How to understand Facebook: Use it.

One of the most common set of questions I’m asked by people trying to understand the rise of the social web, and how it will impact their business is:

Is Facebook a fad? Why do people spend so much time using it?
How does Facebook work? Why are businesses on it?

In almost all cases where these set of questions arise, the person asking me doesn’t really use Facebook. My advice to them is simple. Start using Facebook every day. Look at what people are doing. Think about what they are not doing. Look at what businesses are doing. Look at what they are not doing. Study businesses that have high engagement (look at the ‘people talking about this’ number on their page) and figure out why. Look for patterns across posts that have high engagement.

It always surprises me when I hear from very successful business people who are trying to understand Facebook by reading third party reports about it. You won’t learn much about Facebook by reading NYT or WSJ articles about it.

Same goes for Twitter, Google+, etc. I’m shocked at how many people mention Facebook and Twitter in the same breath as if they are the same. People are using these two platforms in completely different ways. Facebook is for communication with people you know in real life. Twitter is a way to get information about celebrities, sports personalities and news outlets that you care about. The vast majority of active Twitter users have never posted a tweet. The same appears to be true for Google+. It is unlike Facebook or Twitter. The people who are using it, are using it as a way to connect with people they don’t know in real life around niche hobbies, currently skewed heavily towards technology and photography.

It also surprises me when I hear from people building on the Facebook platform who don’t understand how it works. People complain that it changes too often. This is an understandable complaint, but it’s not going to change. This is the world we now live in. The only certainty is that things will continue to change fast.

The only way to understand a new type of media is to spend time embedded in it. Get your hands dirty. The future of your business probably depends on it.


  1. Agree entirely, you have to use these tools to understand them. But I think you’re too prescriptive on describing the uses of twitter and facebook. I think there are many other uses as well, and by stating it the way you have, you’re constraining a persons expectations about how they will use it. If it doesn’t work in that way for them, then they may not persist. For many of the people I interact with on twitter, it plays the role you prescribe to facebook – it’s a way to connect with people you know. Facebook tends to be a news (at least news your friends are reading), brand and event platform for this group. For many others I know, twitter is a valuable business tool. I think people develop their own perspective – but they have to use it to do that.

  2. FWIW, lots of people are sharing with people they know on Google+, you may just not be seeing it because they’re not sharing with you. ;)

  3. @Rachel
    You’re right – different people use these tools in different ways. For the sake of simplicity, I was pointing to the most common way that people use these tools.

    I’m sure some people are and I wish you guys would release some numbers so I don’t need to guess anymore ;) When you guys say two thirds of sharing is private, I wonder how big the circles are. A circle with 500 people in it is technically private, but not really.

  4. How to understand Facebook: Use it. » THINK OUTSIDE IN interesting post. I tought this piece of news would be of interest: Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram, an online photo-sharing site, has been cleared by regulators in the US and UK, paving the way for its completion almost three months later than the companies had originally hoped.