Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post written by Melissa Barker, who specializes in online and social media marketing for Siber Systems.

The infamous leak of 100 million Facebook user pages in July of 2010 caused a scare among users and created what may turn out to be a golden opportunity for potential Facebook competitors. A security researcher by the name of Ron Bowes created a script that downloaded the information that users chose to make publicly available from the Facebook User Directory. Hence, this alleged leak was actually nothing more than the collection and publication of user information already made public by 100 million Facebook users.

In addition, Facebook suffers a host of other privacy concerns including:

  1. Facebook users are confused by the complex security settings and most of them were unaware of their personal data being public
  2. Hackers have repeatedly defeated Facebook security to harvest user information
  3. A growing number of Facebook applications provide easy access to member data
  4. Facebook’s own connect buttons make user information readily available to other sites

The net result is that user privacy on Facebook is virtually nonexistent. With security being brought to the forefront of users’ minds, it is an ideal time for a more security-conscious social network to make a grab for Facebook’s massive membership. One prime candidate, although still in Alpha, is Diaspora. This new social networking site touts the not so subtle security centric slogan, “Share what you want, with whom you want.” They stress user ownership of all content shared with friends. Other social networks are in the works for release in early 2011 as well, such as Google Me.

The notion that Facebook is not going to continue to be the only game in town may sound a little crazy given that their user base has exceeded 500 million. But if history proves anything, Facebook’s ‘monopoly’ is temporary. Taking a look back at the last decade alone, there were two cases in which the public feared a company was ‘taking over’ the internet.

In early 2000, people were panicking that AOL was taking over. The AOL and Time Warner merger further stoked these fears. However, the mega-media conglomerate faltered for a number of reasons, chief among them was a single-minded focus on mining the then lucrative Internet dial-up access business, while ignoring the growing importance of broadband Internet access.

MySpace is another example: officially launched in January of 2004, it attracted over a million users within just a month. By 2005, MySpace was the king of the Internet, with a base of nearly 80 million users. News Corp. purchased the swiftly growing social network in 2005 for a cool $580 million. New management wasted no time in trying to monetize MySpace by inserting advertising into almost every aspect of the user experience. MySpace peaked in early 2007, with 150 million users, but due to the barrage of ads, it began a steep decline in membership that plummeted to 109 million users by mid-2010. The morale of story is that Internet titans come and go rapidly.

Why should this matter to businesses? The answer is simple. Keeping an eye on these emerging social networks enables a company to be in on the ground floor, seizing market share, and reaping profits from a growing customer base. Given the large user base Facebook has acquired, businesses should continue to market there, but remain vigilant for other valuable social media marketing opportunities in 2011. The importance of diversification in marketing efforts also holds true for social media marketing. Focusing all your marketing efforts on Facebook could prove to be a dangerous strategy in 2011.

Melissa Barker specializes in online and social media marketing for Siber Systems.  Siber Systems creates and markets a wide range of software for both professional programmers and the general public.  The company’s best-known products are RoboForm and GoodSync.  RoboForm, first released over ten years ago, makes logging into websites and filling online forms faster, easier and more secure.  For more information please visit http://www.roboform.com.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

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  • http://dannybrown.me Danny Brown

    Interesting post, Melissa, thanks. :)

    I think the thing where Facebook (currently) differs is that they actually have sensible ways to monetize (ads, apps, and no doubt analytics are being offered as premium somewhere).

    MySpace was a lost cause the minute Murdoch bought it. Give someone who has no idea what a social platform can offer (especially a dictator like Murdoch), and you're onto a loser. AOL was interesting, but they never kept up with Google, or even Yahoo (who have their own issues).

    The “secret”, if you like, is to be adaptable and know what your audience wants and, more importantly, who they are. MySpace and AOL failed at this – Facebook is a different beast altogether.

  • http://dannybrown.me Danny Brown

    Interesting post, Melissa, thanks. :)

    I think the thing where Facebook (currently) differs is that they actually have sensible ways to monetize (ads, apps, and no doubt analytics are being offered as premium somewhere).

    MySpace was a lost cause the minute Murdoch bought it. Give someone who has no idea what a social platform can offer (especially a dictator like Murdoch), and you're onto a loser. AOL was interesting, but they never kept up with Google, or even Yahoo (who have their own issues).

    The “secret”, if you like, is to be adaptable and know what your audience wants and, more importantly, who they are. MySpace and AOL failed at this – Facebook is a different beast altogether.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ClarkWHarris Clark Harris

    Privacy in relation to the outside world is an obvious concern, but internal privacy becomes an issue too. It's hard to make people limited friends in Facebook without touching on feelings and allowing all the loose ties complete access is unnerving.

    Then there's the fact that everyone is on Facebook now. As the Social Network pointed out (one aspect I think was probably true), one of key successes early on was exclusivity. Now that's gone, college kids have their parents, grandparents, teachers, potential employers; all seeing their profiles. That is just not cool anymore.

    The younger generations could easily be introduced to a site built just for them and each year more and more will flock there slowly trickling through the older generation. Like any good empire, it will fall one day. Whether that day is tomorrow or 5 years from now – history does repeat itself.

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  • http://twitter.com/jonbarilone Jon Barilone

    I get the sentiment, I do. We've gotten so accustomed to social networks/platforms rising and falling, that this seems to be a logical conclusion. “Facebook's had a good run, but it's time for someone else to step up.”

    But where I think Facebook really differs from past examples is the way they've spread themselves out and hooked themselves into the web. Think of the Like/Share/Recommend buttons. Facebook Pages becoming microsites of their own. Facebook Places battling Yelp & Google for domination.

