What Are You Up To? The World Wants To Know... apparently close
In Online Innovation
On the 22nd of September Facebook held its annual conference in San Francisco. Hundreds of developers on tenterhooks attended and Facebook fanatics around the world tuned in to hear Mark Zuckerberg’s big plans.
So was the event as much of an anti-climax as the launch of the non-existent iPhone5? What exactly was announced? And most importantly what does this mean for us as users and marketeers?
In summary there are four significant changes on Facebook:
By now you’ve probably seen an example of the lovely new timeline. Big images and top stories from over the years brought to the surface for all to see. Great for those with a pretty history…not so great for those who thought their skeletons were firmly in the closet!
Hot on the heels of Google+, Facebook will allow you to create lists of your friends….colleagues, family, close friends, enemies etc. This means you can share posts with specific lists only rather than sharing every status update with all 500 of your friends. It also means you can easily opt out of getting news updates from certain people.
Like Smart Lists, the Ticker has already been launched and you will now see The Ticker in the right corner of your screen continuously feeding you real time updates of what your friends are up to –what they are liking, comments they are making etc. The main real estate of the page is now reserved for the big stuff - your friends’ posts, status updates, pictures etc.
Previously Facebook was about ‘Social Graph’ connecting people. Now it’s become ‘Open Graph’ connecting everything else. Rather than simply being able to ‘Like’ something, you can now share exactly what you are doing online - what you are ‘Reading’, ‘Listening to’, ‘Watching’ etc. And this is where it gets really interesting…
While Timelines are a significant change for users, nobody is really sure how, or indeed if, they are going to affect brands Pages. Facebook didn’t make any specific announcements around Pages but a spokesperson has said “we hope to make Pages more consistent with the new Timeline in the future.” This could suggest that brands need to start building up the history of their business on Facebook, giving them a richer timeline with information on heritage, growth and testimonials, supported by photos and videos. But although this will change how brands are presented on Facebook and hopefully mean more emotional connection and loyalty, it isn’t really going to affect how brands use Facebook or how users interact with them.
Smart lists and the Ticker are of more concern to brands. They allow users to filter what they see in both their main news feed and in the Ticker, which is great if you make the cut, but not so great if you don’t. No longer can a brand think “I’ve got 50,000 likes so I know my posts are appearing in 50,000 news feeds”. People are effectively filtering out brands and business from their Facebook experience. As quickly as Facebook gave us the ability to connect with 800,000,000 people, it’s making it just as easy for them to disconnect from us.
So what does that mean for marketeers? Well essentially this means that it’s more crucial than ever to stimulate and engage your Facebook fans - 1) to keep yourself interesting enough to make the shortlist and 2) to keep yourself visible in the both the Ticker and, more importantly, the news feed. Facebook describes the content for the Ticker as lightweight so you need to ensure that you are a heavyweight with valuable content, photos and videos for example. Since users now have more control over their news feeds, brands with boring or irrelevant updates will have lower visibility and the aim of the game is no longer to simply get your ‘Likes’ up.
Then this brings us on to the beast that is Open Graph or ‘frictionless sharing’ as MZ pitched it. Once you have ‘accepted’ a website it can now post details of your visit or consumption of its content onto Facebook automatically, without any prompt or acceptance. App developers can also define exactly how this interaction is reported – their users don’t have to just ‘Like’ their content they can now ‘Eat’, ‘Sleep’ and ‘Breathe’ it…..or whatever you want them to.
So, for example, you may have noticed in your new Ticker some handy updates like “John is listening to S Club 7 on Spotify”. So my questions are 1) does John want me to know he’s listening to S Club7 and 2) what are the implications of this next level of Big Brother surveillance?
There is some debate about how much Facebook is actually tracking you online. Some believe that every time you visit a webpage that displays the ‘Like’ button Facebook tracks that visit, whether or not you actually ‘Like’ the page. And now if you accept an App it will post this information to your wall, sharing the details about your visit. So for example, if I accepted the Guardian Facebook App (which got 198,000 users in 3 days after the Open Graph announcement!) because I was reading an interesting article I thought my friends might like and then the next week I went on and read an article about how to get rid of smelly feet, before I knew it all my Facebook friends would know I have smelly feet (totally hypothetical of course…)!
From a marketing perspective this opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Facebook is allowing your customers to publicise their interactions with your brand. It means deep personalisation with immense customer intelligence and the opportunity to amplify brand engagement. But it also means another ‘currency’ in which consumers are paying for content and services online. Rather than asking us to pay to watch videos, read articles etc., companies are going to start asking us to accept open graph. We allow them to find out everything about us, and promote their brand and in return they will grant us access to more content.
This is fine for companies whose products are consumed online, but isn’t it harder for everyone else? At the moment restaurants, bars etc. rely on check-ins for Facebook users to help spread the word, but check-ins are prompted not automatic based on online consumption. One would presume that this is the next step; soon we will automatically be checked-in to places without confirming that we want to. Therefore my main concern with this whole ‘frictionless sharing’ thing is… how am I supposed to pull a sickie when I’ve automatically been checked in at a bar at 3am...?!