Is Facebook the New Ning?

When Facebook Pages was released last year, it was aimed at attracting the attention of brand managers globally. With the opportunity to reach Facebook’s more than 70 million active users, Facebook Pages provided a simple solution for brands to reach out directly to their consumers. The way that brands can promote their pages is through the use of Facebook’s SocialAds. Additionally, the branded pages show up when searching through the site.

Facebook also recently launched the Facebook Pages Directory enabling users to browse through the most popular pages. Currently the most popular pages on Facebook include Barack Obama, the Chris Moyles Show, Apple, Victoria’s Secret PINK and The Stig. The most users on any page? Just under 1 million for Barack Obama.

Just last week there was a substantial amount of discussion surrounding Verizon moving their community from their branded social network over to Facebook. The reason provided by Verizon was that they want to “provide our users with the most dynamic and feature rich community experience.” This is a great move but it also raises some other issues.

Conflict of Interest
Currently there is a mini-industry built around the development of custom branded applications on Facebook and other social networks with Facebook being the central hub. As Facebook increases their application restrictions it has become more difficult for many of these applications to spread on their own. Instead brands have been forced to purchase install campaigns which drive users to the applications.

The competitor to install campaigns? Facebook’s SocialAds driving users to Facebook Pages. That means that Facebook is competing directly with some of the companies that are building businesses on their platform. While they have been in direct competition from the beginning, it is now in Facebook’s best interest to reduce the viral growth of applications and make Facebook Pages more attractive.

There are rumors circulating that Facebook will be updating their Pages offering in the near future to make them more attractive for businesses. This is going to end up forcing a lot of the custom development offerings out of the market since it will be easier to simply build a Facebook Page and run a SocialAds campaign.

Is it the New Ning?
Ning currently provides companies with their own customizable social networks. The only problem is that it is frequently difficult to attract returning users if there is not an extremely avid fan base. As such it is frequently better to integrate the networks into communities that already have active users such as Facebook. This is why Verizon decided to shift the location of their company’s branded network.

While Facebook Pages do not provide nearly as much functionality as Ning, they do help users express their branded affiliations, proudly promoting that they are fans of a brand directly from within their profiles. This may be all the branded interaction necessary from a marketing perspective. That’s what Facebook is banking on and as the restrictions on applications increase, Facebook is hoping that the trend toward branded Pages continues.