If Facebook went out of business tomorrow, how would it affect your work?

Would you lose a gateway to participants, partners, and industry colleagues? Or do you already use other social platforms and in-house networks to do your job?

Either way, your reaction will tell you a lot about how social media are evolving. But two other questions are even more important to the survival of the monster social network and the viability of many conferences: Have you ever clicked on a Facebook ad? And if so, did you buy the product?

As Mark Twain (not to mention Mark Zuckerberg) might say, reports of Facebook’s imminentdeath would be greatly exaggerated. But consider this:

Earlier, General Motors touched off a storm of second-guessing when it announced it was pulling $10 million in Facebook advertising. And you know you’re in trouble when The New Yorker humorist Andy Borowitz makes you the target of his daily faux news story.

 “Your Facebook friend Mark needs your help,” Borowitz wrote. “Facebook only makes money if people click on its ads,” but “after doing extensive market research, we learned that there is one time when people actually click on Facebook ads: when they’re drunk.” So “if you want to save Facebook—and I know that you do—I need you to start drinking now.”

Borowitz’s parody points to a big problem for Facebook. Its owners and investors are trying to make a fortune on a platform that costs users nothing, so the company has to ally itself with advertisers whose motivations may have little in common with the audiences they’re targeting. The rest of us may be trying to connect with conference audiences or check industry news (when we’re not just logging on to play Scrabble), and it’s up to Facebook to keep us satisfied—because if users deserted the platform in droves, advertisers have other places to go.

But that opens up another question: How different is Facebook’s business model from yours? Facebook relies on advertisers. Many meetings depend on sponsors. Are sponsors satisfied if you place their brand in a sea of competing logos, or offer them five minutes on the podium while most luncheon participants talk through their pitch?

Facebook is at its best when lots of people use it to share their news, ideas, problems, and inspirations. The same is true of most conferences. So if that’s the real value, the trick is to monetize it. Otherwise, meetings will continue trying to generate revenue with a value proposition for sponsors that is of little or no interest to participants. That’s a recipe for poor ROI for all concerned, which has to be exactly what we don’t want to achieve onsite.

Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president of The Conference Publishers Inc., Ottawa, one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog and tweets as @mitchellbeer.