There was a time where, if you wanted to network and find friends online you had to clunk through Myspace and hope that whoever you were looking for happened to have an account. People were just jumping on the social media bandwagon back in 2006 as it gained mainstream popularity. Back then, it was normal for a lot of people to be disconnected from the social media blitz because it was so new. Facebook was around at the same time, but it was even clunkier than MySpace. They got smart and did a lot of things that pleased a lot of people, because not only did Facebook catch up to MySpace in popularity but it passed it on the inside, nudged its quarter panel and sent MySpace spinning out of control toward obscurity.

New data released by Facebook and research firms show just how influential the social media giant has become in the lives of everyday people. With recent changes to how “news” is published, and how it interacts with other sites, Facebook is flexing its power. Its weight for business is mind-blowing.

Welcome to the world of Facebook for business – Here are 11 things you need to know about the social media giant

1) 350 million users worldwide and growing – If Facebook were a country, they would be the third largest country in the world. With the recent announcement of surpassing 350 million members, they are the largest social media network on the net. Perhaps their next move will be to join the UN and raise a massive army. If the Vatican can do it…

2) 100 Million U.S. Users – Facebook has a strong presence around the world, with its highest penetration rate in Canada but nearly a third of all Facebook users reside within the borders of the United States. That’s a lot of networking opportunity for local businesses.

3) Facebook stats: Average User Spends 55 Minutes Per Day – This statistic must refer to people who get out more often. I know I’ve got my Facebook running in the background for hours on end to aid in networking and promotions. Makes you wonder what you can do to grab some of that user’s attention during that hour.

4) 70,000+ websites using Facebook Connect – If you want something with long-range impact turn to Connect. This allows users to go anywhere and keep in touch with everyone while they do it. Friends travel with us online, and in our mobile devices. This has turned Facebook into a hub for the entire web. It’s not just about social media anymore – Now it’s the world. Even Yahoo and Google are scrambling to catch up, especially Google after its own “Google Connect” flopped.

5) Facebook Fan Box is taking over –They’re springing up all over the net, appearing on blogs and websites worldwide. They lack power now, but are growing into a monster form of networking. It’s a simple tool that lets site visitors become a fan of your brand – and they never have to travel to Facebook to do it.

6) Average Facebook User Has 130 Friends – Facebook users seem to have more respect for their profiles than in the old days of Myspace where everything was a fight for high friend counts. Facebook brings a more professional feel, leaving the adolescent days of Myspace behind us. The average count of 130 seems appropriate to the study performed by Robin Dunbar, a British scientist, who states that maximum number of friendships the average person could sustain at any given time was 150. For those who maintain links to people they actually associate with, the number makes sense and people will probably linger there. If Facebook continues to evolve into a marketing giant like Twitter, we’ll likely see dramatic increases in “friend” counts as business execs begin to take advantage of Facebook.

7) Average Facebook User Fans 2 Pages a Month – That’s not really a substantial number, because most users don’t become a fan of something “just because”. They become fans of things they believe in, things that reach them personally. If you plan on growing your fan base on Facebook as part of your social marketing strategy then you need to create a clear and present rationale for why the individual Facebook user should become a fan of your brand and participate with you.

Only 4% of Pages Have over 10,000 fans – See? Now you can feel better about the lack of people on your page. A study provided by Sysomos covering 600,000 fan pages showed that only 4% of pages have user counts boasting over 10,000. Not surprisingly, only .76% have over 100,000 fans or more. Facebook users are showing more brand loyalty and selective choice when it comes to where they attach their name and time. That is why it’s important to focus on engaging the fans and users you have instead of working constantly to boost your fan page count.

9) Wall Posts Don’t Impact Popularity – The study provided by Sysomos also noted that the frequency of fan interaction and the fan count had nothing to do with the frequency of wall posts, or whether there were any at all. It did show however that a greater amount of extra info such as photos, videos, notes and links had a direct effect on fan base. If you want to grow your fan base, it’s important to provide interesting, relevant interactive content for your fans on more than just your wall.

10) Customized News Feed – The new Facebook algorithm has changed the way users see content from their friends. It shows the most relevant content based on what Facebook thinks they will like, their interactions in the past, and interaction with their friends. This creates a dynamic premium that emphasizes posting engaging content to get shares, likes and comments. Your fan page has engagement ratings that shows your analytics. If you’re not paying attention to it, it’s time to start. You can use this system to monitor what content works for your fans and what to avoid.

11) Real-time Search is changing the way we do business– Default privacy is out. Facebook announced that they are making their content public to the search engines unless you specify otherwise. While some people grumped about it, the business concept behind it is driving it forward. Even Twitter opened their data streams up. Now Google as well as Bing are going to incorporate all that data into real-time search results.

This can mean a lot for business in both directions, and it’s important to regularly monitor your business through real-time search results. It’s just as likely for negative remarks to show up in Google search results as it is for praise to appear there. Facebook may not be the ideal environment right now to throw marketing time and money, but people thought the same thing about Twitter just a year ago. Based on the facts above, Facebook is growing and it will become a large part of both local search and real-time information. Not to mention the always-pervasive power in word-of-mouth.

If you haven’t taken the time to include facebook in your marketing campaign, it’s time to start. If every fan you receive has the potential to spread the word about your brand to at least 50 other people, and so on, the possibilities for being seen are worth the time required. If you’re on fire for social media marketing, I hope you realize that you’re standing on the edge of the next media marketing giant.

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