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Facebook: Selling To The Brand Called Me

Matt Cohler spends his day thinking about money. “Were still in a high growth period,” says the vice president of strategy. “I spend a lot of time on big problems. Number one, how to monetize the site as effectively as possible.” A close second is thinking about “how we fit into the overall context of the landscape of what’s going on in social networking.”

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Matt Cohler spends his day thinking about money. “Were still in a high growth period,” says the vice president of strategy. “I spend a lot of time on big problems. Number one, how to monetize the site as effectively as possible.” A close second is thinking about “how we fit into the overall context of the landscape of what’s going on in social networking.”

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Cohler, who is universally known around the company as “Cohler”, is one of the profoundly over-achieving 1.0 veterans who now populate many of the non-technical posts at Facebook. (Reading his resume actually made me tired.)

He was an early and smart hire – he’d worked with pioneer Facebook investor Peter Thiel at LinkedIn, and was in the room during Zuckerberg’s first pitch for venture cash. He recalled being so amazed by Zuckerberg’s invention, that he asked the then college sophomore if he could query the Facebook database personally to double-check what seemed to be stunning site growth. “It’s not like I didn’t trust him, I just wanted to see for myself.” In what must have appeared to be the ultimate geek mating signal, Zuckerberg was smitten by Cohler’s ability to think deeply and perform due diligence. Cohler was impressed by the potential, and he signed on, as he likes to say, around employee number five. He’s been running on all eight cyclinders ever since.

Cohler isn’t the only one who is thinking about money. Everybody is. A new survey sponsored by iProspect and conducted by Jupiter Research says that 1 in 4 adults now regularly visit a social networking site. Marketers want to figure out how to cash in.

And sites like Facebook that encourages users to assemble themselves into affinity groups based on their many enthusiasms has the potential to deliver a highly targeted audience into the hands of marketers. It flows from the experience that Cohler says the company tries to deliver to users anyway. “We want them to be engaged and to feel like they own the site,” he says. “And that’s what savvy marketers want too. That’s how they get deep, meaningful brand engagement.” What remains to be solved is what he terms the lingering separation of church and state that defined the 1.0 ad model. “Then, advertising was only a separate thing. But we think about how much more engaging it would if [advertising] was actually a value-added experience.”

Cohler makes a good case for introducing marketers to an already existing band of brand-lovers. “This is happening organically – people put brands in their profiles. There are hundreds of thousands of groups where people are talking about brands [think cars, stores, watches – ed.] – which naturally harnesses user behavior of what doing on the site. Philosopically we want the experience of what marketers have on Facebook to be a value adding part of the user experience – not something that users would be annoyed by.”

That’s the tricky part. Annoyance. These people do seem to get annoyed from time to time. What remains to be seen is how the Facebook community will deal with new attempts to be marketed to. Facebook users are notoriously vocal about any change to the site, and have been known to rise up en masse to complain about pretty much anything.

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And because Facebook is so high profile – and notoriously tight-lipped about their business model – there is constant Valley buzz about whether or not their attempts to increase revenue will work. (Their banner ads are currently handled by Microsoft.

But sponsored groups like Apple and Chase have met with a fair degree of success thus far. (All are approved by Zuckerberg personally as part of an extensive process that is handled by another senior staffer, Mike Murphy, who counsels the brand marketers in terms of best practices.) And marketers are continuing to debate the best way to go.
Of course, it will be interesting to watch what happens as the user base grows older. What new brand adventures will await? AARP? Life Alert? Reverse mortgages? Depends?

Sigh.