360i Point of View on
Facebook’s F8 2011 Updates
The Facebook F8 Developer Conference capped a busy week of updates and new feature releases for the social networking giant. These changes have already begun to impact consumers and brand marketers in different ways, with even bigger rolling out over the next several weeks.
Images in this POV courtesy of Facebook
From a marketing perspective, there is no reason to panic. The new features officially introduced by Facebook have the potential to increase the number of people who are exposed to and interact with your brand, your products and your digital content. These updates present a number of opportunities for brands and will reward those who adapt. Still, this will present a number of new hurdles for many brands, and those are detailed further below.
The features that Facebook announced, described in detail in this POV, reinforce the notion that engagement matters more than ever. Brands must continue to create and share relevant content, experiences and applications on a regular basis. A core objective for marketers remains becoming a part of consumers’ personal stories in a shareable way.
In addition to being a media outlet and an underlying utility to facilitate social communication and sharing, Facebook is now positioning itself at the intersection of everything people do and the social content they share. Understanding where and how brands fit into this changing landscape means first understanding what is actually new or changing.
What Facebook’s New Features Mean for Marketers
The Timeline view, replacing the old profile pages, allows users to aggregate and curate a page for all actions taken on Facebook that matter to them. Users can create special events (e.g., a wedding, a new job, getting a new pet) and associate various actions (e.g., posts, photos, videos) with that milestone. People can even edit the history of their timeline, back to the time of their birth, to update and celebrate moments from the past. Facebook applications can request permission for users to add actions taken with that app to be included on the Timeline.
Why it matters: Social actions that matter most to users will appear on the Timeline. This will invariably include lots of status updates and photos, and it won’t include a lot of day-to-day actions, such as liking a page or making a new virtual friend in a game (those latter actions will appear in the Ticker; read more on that below).
Brands will want to find ways to generate actions that appear in the Timeline. Those actions will differ for various kinds of fans and consumers. One important way is to create meaningful applications that resonate with their users; such applications can gain prominence in the Timeline by connecting with the Open Graph (read more below).
Feature: Open Graph and Custom App Actions
Last year, Facebook introduced “liking,” allowing members to like any brand page, app, website, or real world location. It was the year of the noun, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted; users could like any person, place, or thing. 2011 is the year of the verb. Instead of just liking something, people can say they’re “reading,” “watching,” or “listening to” something as a default action that can also be included in the Timeline. Additionally, brands will be able to create custom actions such as “cooking,” “trying on,” “drinking,” “flying,” or any other verb. All of these tap into Facebook’s Open Graph, which is what Facebook uses to connect all actions and pages around the web with social activities on Facebook. Facebook made additional changes allowing users to give permission once for apps to post content continually to the Ticker and Timeline.
Why it matters: Facebook users likely will love the flexibility of generating social actions connected to what they share. Brands will play an important role, as these social actions will frequently be generated by branded applications. The action won’t just say, “Todd ran,” but rather, “Todd ran 4.3 miles with Nike+.” It won’t just say, “Iliana cooked,” but “Iliana cooked Beer Battered Fried Chicken from the Acme Cookbook.” All such actions will appear in the Ticker (read more below). Brands can also request that its app users add the app’s custom actions to the Timeline, giving the brand more lasting real estate. The most successful brands will be able to generate a consistent stream of repeated branded social actions on a large number of people’s Timelines. Actions can also come from mobile apps that connect with Facebook.
Feature: News Feed Update and the Ticker
The most visible changes this week are the updates to the News Feed. The Facebook “home page” user interface is now organized by top stories and no longer splits into Top News and Recent News sections. Instead, Facebook populates users’ News Feeds with recent updates and “stories,” featuring Top Stories most prominently. If someone hasn’t visited Facebook for a while, the first things he or she will see in the News Feed are the most relevant posts since last visiting. People who check Facebook more frequently will see the most recent stories at the top of News Feed.
To keep up with friends in real time, Facebook has also created a Twitter-like Ticker, which resides in the top right portion of the screen and streams live updates (like photo tags, comments and Open Graph actions) from one’s network. Liking, commenting and participating in the conversation can be done easily by clicking on one of the stories.
