4 suggested business models for Facebook to monetise its platform by Alban Fournier. Alban is a graduate from Essec Management School in Paris. He has proficiency in Management, Change Management, Marketing and Consulting services. He has worked on various engagements with Schneider Electric and Tencent, the leading Chinese Internet company.
4 suggested business models for Facebook to monetise its platform
to succeed, other revenue streams than advertising and app revenue share should be developed now.
For many, including Google, Facebook is a distraction from regular Internet surfing. The Palo Alto-based social network company firm has developed an engaging experience for users which creates some sort of addiction to the social network: almost all your “friends” are here and such a sheer volume of users is not available anywhere else.
Currently, Facebook data is available for free
Facebook offers its service in exchange for the right to capture and collect a huge volume of demographic and preference data from its users. That data is extremely valuable to brands. Marketers and advertisers can use the data efficiently because it is detailed and personal.
The social graph … a core asset
The social graph is a core asset of Facebook representing people and the connections they have to everything they care about.
Today, the social graph, or profile information database, is not used for business with third parties outside the Facebook website: Facebook has prevented its business partners from using the data it provides to approach users exclusively within Facebook.
Through the social graph, it is possible to find and match data across different groups of people. It is also possible to produce a graph of preferences and identify people who share a common liking for a brand.
The Graph API presents a simple, consistent view of social graph objects (such as people, photos, events, and pages) and the connections between them (friendships, likes, and tags) (Facebook Inc, 2012).
The Graph API also enables partners to read and write data into Facebook. Through “Facebook Connect”, a protocol also allows businesses to make all the features currently found on Facebook available on their own websites. For instance, the “Like” feature, allowing user actions to show up on people’s profiles, publish actions across their friends’ newsfeeds etc.
A huge volume of data
Facebook is now building an ever bigger volume of data on how its users interact with sites within and beyond its walls. The feature called “Facebook Connect” is a win-win mechanism: the firm gives brands access to Facebook’s users’ real names, email addresses, profile pictures and friends lists. In return, the brand shares the activity of its Facebook users on its brand web pages. Both Facebook and its partners can improve their understanding of users’ habits across the world wide web.
The Open Graph Protocol allows third-parties to access most, if not all, of a Facebook user’s data as long as he has opted in via the privacy settings. Yet, please note that by default all users are automatically enrolled into the Open Graph Protocol (Open Graph protocol, 2012)! [editor’s note: therefore it’s not opt-in]
The volume of participation is a critical component. With the right level of engagement and participation, a social circle may influence another social circle to participate in an external offering, whereas previously, I mean without a “friend” connection, that level of comfort to engage with an external site may not have existed. Brands have the opportunity to track and offer incentives for people promoting their brand.
Building the semantic web
Facebook might be able to build a web ecosystem where a user’s needs can be anticipated, understood and personalised for them: it is called the semantic web. The social network firm did understand the opportunities of collecting user data on their interests much more than we could have expected.
Yet, as of today, Facebook is mainly an advertising platform but its business model of Facebook should change from a pre advertising-based model to a combined business model covering: advertising, revenue sharing, merchant, and infomediary services.
1. advertising model
Facebook sells ad space on its site. Like other Internet firms, it is offering personalisation options in online advertising. Facebook helps its clients target their ads at specific groups of Facebook users, based on elements of users’ profile data. In the online-advertising ecosystem, the brand or individual is able to collect metrics and analytics. This means that the brand or advertiser can predict the impact its campaign will have. This demand of brands for users’ data is crucial for Internet players.
One of the issue with the advertising model though is that it is prone to fluctuations due to the economic situation. With the current crisis, Google’ revenues were impacted with a light decrease in advertising revenues in the first half of 2009. However, the main challenge for Facebook is the behaviour of its users: advertising on smartphones seems less efficient than on computers. On the other hand, advertising on tablets shows some results and the growth will come from such devices too.
2. revenue-sharing model: applications and virtual goods
Facebook is getting a percentage of the revenue it generates with applications hosted on its platform through revenue-sharing agreements with developers who created and own the application. Facebook hands over a few categories of public profile data (such as sex, age, location etc.) to the app makers, enabling them to personalise the end-user experience. In 2011, Facebook got 12% out of the revenue coming from Zynga thanks to a 30% revenue share with Facebook (SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION, 2012).
The business of micro-transactions for virtual goods is booming. When users The B2B purchasing process is the result of a long life cycle often linked to a contract as there are many people to convince. virtual goods using Facebook payment infrastructure, the firm receive fees that represent a portion of the transaction value. The opportunity for Facebook is not only in social games. Taking the example of Tencent, virtual goods can be used for many other purposes like avatars and other online benefits internally or through other business partners.
