Media Perspective: Why Facebook may be adland's knight in shining armour

As this illustrious journal has previously noted, the people of adland have recently gone a little doolally over Facebook, the social networking site which is to MySpace what Pizza Express is to Pizza Hut.

From Shoreditch House to Soho House, they've been chortling about "poking" each other, laughing at each other's profile pictures and wondering what you're supposed to do if your boss tries to "friend" you.

And while some have lamented the lost productivity (In agencies? Have they ever been in an advertising agency?), it's clear to me that Facebook might be the one thing that saves advertising agencies from an ignominious slide into irrelevance.

Because now, finally, there's a mass, popular digital tool out there that senior agency people are using for its own sake, because they enjoy it - not because they need to be able to talk about something in a meeting.

I missed Facebook's importance when if first arrived. Obviously, I had a go - as a regular jumper on digital bandwagons, I had to - but I never really liked it. All I do is "friend" anyone who asks and decline every group I'm asked to join. It didn't seem to add anything to the repertoire of social tools I was already using, and that stuck-up early adopterness might be what kept me from seeing its potential for transforming Big Advertising.

My eyes were opened when I did a training session the other week, helping some agency management people get "hands-on" with web 2.0. I sat with a senior agency bod to create a Facebook account and encouraged him to hunt around in there for people he knew while I went to get coffee. I returned to find this suave, sophisticated suit jumping around like an over-excited schoolboy shrieking his excitement that he'd made a friend on Facebook. It was rather touching.

I know I've been a little hyperbolic here, but it genuinely was very sweet, like seeing someone passing their driving test or getting the grades they needed for university.

And this is how Facebook might save advertising, because the people who run agencies and talk to clients and make all the decisions might finally see what it is that gets everyone else so excited about this stuff: viscerally, in person, for themselves. Facebook is the easy-to-use, non-threatening, comfortably middle-class version of web 2.0, and it might not last any longer than Friendster or MySpace as the social media flavour of the month.

But if it acts as the nursery slope that helps senior ad people get the web, it'll have served us well. You learn about digital stuff by doing it, not by reading about it. So put this down immediately and give me a poke.


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