MPs are increasingly using sites like Facebook for their work
It's been criticised for encouraging paedophiles, accused of failing to keep our personal details safe, and banned by anxious parents in many homes. And yet social networking sites like Facebook are used as a normal tool of communication not just by young people but by businesses and charities such as Oxfam. Arts events organisers use it to promote literary and music festivals from London to Ledbury and from Edinburgh to Exeter. Social networking in general has seen a 660% percentage in its use by MPs over the last three years.
Here in our little corner of East Devon Facebook is being increasingly used by clubs and businesses as a free and easy way to advertise activities and products and to communicate with members and clients. Group sites include St Peter's School with 277 former-pupils, the town's Cricket Club, East Budleigh Football Club and a Tobias restaurant fan club.
There's even a Budleigh Salterton Interfaith Ping Pong League, described as "a closed group dedicated to monitoring events and following developments within the fast-growing Interfaith Ping Pong scene in the British Coastal town of Budleigh Salterton." A match report ends: "Father Conway now proceeds to play Rabbi Samuel leewhacker in the semi finals of the Seaton Open." Is this for real?
The new face of Budleigh Wines
One of the latest 'serious' users of Facebook is Budleigh Wines, the independent wine store on the High Street in Budleigh Salterton. In fact the site was originally called Threshers Budleigh & Exmouth, started by Paula LeBlanc with 11 members, but with Paula and her husband Serge taking over the business the Budleigh Wines Facebook group now has over 50 enthusiastic fans.
Click on http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Budleigh-Salterton/Budleigh-Wines/106815689349461?ref=mf and you'll find a running commentary from Paul and Serge on their courageous bid to make Budleigh Wines into one of the thriving independent High Street businesses of which Budleigh Salterton is justifiably proud. "Feels great to be free!" they commented on 28 March, shortly after acquiring the shop from the collapsed Threshers group.
But of course the LeBlancs, married for three years this June, are also using the site to promote their products to loyal followers. "We're very happy with Facebook," says Paula. "It's a good way of telling customers what's on offer, and of course we can update it easily ourselves." The couple organise regular wine-tasting sessions at the shop on Fridays and Saturdays and the Facebook site is the perfect place for comments on their recently acquired Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc such as "Deliciously crisp and fresh, packed full of vibrant and long lasting lime, gooseberry and tropical fruit flavours."
In these recession-hit times a site like Facebook, which costs nothing, is a good solution for a small business's marketing strategy. "I'd certainly recommend it to other small businesses in the area," says Serge.
The couple are currently on a tour of Australian vineyards and hope to upload photos of their trip on their site, not just when they get back to the UK but 'live' from 'Down Under' thanks to the internet. I'll look forward to seeing them displaying the various bottles that they discover out there. The name of our local wine shop may have changed, but as Serge says, "We're the same faces inside." And that's partly thanks to Facebook.