Facebook: a worthwhile investment?

Facebook’s flotation on the Nasdaq stock exchange led to a surge in people rushing out to buy the 400 million public shares that were made publicly available on Friday.

Although I’m certainly no business expert, I’m struggling to know exactly where the value is for those who have invested.

Whereas the success of technology companies such as Apple are dependent on its products, Facebook is a free-to-use website and demands no payment from any of its hundreds of millions of users who have created an account.

85% of Facebook’s revenue during 2011 was from advertising. But while advertisers may be attracted by an ability to deliver highly targeted adverts to specific Facebook users by making use of personal details as well as a user’s ‘likes’ and interests, it’s unlikely that many people even take notice of the adverts.

Contrast that to Google’s sponsored advertising, which is far more likely to be effective. When someone performs a search on Google – either for a product or service, or simply information – Google’s sponsored links have a good chance of being noticed and are more likely to be clicked on because someone performing a Google search is actually looking for something.

Facebook users are far less likely to be interested in the advertisements in the right hand panel of their timeline, no matter how specifically tailored they may be. And while social profiling is undoubtedly a powerful tool for any advertiser, simply holding information about someone doesn’t automatically mean that it will be used effectively.

Tesco is one example of a company who do make the most of the information they gather, sending out money-saving vouchers to customers who have used their clubcards. The vouchers are specifically for products which Tesco know you buy – because they’re recorded on your clubcard account. You’re encouraged to shop at Tesco in order to save money, and from Tesco’s perspective, they are retaining your custom.

The problem for Facebook is that it’s viewed by most people as nothing more than a social tool. Users are neither searching for anything, nor purchasing a product.

And that leaves me continuing to wonder how the value of Facebook will grow, and just where the long-term benefit will be for investors.

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