It's mind blowing. According to statistics collected by the online gods at econsultancy ((http://tinyurl.com/yetgcru)) there are now 350 million active users on Facebook globally. That's a 40% increase compared to the 250 million who were merrily chatting away just six months ago
But within the crashing volumes of statistics a very interesting nugget - if I can mix my metaphors so appallingly. There are now 5.3 billion fans in Facebook following purpose-built fan pages. That's fan pages such as the ones run by organisations such as VisitBritain, Tourism Ireland and Red Funnel. So what are they doing and why are 5.3 billion potential fans out there looking at these pages?
Well this global community is happily talking to its friends and family on a very regular basis - half of them apparently log in every day, a cool 175 million people. Photo-uploads have increased by more than 100%, 65 million Facebook users connect through mobile and an impossible-to-imagine 3.5 billion items are shared on Facebook every week. Facebook "fans" receive and respond to information from organisations in a very private world of friends, in a very personal space. If a traditional media owner - a TV station or newspaper - had that access and reach every travel company in the world would be talking to it.
I confess that I for one was slow to appreciate Facebook, but fell deeply and quickly in love with Twitter. I wasn't sure about the blurring of friends and work on Facebook -of messages from my family alongside news from fan pages I'd subscribed to. It jarred. But I've finally begun to appreciate it, using it to contact far flung friends on a recent trip to Australia and keeping in touch with similarly far flung family.
I think many organisations in travel are similarly slow to appreciate Facebook and, while it's only one part of a social media campaign some organisations are stilll concerned about how they tackle this brave new world. It's certainly a very different world where you interact directly with people about your brand in a public arena. But my plea to travel organisations is simple - don't discount it out of hand. A fan page may take a while to build up followers. Yes your mum and work colleagues may be your first fans but don't lose heart. I've seen from google analytics how quickly a client's Facebook page can become a major driver to its website.
It might be different but the same philosophy applies to social media communication as it would to any other part of a marketing mix. As econsultancy so eloquently puts it: "understand your objectives before you launch off into this apparently vast space."