Facebook seeks to extend online influence

03 August 2010

PALO ALTO: Facebook, the world's biggest social network, is attempting to extend its online influence by formally channelling word of mouth about retailers, brands and publishers.

In April, the company launched a major push encouraging other websites to add its "Like" button to their pages, enabling consumers to sign up as a fan of an article, corporation or product.

To date, around 350,000 online properties - primarily providing information related to current affairs, sport and similar topics - have adopted Facebook's various "social plugins".

These allow netizens to recommend content, make suggestions to manufacturers, and so on.

Whenever members of Facebook are logged in and click on the "Like" tool elsewhere on the internet, this appears on their personal "wall" and the news feeds of their contacts.

The owners of websites including this feature receive aggregated data on the people who opt to employ the service.

Arguably, the publishers benefit from a range of further advantages, as the Facebook service is free to install and attaches an interactive element to routine tasks.

"The only investment is where you want to put it on the page," Bret Taylor, Facebook's chief technology officer, said.

Moreover, portals leveraging this system were found to have enjoyed between a one- and five-fold increase in the amount of referrals generated via Facebook.

Individuals that select the "Like" device also had an average of 185 friends, a total that was 55 higher than is typically the case.

Best Buy, the electronics chain, has chosen to take this approach, in recognition of the shift in preferences observable among shoppers.

"Customers are looking to other friends in their social network to figure out what product is right to buy," said Tracy Benson, Best Buy's senior director of mobility customer solutions.

Gilt, an e-commerce specialist offering luxury goods at discounted prices, added the "Like" feature to certain areas of its service in late June, and reported that the number of purchases originating on Facebook climbed by 50% in the first week alone.

"We are watching to see if it continues, beyond an initial bump because it is new," Jag Bath, Gilt's vice president of product management, said.

Wenner Media, which operates Us Magazine, the celebrity-focused title, intends to follow this route going forward, having previously discovered that visitors picked up from Facebook spend three minutes browsing its site, 20% longer than the norm.

Daniel Mandell, director of business development at Wenner Media, stated that finding out specific details about this "extremely engaged audience" is of particular importance.

"In the future we hope to have the ability to capture more data," he said. "In the interim we will continue to provide our users with tools to consume and share our content in the way they want to."

Tim Schigel, chief executive of ShareThis, which has created a similar service to the "Like" button, also thought that sharing in-depth insights would be essential to the ultimate success of this model.

"To the extent that any third party comes in and knows more and can extract more value than the publishers themselves, they can be worried," he said.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff