Recent statistics from O'Reilly Media indicate that Facebook's age demographic in North America continues to trend older. As a result, the world's largest social network could take on a more professional feel during the next couple years, as people become more interested in trading ideas and business leads instead of virtual cupcakes.
Until now, many social networking users profess to use LinkedIn for their business networking and Facebook for their personal lives. During the past couple years, however, Facebook users have seen their Friend lists populate with both personal and work colleagues.
That trend will only continue if the the figures from O'Reilly are any guide. Facebook gained more Gen Xers and Baby Boomers to its membership ranks, with working aged adults (26-59) seeing the biggest age demographic boost of any in North America.
In the past three months, the 26-34 year-old category increased by 26 percent. More staggering, however, was the 35-44 category, which grew by 51 percent, and 45-54, which grew by 47 percent.
The notion that businesses can block people from using Facebook at work — which, as we've written, is generally a short-sighted, knee jerk response — certainly seems all the more questionable now from a strategic point of view. In addition, the idea that LinkedIn will continue to dominate the professional social networking space also seems shaky.
If older users are beginning to spend more time on the service, it behooves Facebook and companies who know they have employees using the service to develop better ways in which it can be utilized during the day.
This will no doubt upset old-school Tech Curmudgeons, who argue that intellectual property can sneak out the back door with a service like Facebook since it enables data sharing so easily. But this argument doesn't really hold up unless you're willing to block your employees from the public Internet entirely. Everyday, myriad services arise that can allow users to expose corporate data, making user education, trust, and accountability a much better endeavor than blocking a website.
The other variable here is LinkedIn, which connects professionals and allows users to share resume-like information with one another. While LinkedIn, at the moment, does a better job at this than Facebook, the latter has made subtle strides recently in narrowing that gap. In addition, the development challenges for Facebook to add all the biographical and professional functionalities of LinkedIn such as "recommending" a collegue or "posting a question" to peers would be, to say the least, minimal.
Right now, the argument against professionals using Facebook as their social network largely resides from all the "noise" on Facebook, chiefly evinced by the thousands of third-party applications (mostly games).
But that could change. At Salesforce.com's Dreamforce conference, Facebook announced a toolkit that helps business software developers build their applications for Facebook. We haven't seen many substantive breakthroughs here, and we probably won't for awhile, but it does mean Facebook could become a viable platform for our professional lives too.
Businesses, and LinkedIn, should take notice.
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