Remember those spam emails that used to annoy us? The ones that gave us the heads up that Facebook was going to ask us to pay and the only way to avoid it was to post some nonsensical message on our Wall? Yep, that’s the one Facebook felt obliged to debunk saying that it was free and would always be so. Well, they really are so last year.

Facebook, the world’s ‘favorite’ social network, these days seems intent on doing a couple of things exceedingly well: reneging on its promises and annoying the hell out of its membership.

Now on the face of it Facebook is not really doing anything that any other online business should not or would not do: it’s trying to use its substantial global membership to create several commercial income streams. But that’s as far as my understanding nature is prepared to go. The reason I’m not cutting the social network much slack is because when you get to that size and believe you have that much clout you need to also be able to understand that the only way to translate it into cold, hard cash is by remaining relevant.

Relevancy is turning out to be an online quantity that resides at the very heart of online monetization and the reason for that lies in the simple fact that by being relevant you also become able to best use that other incredibly important digital marketing quality: context.

Consider this simple example for a moment: You’re walking down the street looking for a hardware store in a new neighborhood. Suddenly, in front of you, you see a guy handing out leaflets touting hardware tools. Unable to believe the serendipity of this you grab one. Not only do you find that the store is near you but it also has a special offer on, limited to the very same day! You’re in luck. It would take an immediate act of God akin to the Earth opening up and swallowing you whole to stop you from traipsing down to that hardware store and giving them your cold, hard cash.

By appearing the moment it did, as if by magic, that particular ad not only made the hardware store relevant to what you were doing at that particular moment in time but its context was also spot on. You were actively looking to spend on hardware tools and it suddenly became imperative you did so, in order to take advantage of the offer.

Relevancy and context are frequently mistaken for targeting and personalization but they are not the same thing at all.

To prove it consider this example: You’re lounging down the pub shooting the wind with your besties. You’re right in the middle of some story about a party when in comes a guy with a bunch of leaflets. It’s the same hardware store with the very same tools and the very same offer as before. I am giving away no prizes for anyone guessing just how effective that kind of marketing really is.

Yet, that is the kind of marketing Facebook is betting its future on, at present.

The danger of that approach is that Facebook, that began life as the place to hangout on, is beginning to piss off its membership base sufficiently for them to look for alternatives. And the moment the membership base begins to dissipate, businesses and their advertising dollars will not be far behind.

Right now this is not yet happening in sufficient numbers to worry anyone. Given the built-in latency in online trends however the chances are that by the time it becomes apparent and Facebook responds, it’ll be too late. The world’s favorite social network will have truly become irrelevant.

by David Amerland for Social Media Today.