Facebook goes corporate

Social-networking site expands membership to select group of big-name companies such as Apple, plus Teach For America. Image: Facebook's first corporate members

It started with Harvard University, then a select group of colleges, then virtually all U.S. colleges, then high schools.

Facebook, a social-networking site that has become a success on school campuses nationwide, this week expanded its membership to a different kind of campus: the corporate kind.

Just as it staggered its membership rollout for educational institutions, successfully relying on viral-marketing techniques to gain steam, the venture-backed 2004 invention of Harvard undergraduate Mark Zuckerberg is currently allowing only employees of a --and one nonprofit organization--to join Facebook using their respective .com and .org addresses. (Until now, only people with a .edu address could create a Facebook profile.)


The chosen ones, as listed on Facebook's Network Listing page, include several major players: Accenture, Amazon.com, Apple Computer, Electronic Arts, Gap, Intel, Intuit, Microsoft, PepsiCo, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Teach For America.

"There's no secret to the companies (we picked)," Melanie Deitch, Facebook's director of marketing, said in a phone interview. "We wanted to get a cross-section of industries, as well as geographies. We wanted to have some diversity to it."

Facebook expects to add a slew of other companies to its network next Tuesday, Deitch added, though she didn't give a number. The current "beta" list was compiled, in part, from secondary e-mail addresses users gave Facebook, she said. Therefore, "we knew that's probably where they are working."

Deitch said the No. 1 request Facebook gets from users is to invite people out of network--in part, friends at work. Of Facebook users who were seniors in college last year, "45 percent come back every day."

Because Facebook's system of authentication and network breakouts has been based on .edu e-mail addresses, it made sense to extend the user base to .com and .org addresses, Deitch said.

"The company apparently hopes the Facebook meme will trickle down to other companies in these sectors by traversing the professional networks of hip workers and, eventually, that it will spread to other sectors through alumni and nonprofessional networks," Inside Facebook blogger Justin Smith wrote Wednesday.

Of networking communities that have active message boards, MySpace dominates, with 44.13 percent market share, according to weekly statistics from online research firm Hitwise. Facebook trails significantly behind, with 4.87 percent, followed by such sites as Xanga, Yahoo Member Directory, Craigslist and YouTube.

"If corporate Facebook takes off like in colleges," Minority Rapport blogger Doug Sherrets wrote Thursday, "Facebook could connect and 'own' the job market. In that case, not only does LinkedIn become completely irrelevant, but HotJobs, Monster and the like will face a two-front war: Craigslist on one side; 'Mark's list'/Facebook Jobs on the other."

Deitch said Facebook, which last week secured a $25 million second round of funding led by Greylock Partners, has "no intention of tackling the corporate world" or corporate-networking . "We are a social directory," she said. As for job listings, she said the company currently has no plans to launch such an initiative. She also addressed : "We're not for sale; we're here for the long term."

But whether Facebook can repeat its student success in Corporate America is yet to be determined. "While the rollout will likely create buzz in some circles, I don't think you'll see the same phenomenal viral exponent or use patterns over time," Smith wrote. "Professionals just don't talk to dozens of classmates a day or live in dorms with hundreds of peers, and they certainly don't have 51 minutes a day to spend, looking at cute members of the opposite sex and writing on each others' walls...I'm lucky if I see my friends at Apple once a month."

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