It may not be a common problem, but power users of Facebook frequently hit the wall when it comes to the social network’s 5,000-friend maximum. Intuitively, a limit makes some sort of sense — even the most prolific real world networker would have trouble keeping track of a 5,000-name Rolodex. The Facebook solution — creating fan Pages for people to follow — suffers from a lack of reciprocity. Moreover, not everyone who has the ability to generate multitudes of social network connections does so because they have “fans” in the traditional sense. And not everyone has the energy to maintain two separate Facebook identities.
Facebook’s new Twitter-like “Subscriptions” option, in concert with the interface redesign and Timeline feature lets users open their social feed up to non-friends and also opens the door for Facebook to solve one of its most persistent advertising options — how to monetize its most influential users via advertising.
Users who build up substantial subscribers lists can be measured in various ways — how many subscribers they have, the demographic profile of those subscribers and perhaps most importantly, how those subscribers interact with their posts. That means that power users, or groups of power users, can be targeted by marketers in much the same way as one would target an online magazine or blog. But with the added advantage of being able to track audience response on a granular level.
Take the case of, say, a music blogger who builds up a list of 10,000 subscribers. Let’s say that blogger posts a link to a new track by an artist that generates 500 online interactions — likes, comments or click-throughs. Facebook now has a list of 500 users who can be targeted in several ways based on these interactions. Multiply this by the number of power users that could rise up throughout the network, and you have the potential for the kind of powerfully precise targeting Facebook envisioned when it launched its ill-fated Beacon initiative. And unlike Beacon, the Subscriptions option is entirely opt-in, both for users who make feeds available for subscription and those who choose to subscribe.
To put it another way, Facebook has — with just a few quick strokes — combined the immediacy of Twitter and the granularity of a blog network like Federated Media with its own deep trove of personal data. Of course, in a blog network, the network must share advertising revenue with content creators to give them an incentive to participate. I haven’t heard yet of any plans by Facebook to share ad revenue with power users.