I know Christmas was ages away, but Hitwise has just produced a report (registration required) showing that Christmas Day 2007 was the busiest day EVER for social networks in the UK. For those not convinced that social networks have “traction”, this should come as an alarm call. On a day when most computers are safely tucked away – for many the ONLY day in the year when they should be switched off at the mains, we find that Facebook was the third most visited site in the UK over the Christmas period, pushing eBay into fourth place. (Mind you, in a separate report, Ebay well and truly took its place back on Boxing day as everyone put all their unwanted gifts online!)

The fact that Facebook was so large on Christmas day shows that we have started a change in our cultural and social behaviour. People must have felt a warm and fuzzy feeling, with their friends and family “virtually” in the room, sharing in the conversations around the Christmas tree.

But for marketers, the path for monetizing Facebook remains unclear. The new advertising system – whilst intuitive and clearly targeted – does not seem to “grab” people’s attention like adverts on a search engine and our initial campaign tests have been far from exhilarating.

A perhaps more promising path is the ability to set up corporate personas now on Facebook. These, however, need to be set up by existing members. The problem for third party marketers, like me, is that MY circle of friends and my personal interests are unlikely to be inspired by me setting up a page for a client in a very different field. Other marketers might argue that it is worth setting up false identities “pretending” to be interested in – say – Financial Services. But therein lies another challenge. One’s friends on Facebook are people that you have met. People you either trust (or want to keep close enough to see when they are going to stab you). If Facebook friends only gain traction when they also exist in real life, I fear that the “made up identity” could be a rather hollow character.

I guess one answer for companies is to produce virtual postions in their business. Roles that cross the divide between company and personal. “MSNDude” is an example, where this has been tried. However – once a company does this, they need to resource the position with a real person. Moreover, that person and that business needs to bring something to the table that adds value to the people on Facebook. That’s easy if you manage the David Bowie fan club. Not so easy if you sell insurance.

I have yet to see a Facebook case study that has REALLY given a company marked ROI.

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