Facebook and “Future Community”

Like many of you, we’ve been keeping an eye on the Facebook privacy issue. However, unless it’s central to your job (aka tech pundits), most people are way too busy to keep up with the changing features and policies from week to week, or all the particulars of the last brouhaha. Still, if you took the time to look closely enough to form an opinion, you may have found yourself being pulled in one direction or another – meaning the privacy camp or the open social graph camp.

When Facebook became available en masse, most of us made immediate connections to other early adopters and soon prodded colleagues, friends and family to join. For many, the next wave was locating people from our past – forging lost bonds with old flames, childhood friends, high school classmates and the like. Facebook soon became a part of our present and our past, with a constant stream of personal updates and suggestions to connect with new and/or old friends. For some, Facebook offered immersion in virtual worlds and, in essence, membership in new — and sometimes addicting — communities, created by social games such as Farmville and Mafia Wars.

Over time, our attachment to Facebook continued to become exceedingly more and more personal. Lest we forget, it’s a business. And so it goes – with more personal details come more opportunities for marketing and selling to your every interest. Being in a constant state of evolution to develop revenue streams and achieve profitability is as much a part of Facebook’s soul as the free services they provide to both you and me.

As we look more closely at the privacy issues and the idea of “future community” experiences, it’s easy to see that having a say when it comes to who you are connected to within the Facebook social graph is vital. While some users may have been gung-ho to share “Activities, Interests, Music, Movies, Books, Television” with “Friends” past and present; they don’t want to be connected to everyone else on Facebook who lists “Bossanova” and “Sublime” in the Music field of their Profile. The “disconnect” in this instance was between intention and execution. Similarly, most users intended to share favorite musical genres and artists, along with Interests like running, wine and yoga, with their present and past communities. Then, Facebook decided – without user consent – to connect us to new “future communities” of others on Facebook who listed the same information.

Thankfully, Facebook recently heeded the outcries of some of the public and rolled out new privacy controls (further explained here). But, it certainly sparks some thought… What community experiences do you seek in general? How are such experiences the same or different via Facebook?

A curious and social group, we thrive on interacting with new people, otherwise known as “future community.” So whether it’s the staff and patrons at local coffee shops, other parents and children at the playground, the checkers and baggers at our local markets, or strangers at the airport — these polite chats and sometimes surprising and inspired conversations comprise connections with others that nurture humanity and individual creativity and kindness. So back to the question: How are such experiences the same or different via Facebook?

Just like the offline examples above, certainly possibilities to make meaningful connections as part of a “future community” via Facebook do exist. Facebook sees these potential benefits whether it be connections with advertisers or other individuals. For now, I can accept the advertisements that key off some of my personal data (it’s a business after all), but I can also be at ease that who I count as part of my “future community” is up to me.

How does Facebook power community for you?

Tools of choice: Twitter vs. Facebook

Social Media consultant Tom Raftery recently wrote a blog post about the power of Twitter versus Facebook as communications tools. Tom had recently used both tools to aid his search for a new job. Ultimately, he found the Twitter community responded to his to his messages much more frequently than his attempt on Facebook and he sites that the power of Twitter is in the network.

I couldn’t agree with Tom any more. From my own personal experiences, I have found Twitter to be a much more valuable networking tool than Facebook. For the most part, I think it comes down to the nature of the two beasts.

Facebook is Passive

When it comes to reaching our to your social graph for help or answers to questions, Facebook leans towards a very “traditional marketing” approach in the way that it lets you communicate. You can either directly contact someone with your message or post something in your status or profile. When you go down that path, your only hope is that someone is paying attention and sees it in between games Scrabulous games and warding off Vampire bites.

As echoed many times throughout the course of 2007, business professionals are adopting the use of Facebook at a rapid pace. That still doesn’t change the mostly passive way it operates as a communications tool. For the business professional, Facebook is a fun, great less formal alternative to LinkedIn. It allows you to build an online calling card of sorts and it provides the ability to keep your contacts up to date on the latest happenings in your life through photos and video. True conversation can be found through discussion threads within Facebook groups. Finding groups that both match your interests – and that are consistently active – can be a hit or miss situation.

Twitter is Active

On the other hand, Twitter does one thing and it does it well. It’s all about the conversation and there is always someone there to who will see your message. From the outside looking in, it’s often hard for people to understand the value that Twitter brings to the table. Its value is directly related to the quality of the people that you choose to follow. My Twitter network has grown substantially faster than my friends on Facebook. In fact, a good portion of my friends on Facebook are folks who I originally connected with on Twitter.

Facebook and Twitter are also fairly different when it comes to demographics. In October of 2007, Forrester’s Charlene Li presented that 34% of Facebook’s user base is comprised of business professionals. Twitter didn’t start as a student targeted platform and, from personal observation, I would bet that professional use dominates the platform by 90% or more. Younger generations are already deeply engrained in SMS messaging and standard instant messaging. This difference keeps the conversation on a generally more “mature” and honest level. Experienced Twitter users are always ready and willing to lend a helping hand, no matter if it’s with raising money for a friend in need, or voting on the best commercials during the Superbowl.

Who wins the battle?

In the end, I don’t think either Facebook or Twitter can be deemed better than the other. They both server different purposes and provide different mechanisms for communicating with your peers or target audiences. Facebook is feature-rich and offers passive and indirect communication tools. Twitter focuses specifically on the conversation and enables more immediate and direct communication with your all of your “Followers.”

Based on these reasons, it definitely pays off to put some thought into the tools you use when communicating with your social graph. Choosing the correct tool based on the your specific needs will give you the most “bang for your buck” – even when the tools are free!

What do you think? If you have a Twitter or Facebook success story, we’d love to hear about it!