Cape Town: As Facebook shortly reaches its 500-millionth active user, many CEO’s are starting to understand the power of social communication on their businesses, believes Auction Alliance Chief Executive, Rael Levitt. His business has aggressively focused on the six-year-old website as an affordable, easy and powerful marketing tool: “I am starting to believe that with Facebook, soon we won’t need our own dedicated website, CRM channels or other forms of digital communication.”
Levitt believes that South Africans were early adopters of Facebook, which if it were a sovereign state, would be the world’s largest country by population. “When I first heard of Facebook in 2007, I was convinced that it was a website for teenagers to share photos and stories about their previous evening’s events. And in many ways it was. However, one of my co-directors at the time convinced me that Facebook was a brilliant social networking tool for business, and so I signed up, only to deregister a month later. Like many people of my generation, I initially found Facebook invasive and was quite unsettled about sharing my social life with anyone who could be my friend,” explains the 39-year-old Levitt.
However, today, Levitt admits that he has eaten his initial negative words about this website: “I am convinced Facebook will change the way people market their products. My second attempt at Facebook got me hooked into the site as a method of organising a 20-year school reunion. By this stage, I realised that my generation was increasingly joining the website and the entire event was conducted through Facebook.” Today the site’s fastest growing demographic users are older than 34, making many societies more accustomed to the openness.”
From a business perspective, by 2009, Levitt’s auction company was spending over R60 million a year marketing its various auctions in newspaper print. By mid-2009, his auction group, South Africa’s largest, conducted an independent survey to see how their clients were finding out about its daily auction sales. “We were amazed to discover how Facebook had been growing as a business marketing tool. Facebook is not only an enormous cultural shift for many people, but it is already starting to create an enormous business shift too.” he says.
According to a recent Time Magazine front cover article, Google helps us search data. YouTube keeps us entertained. But Facebook has a huge advantage over other sites: the emotional investment of its users. Users share more than 25 billion pieces of information with Facebook each month and they are adding photos at the rate of 1 billion unique images a week. As the world’s largest photograph album, boasting 48 billion unique photographs, it captures some of the most intimate parts of people’s lives.
“From a commercial perspective, we not only advertise all our auctions daily, but we also let our fans know about our people, our culture and what goes on the behind the scenes in our business. Just as teenagers started revealing their lives and goings-on on this social networking website, so have we followed suit with our business,” explains Levitt.
Although a small majority of Auction Alliance’s fans don’t want to hear from his company on an hourly or even daily basis, he says that is remarkable just how many people do want little titbits of information and want to know that the company is run by people who are transparent and share the back office information with their clients. Facebook also allows its users to register their opinion and Levitt believes that in a transparent world, this sort of open communication with clients is not only good business, but builds more intimate relationships with a business’s customers.
For many businesses, particularly smaller private companies, their privacy is paramount and Facebook gives the company a sense of openness that makes them concerned about competition stealing strategy and direction. Levitt believes that this type of complete privacy and secrecy has no place in modern business, even in privately owned companies: “The reality is that half a billion people around the globe have changed the way they socially interact and the information that they share. This is already having an impact on business. Companies that hide behind self-veiled secrecy are not the sort of businesses that many people like to interact with. Customers want to know that businesses have personalities; that they are real and that behind brands and corporate structures, there are real people offering real products and services,” explains Levitt.
Facebook is a business and the Northern Californian Company with 1 400 employees and a 26-year-old CEO, flashed more than 176 billion banner ads at users in the first three months of this year – more than any other site. “We started advertising on Facebook and have been getting large exposure for our traditional website, as well as our fans page, which has been growing daily,” he says.
Levitt believes that the power of Facebook lies in its ease of use: “This website is extremely easy to use and instead of relying on a whole team of marketing and advertising executives, I personally upload photos and videos, I share group information and I encourage all my colleagues to do the same.” Levitt believes that Facebook has woven itself into people’s social lives, and that means it will weave itself into their business lives far faster than most people dare imagine: “I can see a time where Facebook will become a business tool that companies ignore at their own peril.”