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Voltaire, Facebook and the Trouble with Walled Gardens

"Il faut cultiver son jardin"  
Candide, Voltaire, 1759         

It's not often this site gets to quote 18th century French philosophers, but a recent report brought this phrase to mind, and I will explain why – and why it matters to you in your work as a B2B marketer.

The quote is made by a character called Candide in Voltaire's work of the same name: having travelled around the world and seen the many misfortunes, hypocrisies and difficulties encountered by mankind, he concludes that it is better to focus on one's own little world. To cultivate your garden is to centre your world within your comfort zone, a place where you have influence – hiding away from the dangers and complexities of the wider world.*

And what does that mean to you?

To drag you kicking and screaming back into the world of 21st century marketing, this has a very neat parallel with what is happening in the social media arena – and what is happening with "walled gardens" such as Facebook.

A study by Nielsen, published last week, showed that the average user spends 7 hours a month on Facebook. This was an increase of almost 10% on the previous month, and was in contrast to a decrease in the amount of time spent on certain other platforms. This statistic prompted a wave of comment from industry people, such as Dan York, who noted that this reflects a growing trend: for some people, Facebook is the web.

Is Facebook becoming the web?

As it grows in sophistication, Facebook offers its users more and more functionality. Annoying though the site redesigns can be, it gives its users the chance to access all kinds of news, to comment and communicate amongst friends, to share information, to arrange and store media. In short, it does the lot. As a result a lot of users are asking themselves why they ever need to embark on new learning curves. For some people, Facebook time accounts for most of their web time and it is growing. If this is a trend that we can stretch across all social networks, fuelled by the desire for familiarity and the reluctance to "move outside our comfort zones", users are polarising in their behaviour.

But be aware that the principle behind Facebook runs counter to the open sharing philosophy that once drove Internet communities. You do not own Facebook. You do not even own your page, Facebook does. Equally, Twitter owns every last scrap of data that passes through it and has power of life and death over every account. You use such sites with their permission, so it is imperative that social media marketers base their presence around a domain that they own.

The strategy, then, is this: your presence MUST extend to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the other key networks. User attachment to these sites is growing and it is not naive to think that they are more likely to do business with you if you appear as a fellow Facebook user. You're one of them. So use these communities to communicate, but ensure your assets reside elsewhere.

Get your gardening gloves on

Candide's wise words seem to apply to us all. For many users, Facebook is a walled garden that is fast becoming everything they need from the web, so marketers should be aware of this and exploit it. But you should also not forget that your website is your garden, an area you control – and beyond your garden walls, anything could happen. So cultivate it wisely.

* [This is a gross simplification of a multi-layered metaphor, which you can read more about here if you have the time and inclination]