This morning eMarketer ran an article stating that Facebook announced it had signed up its 200 millionth user. As has been the trend in the last couple of years, older users (26-54) are the fastest-growing segment.
The article mentions that users have been reluctant to click on ads. I know I share that reluctance. Can't think of a single Facebook ad I've ever clicked on, despite using it almost daily. Online ads are generally easy to ignore in my experience. I'd actually have to be looking for something in an ad to click on it. Otherwise, I have a sense of purpose, accomplish it, and get out.
I think eMarketer CEO Geoff Ramsey hit the nail on the head with his evaluation of the value of Facebook for marketers:
“Learn about real or perceived problems relating to your product or customer service—and unleash the wisdom of the user,” said Geoff Ramsey, eMarketer CEO. “By looking, listening and lounging, marketers can gain valuable insights concerning online and offline campaigns.”
Marketers are always looking for devices they can use to get their message out. They want to talk, and they want to be heard. But the real value of social media, so far, is its ability to let you be a fly on the wall in your customers' lives and listen to what they're saying.
Perhaps that will ultimately be the business model for Facebook, Twitter and other networks. Instead of charging users, or running ads, they receive donations from companies that are finding the ability to listen to their customers' conversations extremely valuable. The companies take some of the money they've been putting into focus groups, mall intercepts, and other market research and send it to the social networks so they can keep going. Makes a lot more sense, and has a lot better chance of happening, than getting users to pay for all these services that are currently free.