobias is head of communications, UK & Ireland at Facebook

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