Poke. hey, do you like meeting people? How about having the best time of your life without breaking the bank?
Looking to get the inside scoop on amazing offers, promotions and products designed with students in mind?
You can supposedly get all this by joining a new Facebook group shamelessly promoting TD Canada Trust, the first Canadian financial institution to reach Canuck students "on their own turf," as the press release trumpeted last week.
Hidden in the nooks and crannies of one of the world's most popular websites, the TD Money Lounge is designed to help students navigate college and university living on a budget.
At first blush, the group is all green-and-white ads (seven, at last count) promoting the bank's services or giveaways. The discussion board's topics include "Why do you like TD Canada Trust more than other banks?" and "Make $500+ a week doing almost nothing at home." Facebook spam, anyone?
So why is a drab bank entering the Web's hipster hot spot? The TD Canada Trust line says, "Many students spend a lot of time in online social spaces communicating and sharing advice. The TD Money Lounge was created to give them a place to talk about money and share budgeting strategies."
Aw, that's awfully sweet of you, TD. I didn't know you were itching to give students a platform to share budget-stretching Mr. Noodles recipes or ways to split rent between 12 roommates. You want kids to talk about money?
So far, the wall posts have declared, "I am TD staff, I rock," or applaud the leap into cyberFace or point out the irony of TD's human resources blocking Facebook.
When Facebook launched, members praised the site's clean, ad-free look compared to MySpace's cluttered chaos. But a sponsored group like Facebook can lose its once credible reputation in a double click.
When companies like American Eagle, Wal-Mart and Mars Snackfood pay close to $10,000 (according to industry estimates) to sponsor a group on Facebook, will website members come a-knockin' or will they shake their heads in disappointment?
To corporations and advertisers, Facebook is a glory hole they need to pump. There are 34 million active users on Facebook, and close to 69 per cent of 18-to-21-year-olds world-wide have a page on sites like Facebook or MySpace. Social networking has skyrocketed, but now the process might better be called social adworking.
Don't get enough brand names from your daily media diet? Visit the Skittles Facebook group and count how many idiots wall-post "Taste the rainbow!"
Or join the Wal-Mart group to download a shopping list of dorm room items the retailer sells. Then there's always the 17,000-member Microsoft Student Group for the latest product news and updates on when "Microsoft-sponsored events are coming to your campus." If it's not an Xbox 360 demo, will anyone care?
More importantly, will anyone be pissed about this not so subtle advertising invading the hallowed ground of this mammoth online campfire?
Big businesses are attempting to lure students with contests, slick videos and promises to connect with really cool people like, really, man, this is where it's at, y'know? But most 20-somethings will view the corporate invasion the same way they'd view any old fart trying to act cool: "Come on, Dad, stop rapping k-os lyrics, you're embarrassing me!"
Of course, there's no obligation to buy, no money down, no e-mail in your in box imploring you to chill out in the TD Money Lounge. No one needs to join any group on Facebook. It's all optional.
But Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, might be setting a dangerous precedent by inviting companies to post ads alongside discussion board topics. He shouldn't steer his free-for-all site into a sponsorship zone where big bucks buy big groups designed to shill products.
It's also worth remembering that Facebook isn't the most private site, so do you really want a company knowing exactly what you're doing, what music you're buying, who your friends are?
There's nothing new about executives searching for ways to market to young people. Facebook is now their Holy Grail, but for members it may turn out to be a Pandora's Box.