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Facebook's population is likely to exceed 500 million by June. But what will this mean for your business?

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Fresh from the blogosphere, chatter today reached Anthill that Facebook is likely to reach 500 million users by June.

In early February, Facebook announced that it had 400 million users and All Facebook‘s Nick O’Neill is now predicting that the company should near the 600 million user mark and surpass $1 billion in annualised revenue by the end of the year.

This is undeniably a remarkable achievement when you consider that Facebook was proud to boast 175 million users just over a year ago.

In fact, if you stop and think about it, if Facebook were a country, it would now be among the top three most populated.

  1. People’s Republic of China: 1,337,570,000
  2. India: 1,180,968,000 (May 18, 2010 )
  3. Facebook: 500,000,000 (June, 2010)
  4. United States: 309,295,000 (July 2009)
  5. Indonesia: 231,369,500

Of course, a hefty database is no guarantee of success. Digital media punters still hypothesise about the revenue potential of Twitter four years after its launch.

And there are also the reasonably frequent collapses of other enormous online communities to refer to, like the rapid exodus of Friendster, made infamous by this Onion video clip.

And has anyone visited their Second Life lately?

But the growth of Facebook is evidence of something more than a fad. It signals a trend that is likely to affect most, if not all, businesses.

Facebook overtakes Google

Last month, Facebook, among its growing list of achievements, overtook Google as the most visited website in North America. This means that more Americans visited their Facebook profile (or that of another) than they searched for an item using Google’s search pages.

This suggests an important trend. And it’s a trend that will undoubtedly have an impact on your business (including anyone with the responsibility of marketing a business, which means every employee in most sectors).

Whereas most of us have spent many hours making our websites and online businesses ‘findable’, it’s becoming equally if not more important to make these same extensions of our brands ‘sharable’.

Further, the need to provide exceptional service and exceed expectations has never been more fearsome. (Yes, this need is worth fearing.)

And here’s why.

Most of us (anyone over 25) was raised to view marketing as something similar to an announcement. A company would develop a message and then loudly deliver it through whatever media was available, from billboards to radio to television.

The emphasis was on being ‘heard’.

The next evolution will also be familiar to many (including many professional marketers who have yet to embrace digital media).

This involves a concerted effort to be ‘found’.

This traditionally has involved perhaps erecting a sign outside a business or purchasing an advertisement in the Yellow Pages. More recently, the focus of this strategy has shifted toward being found in search engines such as Google. A disproportionate amount of information has been published on this topic (and Anthill is no exception).

It’s the third evolution that is already starting to cause all the angst, made progressively obvious by the rise of social media sites like Facebook.

The third evolution of marketing

We all understand that word-of-mouth is good (if nice things are being said) and every smart business has, since the dawn of commerce, sought ways to propagate WOM.

But never before have businesses been able to empower their customers to do marketing for them, on their behalf, to the extent now possible due to the social web.

In other words, businesses are now able to help satisfied customers to share their views.

So, as modern marketers (including business owners and employees), we are now endowed with three obvious tools for getting our message across:

  1. MEGAPHONE MARKETING
  2. FOCUSSING ON BECOMING ‘FINDABLE’
  3. HAVING THE CHUTZPAH TO MAKE OUR WORLDS ‘SHARABLE’

Obviously, most businesses should now aspire to apply each tactic (as appropriate).

However, as we have said before, the greatest marketing shift facing most businesses (and consumers) is no longer an evolution from ‘megaphone marketing’ to ‘search’.

It is an evolution from search as the basis for finding knowledge to one where recommendations rule.

Today Facebook. Tomorrow the world!

Facebook’s incredible growth should not be interpreted as a play at world domination.

It should be perceived as a signal – an warning to businesses that consumer behaviours are shifting.

Ask yourself, why should your future customers look for your products in Google when they can now simply refer to the ‘like’ and ‘dislikes’ of someone with similar needs and tastes?

The new world order is not one governed by one company’s controversial privacy settings or another’s ever-changing search algorithms (although these factors make up the landscape).

It is not one where a new set of new media barons rule with impunity (because, if history has taught us anything, regimes were made to be overthrown).

It is a place where people announce. It is a place where people search.

But, most importantly, it’s now also where people turn to their friends and ask.

Successful marketers of the future will be found and seen, rather than heard.

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