    Facebook is now a default for communication; think of the huge amount of relevant contact information you have at your fingertips. I think that benefit alone outweighs the privacy concerns which, as you learn how to properly customize your settings, become less worrisome.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tribebuilder Gina Carr

    Great article Melissa. Thanks for reminding us of this important lesson. It's hard to imagine Facebook taking a fall but it certainly could happen.

    By the way, I've been a big fan of Roboform for years! Great job!

    Thanks Jason for bringing us this post.

    @ginacarr
    www/facebook.com/ginacarrfanpage

  • http://www.businessesgrow.com Mark W. Schaefer

    I know that history and conventional wisdom would say a Facebook killer is out there somewhere. And, as you rightly suggest, the privacy issue may mean that Facebook is its own worst enemy. However short of imploding under its own arrogance, I disagree with you because you're missing an important point.

    Facebook is not a website. It's not a brand. It's a lifestyle. People will put up with a lot because the emotional investment is so high. Customer loyalty to Facebook is more similar to that of a favorite sports team or even a religion. I don't think that kind of switch is going to come easy or soon.

    I wrote more extensively about this topic in this blog post: http://bit.ly/eAvYjs

    Thanks for the good article.

    • fitzternet

      I agree and disagree…

      On one hand, you are correct that Facebook is a lifestyle. Many users will never use another social network – but aren't these older users anyway? They aren't a target demographic for advertisers and they certainly aren't heavy computer users, relatively speaking.

      Many younger FB users already have multiple FB accounts. It makes it easier for them to compartmentalize their information – they don't want their family seeing photos from last weeks kegger, for instance. These users will be targeted by advertisers for decades, they are heavy computer users and they are already comfortable switching FB profiles. Getting them to leave FB entirely or partially won't be as difficult as many would think.

      Finally, it is very easy to develop a simple social network with full FB-integration using an Open Source CMS. In the future, we may see thousands of mini-networks with a laser like focus on niche topics. Each network will let users login with their FB account if they want. They won't leave in droves – many won't leave at all – but they will visit Facebook to check in with their 72-year aunt, after they've shared parenting tips on a micro-network that isn't called Facebook.

      I mean, it COULD happen. Right? Maybe? We'll see…

  • http://www.shermanunkefer.org/the-magic-wand-system/ Sherman Unkefer

    With the recent news surrounding Facebook it is hard to say that it will be fading away anytime soon. Surely something bigger and better will eventually come along, but it will have an uphill battle in the meantime!

  • http://www.growcomms.com/ Russell Palmer

    Melissa, I liked your post. it's good to see someone calling it as they see it with respect to one of the current media darlings i.e. Facebook.

    However, I want to put forward something that I think may counter or at least slow down the decline of facebook that you predict. More and more web services, most of them social in some respect, are allowing users to use facebook, twitter, LinkedIn for user credentials.

    This makes perfect sense because, as a user, I have invested a lot of time and care in building my social network. I don't want to have to go and do that all over again. Nor do I want to be the one that forces all my contacts to switch networks. I think that facebook and it's ilk will be around a bit longer. Not because they have the best service or record, but because they have the most hooks into users' lives.

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  • http://www.avenuesocial.com/ Facebook developer

    i totally agree with Russell Palmer, in fact this was the very point i mentioned in an argument i had on the same topic with my colleagues. We have come a long way on Facebook and if i speak for myself, i don't want to do all over it again. If we talk about importing everything from Facebook to some another social network, so again i would be hesitant to do so, reason being the 'getting used to' new features and plug ins provided by that network!
    Cheers :)

  • http://twitter.com/websiteconsult Marcus Interactive

    Facebook is not just the big guy on the block. It's become INGRAINED in society. MySpace and other previous socila media incarnations never had the depth and scope that Facebook has. Look at the numbers. No, not that 500 million bandied about. We all know people who sign up, chcek it out and leave. It's the 250 million who check in at least once a month. What incredible stickiness, 50% hit the site AT LEAST once a month. Until they can implant something in a brain to make it do better, facebook is the social media platform for the masses for the foreseeable future.

  • http://www.videocharacter.com Lucy @ VideoCharacter

    I totally agree not to focus on Facebook only, there are other great websites that can do the same for us. Facebook can still be one of our strategies but we should be versatile and look for more ways in order to achieve what we need.

  • Joebrodude44

    Try bactu.com – Bactu offers a site where you can create a profile, make friends and broadcast info – but all your contacts and communications are PRIVATE. It allows you to be found by anyone but the all communication is one-to-one. No groupthink, no popularity contests, no info-stealing and no drama. Nice.

  • Anonymous

    At http://onlymeworld.com “The New Standard In Social Networking”, Create a Business or Personal Profile, Post Blogs & Ads & Photos & Videos, Create and/or Join Groups & Events & Fashion & Art, Connect with Family, Friends, and Associates Throughout The World, and much more!Personal Profiles – Create & Post Your Resume To Your Public, Private or Customized Profile For Employers Throughout The World To View!Business Profiles – Create & Post Your Business In Our Listings Directory For Potential Customers Throughout The World To View!Whether Personal or Business Profile – Be Matched and/or Use Our Search Tools To Find The Networks In Your Fields of Business, Professional, Personal, and Just About Every Other Part Of Your Life!We Are The Adult Version Of Facebook, Advanced Version Of Twitter, and The Chosen Version Over Linkedln…”All In One”!  Come Find Out Now Why Everyone Is Switching http://onlymeworld.com!  Always Free To Join, See You There!

  • Anonymous

    Necter is quickly becoming a solid alternative to Facebook! It is currently is beta testing. check it out http://www.necter.me

  • guest

    social network for good http://jackthedonkey.com (be social, discover new music, make change for the charity of your choice) is starting to gain momentum.

  • http://talkic.com/ David Katz

    sooo I guess they are doing ok still…perhaps have a go at http://talkic.com – where contributing to topics benefits causes….freely!

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