During this year’s f8 developer conference, Facebook announced that it’s making some big changes. In the continuing evolution of the world’s largest social network (now counting 800+ million registered users), Facebook is expanding its big data play by making it easier than ever for users to share all of their likes, wants, thoughts and social interactions. I’ll let others go into detail on the specifics of the f8 announcements of Facebook’s new Timeline interface, enhancements to the Open Graph and apps. What I want to focus on is how the changes to the Facebook platform alter how brands can, and are, using Facebook for marketing and advertising.
Facebook Is a Social Platform, Not Only A Social Network
The days of Facebook being a place where users share only their thoughts and photos with friends/family are long gone. Facebook has diligently reengineered their service into a social platform that changes the way that all 800+ million of their users will interact and share. I think Robert Scoble sums it up well on a post made to Google+ (note: no irony intended):
+Mark Zuckerberg sure changed the world today and most of the press reports and folks aren’t understanding what’s going on here.
Three companies (Facebook, Google, and Salesforce) are going to know everything about everything. That might be scary to you, it is even a little scary to me, but we’ll all be willing participants because it’ll give us a lot of cool stuff in return.
The old world? You had to go to the news.
The new world? The news comes to you.
The old world? You had to go to Flickr to get photos from your friends.
The new world? Those photos come to you.
The old world? You had to go to Pandora to get music (or iTunes, etc).
The new world? The music comes to you.
The old world? Crappy looking photos and can’t look back very far in the timeline.
The new world? You scroll through your life with big beautiful photos.
Facebook has moved the goal posts in a way that doesn’t just change the user experience of the site but also how brands will interact with prospects and customers within the confines of the social network.
Dear Marketers, It’s Time To Move Past Your Facebook Wall
Up to this point way too many brands have approached Facebook with some version of the following:
Step 1: Create a Facebook Page, make it look pretty and start posting to the wall.
Step 2: Invite users to “Like” the Page and opt-in to receive branded messages on their News Feed.
Step 3: ????
Step 4: Profit!
The problem with this approach of course, and one that sophisticated brands quickly recognized, is that treating Facebook this way is little more than duct taping the email marketing paradigm onto an inherently socially integrated platform. And guess what? It typically doesn’t work.
What’s important about the announcements Facebook made at f8 is that they’ve accelerated the need for brands to rethink not only how they’re utilizing Facebook as a marketing platform but also the very goals they want to achieve on Facebook altogether.
Let me explain it with two stats:
EdgeRank, Open Graph and GraphRank (oh my!)
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still utility in posting status updates to your brand’s Facebook Page. However those updates are only one small part of a truly effective Facebook marketing strategy. If you’re serious about marketing your brand on Facebook you need to understand that Facebook is primarily driven by two concepts: big data and the idea that companies need to build “social” into the very fabric of their products, services and brand positioning. This then is manifested within the confines of Facebook as EdgeRank, Open Graph and GraphRank.
Learn to love EdgeRank – Facebook’s algorithm for the stories it displays on users’ News Feed.
To paraphrase, EdgeRank is a blended measure of affinity (the historical strength of the social relationship between users and the Page as measured by frequency of interaction), level of interaction (volume and velocity of Likes, comments, shares, etc.) and timeliness (how long ago the status update was created). There is also weight given to different types of content (status updates vs. video vs. photos, etc.).
Like Google’s famous PageRank algorithm, the goal of EdgeRank is to show users only the most relevant, useful and engaging information. It’s a way of cutting through the clutter by being helpful to your audience first. If you fail that test then your Facebook messaging won’t perform well.
Moral of the story: if you intend to have a Page for your brand you must optimize your messaging for EdgeRank and the News Feed. Anything else means that you’re wasting time and resources.
Over the years Facebook has grown into much more than a social network – they’re now a powerful social platform. With the launch of Open Graph in 2010, Facebook made it easy for websites to integrate themselves into the Facebook ecosystem by placing Like buttons on web pages so that the content could then appear within Facebook and on a user’s profile.
At this year’s f8 conference Facebook took this idea one giant leap further allowing brands to reduce the “friction” users encounter when tying their off-site experience into Facebook. Think of it this way:
- Old way: you visit Rdio.com (a music subscription service) and click the “Share” button on a song to post that you’re listening to that particular song on your Facebook Wall.
- New way: because you opted into the Rdio.com Facebook app everything you listen to on Rdio, whether you’re using their website, desktop app or mobile app automatically shows up within Facebook. Even better, it shows up in the users profile using nouns and verbs. For instance: [User] listened to [song title] by [artist] on Rdio.
From the perspective of marketing there are two important shifts that are happening here. First, Facebook has allowed brands to build high level of social sharing straight into the actual use of the product/service. While this is a no-brainer for a web service, there are still significant opportunities for more traditional businesses to increase customer discoverability via the Open Graph. For instance, are have an accounting practice? Create a free tool that leverages Facebook’s Open Graph every time its used. Or have an commerce website? Use the Open Graph to allow users that participate in flash sales to automatically notify their Facebook friends. The opportunities are really endless.
The second important shift to note is that Facebook is doubling down on big data. If use of the Open Graph increases the way they want it to then Facebook will have a huge data set that they can utilize to better understand their users; and then sell that data for targeting purposes to advertisers.
GraphRank is a new and (in my humble opinion, quite interesting) subset of the EdgeRank algorithm. The easiest way to think of it is as the mash up of EdgeRank and the Open Graph. As Facebook’s CTO, Bret Taylor, said during f8, GraphRank is “a personalized view of you and your friends’ interests” and will impact whether or not the Open Graph apps crack into users’ News Feeds. For instance, if a users and 5 of their friends are all reading the same article on NYTimes.com then (assuming all six opted into the NYTimes.com Open Graph app) Facebook will know that’s happening in real-time and will display it on everyone’s News Feed – instantly creating a draw for other Facebook users to visit NYTimes.com and also read the article.
That’s an incredibly profound opportunity for brands to increase discoverability via automatic sharing. Whether your company is hosting a webinar, you’re an ecommerce website hosting a flash sale, you have a video on your website that multiple people are watching or even just have a blog; the combination of Open Graph enabled apps and GraphRank can help you exponentially increase brand awareness, visibility and website traffic.
The Future of Facebook Marketing?
If your brand is interested in having a measurable ROI from Facebook then you have to move beyond simple status updates and custom tabs. Facebook has laid out a framework that enables you to integrate much more tightly into Facebook and, as a result, benefit from the “fricitionless” nature of the social network. It’s time that you consider not only how you can push out relevant content and updates on your Page that will generate Likes and discussion, but also how you can extend that social experience into other facets of your brand’s online presence. If you can do that effectively then you’ll be able to build an enormously valuable earned media channel that will have a direct impact on your bottom line.
And for those of you who aren’t ready to invest the time and money into a branded presence on Facebook, the f8 announcements are still good news for you too. How? Frankly, if users opt-in to the Open Graph (which, despite initial privacy concerns, I believe a significant number will), Facebook has a huge amount of data that will make advertising on Facebook that much easier and more effective.
So challenge yourself and your team to move past the establish paradigm of simple status updates to a Facebook Page. If you can do so, and aren’t afraid to experiment, Facebook marketing can be a big win for your company.