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Facebook is on a mission to rethink the way the world operates and it is asking brands to play a central role in its new vision. Matt Eaton reports.
Blake Chandlee arrived in Hong Kong for the first time on 4 February with no idea of what to do. Unlike many visitors, he had little time to research any sights or recreational areas, but that’s understandable given his employer’s rapid expansion across the globe.
So he did what 500 million people do on an almost daily basis, he posted something on Facebook.
“Two days in Hong Kong ... need recommendations, let’s see how this social graph thing works:-)”, he wrote.
It was a sticky situation to be in. If no one responded, the social graph would have failed. But within an hour, friends from Singapore, Middle East and California were posting a range of recommendations.
In between checking posts, Chandlee jumped on Google and searched for things to do in Hong Kong. It wasn’t good.
“I was so confused about where to go. There was a lot of information flowing to me [from Google] but I had no idea whether I would enjoy it.”
Herein lies the heart of Facebook’s philosophy: generating trusted recommendations from friends, family, colleagues and, increasingly, brands.
This, says Chandlee, is why Facebook will overcome its web-based rivals and why he believes social networking and “the social graph” will transform every part of life and business as we know it.
“When people ask me why is Facebook so successful or why it is different from companies that come and go … what Facebook has capitalised on that others haven’t is that we are trying to fundamentally connect people. It’s as simple as that,” he says.
“We are part of a movement that is changing the world. It’s transforming the way businesses are run, transforming the way we interact with each other and the way we connect with family and friends.”
As vice president and commercial director of Facebook’s emerging markets, Chandlee is leading the company’s charge in Asia Pacific, Latin America and Europe to convince the biggest – and the smallest – brands to buy in to this philosophy.
And for many it is a major shift.
“It is about letting go of what you know and what you think you know,” he says. “It’s no longer about a pure campaign-driven mentality. It’s how do you commit to building audiences and building a meaningful dialogue with people.”
Chandlee started his career with Facebook in October 2007 when it boasted only 50 million users. Today, that number has soared past
500 million, with a good bulk – some say around 145.5 million – of users living in the Asia Pacific region.
It’s this fact which has seen Facebook’s focus sharpen on the Asian region.
In the past year, it has launched offices in India, Singapore, Tokyo and most recently Hong Kong.
In early February, the long awaited launch of its location-based tool Facebook Places was announced for its key markets of Singapore and Hong Kong. But it’s only recently that a grab for clients’ dollars has taken hold.
We are not here to make as much money as we can as a company.
VP and commercial director of emerging markets at Facebook
“If we wanted to do that, we would throw advertising all over Facebook. The first priority is users. What we want is for brands to be invited by users into their lives and be a part of it everyday.”
One thing that strikes you about Chandlee and Facebook’s senior management is not how it is looking to change the advertising model, but rather change the world and how it is connected.
It’s almost as if its social charter overrides its corporate charter.
“I’ve spent the past three years with Facebook travelling around the world, opening offices and meeting great people and every time I go to a new market I look for what is different. But what strikes me is that we are not different. There are many more similarities in the world today than there are differences.
“There are differences in language, the way we look and the food we eat, but fundamentally as a society, we are all the same. We love our children, we love our parents, the older generation is being taken care of by the younger generation, we have to work to make a living, we spend time with our friends – these are basic social needs.”
So what about that movie? Surprisingly, Chandlee says it was only on his flight to Hong Kong that he watched The Social Network. And like many others, he says it was part Hollywood and part real-life.
“I found it interesting. Mark [Zuckerberg, founder and CEO] is an intense guy. That I think is accurately reflected in the movie. He’s very passionate about Facebook connecting the world and changing the world.
“Mark sees the world differently than you or I. He sees the world as a social graph and his intention is to connect the world in a way that brings real social value and social change. The world we are entering in to – in the next couple of years – is so fundamentally different in the way companies have to operate.
“Social media is going to transform the way they do business and they are just figuring that out now.”