Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Two wacky things are going on in the social networking/marketing world

A couple more things on social networking...we promise that the next post will be on something else.

• A few weeks ago, I saw that a friend had become a fan of a page on Facebook titled “Not Having George W. Bush As President.” Because I pay attention to politics, I thought it was a novel and humorous approach to starting a fan page, regardless of one’s own particular affiliation. And as one might imagine, the page rocketed in popularity — when I first saw it, there were about 40,000 fans; now there are more than 475,000.

Then I saw that those responsible for the “Not Having” page started sending out offshoot pages, such as “Telling Dick Cheney To Shut The Hell Up” and “Confirming Sonia Sotomayor To The Supreme Court.” And by the time the Sotomayor page got blasted out, I started to wonder if this wasn’t an organic occurrence at all — if it instead was something being done by the Democratic National Committee or or someone like that.

Turns out that the page was started by a dude named John Hlinko, and a quick Google search tells us that he’s a Democratic political consultant who specializes in grassroots mobilization. Let me correct that a little bit — he’s a Democratic political consultant who specializes in grassroots mobilization who now has the ability to reach 475,000 people within a few seconds. Oh, and developing that capability was free.

Also recently, I took a quiz that got sent to me on the movie “Ferris Buehler’s Day Off.” (I’m proud to say I got a perfect score). But at the end of the quiz, I suddenly found myself signed up for an online movie rental service’s Facebook page. Now, I’m seeing the movie quizzes and other quizzes all the time, and they all seem to have an ulterior motive.

The point I’m getting at is that marketing in the Facebook era has taken on some completely different properties than traditional online marketing. People used to consider it a skeevy practice to do banner ads saying things like “What’s your true IQ” directing the viewer to some business’ page. But somehow, in the world of Facebook, this is considered completely normal and appropriate. Companies and organizations are less concerned about driving people to their brand than they are about simply creating a mechanism to reach the most people possible.

To me, it just seems like an odd change in decorum. But it’s one that as marketing professionals, we’re going to have to learn to either deal with or incorporate.

• The second wacky thing going on is the announcement, which has been low-key so far, that Facebook is going to start allowing users to have personalized URLs. While MySpace has been doing this all along, Facebook users have a URL that is a bunch of random numbers and letters. And, we get to go back and retro-pick our new URLs so that our friends can find us, kinda like when we were all able to pick our own e-mail addresses back in the day.

The change begins at midnight EDT on Friday; you will be able to log on and pick your own name at that time, and it is first come-first served.

Now, call me crazy, but isn’t this likely to set off an absolute free-for-all? After all, doing a Facebook page is free, and an individual can do as many as he or she wants. And while Facebook allows you to stake a claim to a name that you have trademarked, what’s to stop speculators from claiming anything that might be remotely interesting and then auctioning those pages off like domain names?

Except that the difference is, while domain names and MySpace names were registered over the course of several years and continue to be registered in the future, the 200 million Facebook users out there have a zero-hour when this takes effect. Aren’t a lot of the John Smiths of the world going to scramble online to try to become

I just think this is going to be a bigger deal than people think. It has the potential to become a new cottage industry, just as domain name sales is right now. And I hope Facebook’s servers are up to the challenge at midnight EDT on Friday…