Could you ditch your customer database and just use Facebook instead?

How much do you know about your customers? Do you have a database on them with information such as address, email, phone number and when they last bought something from you? But do you know details of their spouse, or their birthday, or their wedding anniversary, or even their favourite movie? 
You don’t have that kind of information on your customers? Well that’s probably natural. Customers don’t go giving away all that information to every firm they buy something from, but they do give it away to Facebook. What if you could start using Facebook as your customer database?
Just imagine the benefits, it is self-administered because users manage their own data and generally keep it up to date – a lot more up to date than anything you can manage in-house. It requires almost no infrastructure because all the data exists in the cloud. It is freely available. And best of all, people on Facebook give away a lot more about themselves than they would in a commercial transaction – say buying a meal in a restaurant or buying car insurance.
What could be the downside? 
You no longer have any control over the quality of data – that all going to be outsourced to the users and some customers might find it creepy; this really has to be an opt-in kind of database.
Steve Jones, global head of Master Data Management (MDM) at Capgemini, recently explained this potential use of Facebook to me over a coffee in London. MDM is a notoriously complex subject that can drain the will to live from even the most hardened database administrator, but the idea of using open data in this way – whether with Facebook or another social network – opens up a world of new possibilities and deals with most of the complexities of managing customer databases internally.
Steve explained how companies that have already started exploring community building on Facebook can go a step further and start using the data that is freely open to them. It sounds incredible, but I know that I have joined many groups on Facebook representing businesses that I know and trust. I don’t think I would be offended if I was a member of a group for my local Italian restaurant and they emailed me offering a special deal because they could see my wedding anniversary coming up soon.
The one big question here is over data use. People feel free to expose their personal data when confined to friends and family, but would they be comfortable opening it up to companies and organisations too?

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Here is the big dilemma. 1] In the US 3 out of 4 consumers will not use Facebook today. Almost all will be on the web. 2] In 5 years it is highly likely we will be using another network. Almost guaranteed. Can you migrate all your customer stuff to a new network (you mentioned not controlling your data anymore). 3] It is really hard using Facebook for marketing or sales. It is meant for friends and family to share tidbits and photos. Most of us with 200+ connections will only see maybe 10% of the live feed just due to volume. If every page you Fan and each contact posts just 1 item to your stream you are talking 300+ per day at aq minimum. So in theory you could just use Facebook. But it reduces the number of people you can reach today significantly in my opinion.
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Here is the big dilemma. 1] In the US 3 out of 4 consumers will not use Facebook today. Almost all will be on the web. 2] In 5 years it is highly likely we will be using another network. Almost guaranteed. Can you migrate all your customer stuff to a new network (you mentioned not controlling your data anymore). 3] It is really hard using Facebook for marketing or sales. It is meant for friends and family to share tidbits and photos. Most of us with 200+ connections will only see maybe 10% of the live feed just due to volume. If every page you Fan and each contact posts just 1 item to your stream you are talking 300+ per day at aq minimum. So in theory you could just use Facebook. But it reduces the number of people you can reach today significantly in my opinion.
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While I agree with Howie, I think there are even bigger issues with using a social media site as your database. 1) It offers no useful or easy way to cut the data for mailing lists. Often a database is used to automatically generate mailing lists for deals or other mass correspondence. You can't do this with Facebook because, while your wall might distribute to those who agree to be your friend, there is no way to cut the data and target people. 2) There is no way of analysing the data. Want to know what majority of your customers live overseas? Facebook can't tell you. Want to know how many customers are aged between 24 and 35? Again, Facebook can't tell you. This is another key use of a database that is essential and Facebook won't allow you to do it without individually scrutinising records or at least collating multiple searches. 3) No way of adding extra data. Sometimes it is necessary for you to add your own data onto a customer’s record, be this an identification number, details of transactions, or other useful things. But obviously you can't do this on a social networking site, you'd need a second database... and if you have a second database, why have the first one? This is not to say that social networking couldn't be used as a database tool in the future, but you'd need a site geared up for business use, and then you'd have to find a way to encourage punters on there.
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