A new report by independent telecoms analyst Ovum warns that Facebook is much more than a social network, and mobile operators should be more wary of its competitive presence.
 
“Facebook is encroaching directly on mobile operator territory and should not be underestimated,” says Eden Zoller, author of the report and Ovum principal analyst.
 
“It has come a very long way since it first launched Facebook Mobile in 2006,” he says. “It is now a force to be reckoned with in mobile with over 200 million users interacting with the service via mobile phone. It is much more than a social network and is better viewed as an increasingly rich platform for communications and content. Facebook wants to integrate with everything and be the main way that people consume and share information, anywhere and on any device.”
 
The report cites Facebook’s integration deal with Skype, the Facebook ‘Deals’ check-in service, and the much publicized ‘Titan’ email model.
 
“There is also intense ongoing speculation that Facebook will come out with its own phone, which in some respects would be the final piece of the puzzle,” Zoller says. “However, we don’t think that Facebook is any rush to launch its own hardware just yet, although it could be interested in working with partners on a customised device platform. This would in effect make Facebook a social operating system.”
 
Joe Barber, a regular columnist for Marketing magazine and founder of Modapt, agrees Facebook’s future plans should not be underestimated.
 
“Their domination in so many areas, and now with the introduction of email, makes it clear that someday not only may we see a ‘Facebook Mobile’ device but, more likely, I believe there will be a dedicated Facebook tablet that runs a Facebook OS,” Barber tells Marketing magazine. “The danger for telcos is clear that discounted or free zone Facebook access could see revenue challenges.”
 
However, Barber thinks this may not necessarily be a negative development for brands and marketers.
 
“A more controlled and managed online ad channel with greater accountability and measurement could be a good thing,” he says. “The problem that some marketing organisations have is that they do not fully understand the power that being successful across Facebook can have for a business. Most marketing managers have only just got accustomed to spending a large part of their budget online – on things such as website development and email marketing. All of a sudden these things were pushed out of the way by the need to have a social media strategy, which in turn demanded a huge chunk of the marketing budget.”
 
Barber also recommends brands see all forms of Facebook as a serious part of their marketing plan, and align their budget accordingly.
 
“Some marketers were hesitant to pump money into the social platform, feeling that they can do all of the work for free themselves,” he tells Marketing magazine. “While others refused full stop, fearing that seeing a page with '295 likes' is a public display that you’re not doing so well. But at the end of the day, Facebook is just another digital channel for marketers to embrace and bring into the strategy.”