According to the report of Strategy Analytics called “Virtual Worlds Market definition in B2B and B2C - The very notion of "market" is at the heart of any marketing approach. A market can be defined... Forecast 2009-2015” (Gilbert, 2009), the worldwide revenue generated from the sale of virtual goods is forecasted to increase to $17 billion by 2015. Facebook currently requires the integration of a payment system in games. The firm should seek to extend the use of online payments to other types of applications and mobile tools in the near future. Its App centre will come handy.
The use of a virtual currency like Facebook credits (editor’s note: Facebook credits were discontinued in 2012 but will soon be replaced) makes easier micro-transactions of real and virtual goods over the Internet. Those credits could be used both within Facebook and on partner websites. The decision to have credits in local currencies should accelerate the use of micro-payments over the platform.
3. Infomediary services Model: anonymous social marketing?
Facebook could start charging for access to its user data. User data is potentially highly valuable. Facebook collects a rich set of information from its user profiles. Each profile contains not only the user’s demographic data, but also data about the user interests. Every action adds an additional piece of information: adding a friend, liking a brand, looking at a page or a video…The tastes and buying habits of the users and connections (or “likers”) are much better indications of what the user is likely to buy than are its demographics (i.e. age, sex, and location data…). As a consequence, selling anonymous user data is a good way to make money sharing knowledge of people interests, those people being potential buyers of products.
Application developers could have to share a higher percentage of revenue in order to benefit from user data.
Facebook could dissociate its users’ data from its platform and license it to web data brokers or directly to large CPG businesses, once all personally identifiable information has been expunged. External marketers and advertisers might also be interested to use the data to target ads or other content at potential customers either online or offline. A marketer from CPG firms such as Procter & Gamble or LVMH, could compare this combination of demographics and preference data, and determine similarities with people who have bought their products previously.
The sale of users’ data is a good and easy way to quickly monetise Facebook’s assets. Besides, market insights is another source of cash that could be created through Facebook. With its huge database, the firm can sell specific insights matching the needs of its clients.
4. Merchant model with e-Commerce Transactions
Facebook can become a key tool in the purchasing decision process
E-commerce is expecting opportunities to leverage the existing platform thanks to a massive logged-in user base; insight into users’ interests; and the network’s ability to generate “word-of-mouth”. Facebook should therefore seek to build payment relationships with consumers, and promote its existing billing system. With the amount of volume of activity and users, the firm has at its disposal, extending the current business model with its existing customers is easier and faster (Zhenga Lindgardt, 2009).
The firm should therefore be able to charge a fee based on a percentage of revenue sold through the platform. The knowledge of actual tastes and preferences of Facebook users makes the social network very attractive for the discovery of products and services, and online purchases. Provided Facebook sorts out and improves its mobile strategy, mobile commerce could its first source of revenue as early as 2020. The firm could indeed charge a fee per store and asks for a percentage against each transaction (1%-3% according to the product or service). We can expect Facebook to become a link between a brand and a potential customer through his or her history.
For most users, Facebook is able to carry out the promise of personalisation better than any other e-merchant and deliver a purchasing experience around the data it owns. At the time of decision to purchase or not a product or a service, the social connection gives confidence in buying if the perceived value and benefits of the products are recommended by “friends”.
Nobody knows what the future holds for Facebook, and the task is difficult and risky.
Follow in the steps of Tencent!
As a conclusion, as explained, Facebook Inc. is likely to generate much more revenue from user data through mobile & tablet commerce, and infomediary services in the years to come. The profitability of the firm could increase in case the company follows the path of Tencent, one of the world leaders in the business of microtransactions.
The business of virtual goods is growing and highly profitable: Facebook should take advantage of this kind of opportunities.
- Facebook Inc. (2012, May). Core Concepts – Open Graph – Tutorial. Retrieved May 29, 2012, from Facebook Developers: http://developers.facebook.com/docs/opengraph/tutorial/
Gilbert, B. (2009, June 1). Virtual Worlds Market Forecast 2009-2015. Retrieved January 21, 2011, from Strategy Analytics: http://www.strategyanalytics.com/default.aspx?mod=reportabstractviewer&a0=4779
Open Graph protocol. (2012, March 22). Open Graph protocol. Retrieved April 12, 2012, from Open Graph protocol: http://ogp.me/
SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION. (2012, February 1). REGISTRATION STATEMENT ON FORM S-1. Retrieved May 27, 2012, from SEC: http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1326801/000119312512034517/d287954ds1.htm
Zhenga Lindgardt, M. R. (2009, December). Business Model Innovation. Retrieved April 23, 2012, from BCG:
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