Facebook has an invitation-only media event planned for Monday, and most of the media and tech blogosphere are speculating that the social network plans to unveil its own Web-based e-mail service. If those predictions are accurate, Facebook e-mail will provide a critical missing element for Facebook as a business marketing and communications platform.
Yes, I know it's a social network and many businesses are still struggling with understanding what the point is. For most businesses, the debate is still between trying to grasp the value of establishing a Facebook presence as a marketing tool, and whether or not to simply ban access entirely to prevent users from wasting their time and exposing the company to unnecessary security risks.
Consider for a minute, what Facebook has to offer, though. It already has messaging capabilities that can be used to communicate with other individuals or groups of individuals within Facebook. You can share links, photos, and video clips as well. It also has an instant messaging chat component, and the recently launched partnership with Skype opens up VoIP (voice over IP) voice calling, and group chat possibilities.
Facebook, through its alliance with Microsoft, also provides a Web-based office productivity suite. Docs.com, or Docs for Facebook, delivers Web-based versions of the popular Microsoft Office productivity apps such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
As a marketing tool, Facebook provides a platform with over half a billion users -- and it is the online destination where users spend the majority of their time. The social nature of Facebook lends itself well to word-of-mouth advertising as Facebook users post status updates regarding movies, books, restaurants, products, or services they like. Of course, that works in reverse too -- quickly disseminating bad reviews and complaints as well.
With Facebook Places, and the newly launched Facebook Deals, Facebook now provides even more benefits for brick and mortar retail establishments. Businesses can use Facebook Deals to provide incentive for customers to check-in on Facebook Places, and as those users check-in it feeds the word-of-mouth marketing advantages of the social network.
Best of all -- it's all free. Facebook may be built for and targeted at individual users, but it is also a valuable platform for business marketing and communications, except for one thing: e-mail. Adding e-mail to the mix would provide the final piece of the puzzle and make Facebook not just the biggest social network, but a comprehensive, and formidable business tool.
Google -- which is vigorously trying to break out of its own mold and establish a presence as a business communications and productivity platform as well -- should be on notice. While Google tries to challenge Microsoft head to head in the messaging and office productivity fronts, and struggles to get into the social networking game, Facebook is outflanking it.