The Value of Facebook

I have watched the endless TV hype about Facebook’s (FB) IPO with great interest but from a safe distance. FB is SO not the kind of stock we’d ever invest in – not that anyone should feel dissuaded because over the years we safely avoided Apple and Google amongst others too. So nobody should interpret anything profound – it’s just that if we don’t understand how they make money we just move on to other things.

Although I’m not a stockholder, I use Facebook to stay in touch with friends and family. I’m not on every day, and many people have more “friends” than me. In fact for a while my total was barely in double digits until my children’s friends began to take pity on me and helped me get to a few dozen. The college-age crowd that are the engine for FB often number friends in the several hundred. I am clearly not that popular, but I can claim that my FB friends really are friends.

About a year ago FB e-mailed me to enquire whether I’d like to advertise my business, SL Advisors, on FB. I was surprised. I honestly didn’t know FB carried ads. I’d never spent much time considering their business model or how they managed to exist. So much of the internet is free, and FB was just there whenever I needed it without even the occasional NPR-like pledge drive.

Unable to recall a single ad I’d ever seen on FB, I concluded that my own advertising budget could be more usefully deployed elsewhere. And in fact even now I can’t remember anything advertised on FB. I do know that GM have stopped advertising there due to poor results, and I also know that Ford are very happy with their FB ads. This probably speaks to the average age of their customers, but in both cases I read about these developments elsewhere and don’t know what GM or Ford have actually advertised on FB.

Meanwhile, FB continues to be a fun way to stay connected with friends and family scattered around the U.S., UK and Canada. The price is right, and if advertisers deem it a useful way to spend their budgets they truly don’t even distract me. In spite of what economic theory holds, sometimes there really is a free lunch.