Facebook moves beyond youth to become the people's choice

There was much of interest in the sixth annual Ofcom Communications Market Report.

Sue Unerman is chief strategy officer at MediaCom
Sue Unerman is chief strategy officer at MediaCom

Mobile use overtook landlines for the first time in the UK in the first half of 2009. And we still love watching the telly - average viewing has increased by a minute compared to 2003, at an average of 225 minutes a day.

However, Facebook has also shown exceptional growth. Since May last year, the site has swelled by 73% to reach 19 million UK unique users a month.

Comparable figures for MySpace and Bebo are five million and four million respectively, and Twitter, which gets more press coverage than anyone else, has only 2.6 million unique users. Twitter's growth is exponential, but from a lower base of 150,000. So what is the reason for Facebook's command of the market?

Blake Chandlee, Facebook's commercial director EMEA, says the company sees itself as a utility that enables people to connect with each other in any way they want.

For many users, Facebook means there is always a friendly face online to socialise with, fulfilling a basic human drive of social contact. Most of us are gregarious and Facebook means we no longer need to spend any time alone.

And there is much more to come - a steady stream of innovation - such as developing the recently acquired FriendFeed, social search and Facebook on your TV.

Another part of the company's DNA, says Chandlee, is the hundreds of engineers who focus solely on ensuring privacy and that what users want to be personal and secure is kept that way.

One innovation with great potential for brands is Facebook Connect, which launched earlier this year with an event that allowed users to log in to CNN during Barack Obama's inauguration and chat to friends while watching the event live.

As a way of leveraging event TV, an entertainment launch or an advertising stunt, you can see Facebook Connect's potential.

Facebook is due even more publicity. The book about its foundation, The Accidental Billionaires: Sex, Money, Betrayal and the Founding of Facebook by Ben Mezrich, is out now and there are even rumours of a movie scripted by The West Wing's Aaron Sorkin and produced by Kevin Spacey.

Whether Facebook likes the publicity or not, the site has permeated all demographics.

Could this mean younger audiences will start to abandon the social network to find their own exclusive territory? It might, but I think this means Facebook has become the family favourite, the people's choice.

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