Why it Matters: A natural question is whether these updates will have a positive, negative or neutral impact on brands’ Pages. Will Pages be able to reach their fans? It is probably too early to tell. We need to analyze the data to assess whether the changes increase or reduce the visibility of Facebook Page posts to fans. With more potential competition for real estate in the News Feed, brands should concentrate on engaging content that drives higher feedback scores and impression rates.
Rich media content, like photos and videos, helps to naturally boost Edge Rank (Facebook’s relevancy algorithm) and is even more important considering another of Facebook’s other minor changes — an increase in the size of photos in the News Feed. Photos are more prominent and likely to catch a user’s attention. Status updates and wall posts that ask questions or solicit responses to open-ended updates typically drive higher levels of engagement with users, which will be important to maintain in order to secure a brand’s place within the Top Stories.
The real-time nature of the Ticker also means brands should consider increasing the frequency of messaging, monitor the results and optimize all of this accordingly.
Facebook now automatically creates relevant lists of people grouped together by common connections and interests, such as all friends who went to the same school or live in the same city. Unlike with Circles on Google+, users will get notifications that they’re on a list. When users access a list, they see a News Feed of all actions from people on that list.
Why it matters: Brands can also be added to these lists, except the default list of Close Friends. Brands can look for opportunities to encourage being added to these lists. These lists are largely designed around people rather than Pages though, and for users who often access Smart Lists, brand posts will be minimally visible. We don’t expect this to have a major impact though, as the vast majority of users will likely stick with viewing the default homepage feed of all their friends’ updates.
Pages now automatically include Share buttons on each post, so fans — and even people who aren’t fans — can share a post with their friends, in addition to liking or commenting on the post. Brands can see how many people shared each post.
Why it matters: Brands can encourage users to share noteworthy posts. Additionally, shares are counted toward page interactions. This is a very positive step for Pages, as it allows brands to take into account additional forms of engagement with their content.
Challenges and Considerations
The new changes should generate a tremendous amount of additional content on Facebook. That means brands will have an even harder time breaking through the clutter. Brands will have to be even more strategic, creative, and relevant to their fans to stand out.
Will brands have access to the data in people’s Timelines? Facebook should clarify much brands can know about other kinds of patterns that Facebook is tracking.
How much interest will the Ticker drive? For some users, it may be so much information that they ignore it. If it’s polarizing, that can still be a positive scenario, as marketers will benefit if there is at least some reasonable percentage of users checking it. The potential is underscored by the recent comScore report that Facebook now attracts 90% of time spent on social networks.
Can brands and Pages create their own custom timelines? Wouldn’t it be great to curate a history of how consumers have interacted with your products? It’s on our wish list.
Mark Zuckerberg himself is heavily invested in making the Timeline work; he was practically teary-eyed when announcing it. This doesn’t mean it will appeal to users. The degree of the Timeline’s success will determine how much brands should focus on creating actions that appear there.
Potential Action Items
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for what to do about these Facebook updates, but brands should work with their strategists and community managers to consider the following actions:
Determine whether posting to Facebook more often will generate more fan activity due to the Ticker.
Consider what kinds of apps can tap into the Open Graph and generate actions that appear in the Timeline.
For brands creating or updating apps, or for those focusing even more on growing their Page audiences, consider to what extent paid media should be part of the promotional strategy.
Consider whether partnerships with popular media and entertainment properties can further generate brand exposure through Facebook, as these properties may benefit even more from Facebook’s default social actions — “read,” “watch” and “listen.”
Test and learn!
Overall, the essential concept of what makes Facebook so powerful is the well-established network of users already in place. Roughly half a billion people are using the site on a daily basis in some way or another. Facebook is focused on the depth and quality of engagement through its site, and the relationship that individual users have with one another.
Will any of this change the way brands use Facebook? Probably. But as long as you continue to do things that spark interest and engagement, your brand will continue to get noticed. In reality, the impact on brands will depend on how the 800 million registered Facebook members embrace these changes.
Additionally, this will only make Twitter, Google+, and others even more motivated to adapt faster. With Google+ rolling out brand pages within the coming month, brands will have ever-increasing opportunities to connect with audiences through social media.
Contact your 360i strategic advisor to determine how to adjust your social marketing programs in light of Facebook’s latest changes.