f8 2011: Facebook’s Changes and What they Mean for Marketers

Mark Zuckerberg took the stage at Facebook’s f8 Developer’s Conference last week to announce the next evolution of Facebook. Updated personal profiles, changes to Open Graph and integration of media platforms are about to change the landscape that is Facebook. For marketers, the implications are big. Those acting quickly have the opportunity to get ahead of competitors, while those who continue following the old recipes will see diminishing returns.

For marketers, the changes mean:

  1. The free part of marketing on Facebook is less valuable.
  2. Marketers need a publisher mindset more than ever.
  3. Encouraging action and interaction is a must.
  4. Users have fewer reasons than ever to leave Facebook.
  5. Facebook is offering better mechanisms to target consumers.

User Growth

Part of what makes Facebook such a valuable platform for marketers is the sheer size of its userbase. Well, it’s not getting any smaller. The event kicked off with Facebook announcing that it has passed 800 million users, individuals who have logged in within the past 30 days. 350 million of those users are using their mobile devices to access Facebook, which is a big spike with 41% of Facebook users now checking in on their Friends through a mobile device.

Profiles—Introducing Timeline

Facebook profiles are about to look very different in the next few weeks (if yours hasn’t changed already), shifting from a stream of status updates and automated activity feeds to timelines of your life. The feature, aptly called Timeline, organizes all of your photos, status updates, locations, places you’ve visited and app activity into a timeline of your life, going back to birth.

The presentation is visual as Facebook automatically takes your status updates, life events and photos to fill in your past, but it’s not set in stone. Users can add photos of themselves as well as life events to seamlessly create a full picture of their lives. However, the most visual piece of all is the new, giant image at the top of your profile.

This new style isn’t just for the web, either. It will make its way to mobile devices as well.

The map feature of Timeline allows you to show where you’ve been. This is where Facebook Places comes back into the spotlight (Facebook recently downplayed Places by removing the ability to check-in from its mobile application and replaced it with the ability to attach a location to a status update, photo or video) by displaying where you’ve posted Facebook posts or photos with attached locations.

What It Means: Facebook wants user information, but the reality is that Facebook’s only been around since 2004, which means for many, there are going to be quite a few gaps. Timeline encourages users to add information and fill in those gaps. Facebook wants to encourage its users to work to make their profiles completely represent them, so it will be interesting to see how it encourages users to fill in their pasts with moments such as, family vacations, baby photos and life events that never made it onto Facebook. The biggest reason to do so is visual. Timeline is beautiful and truly feels like the story of your life. However, filling it in is a manual process. Some will take the time to do so, while others will start to update Facebook more often, which means more data that advertisers can use to target messages to consumers.

The update for users means old status updates and posts don’t get lost in the shuffle and buried beneath fresher content. It will be easy to revisit past events using the timeline at the side of their profiles. The feeling is the same as looking at old yearbooks or diaries.

Facebook is now just as much about memories as it is about what’s happening in the present.

Open Graph and Apps—It’s More than “Like” Now

When Facebook introduced Open Graph and the “Like” button last year, it changed the way marketers integrate and leverage Facebook outside of Facebook.com like never before, and Facebook plans to do that again, by offering new capabilities for developers to create apps that can share all user activity without sending spam to their Facebook Friends.

The changes to Open Graph include:

  • Apps will no longer need to ask permission to post to Facebook, once permission is given the first time. This means users will be asked once and only once if they’re okay with the app sharing certain types of stories. Previously, apps asked permission every time they shared information to your profile, which may mean accidental shares occurring more often. Developers will need to be sure they make what their app will do straightforward and transparent to avoid tarnishing any relationships with consumers. More on permissions can be found on Facebook’s Developers blog here.
  • Updates will appear in the ticker (the new real-time feed on the right hand side of Facebook), but only important events make it to the News Feed. You’ll see events like weddings and new photo albums in the News Feed, but FarmVille and related activities will remain to the side.
  • All activities are now sharable through Open Graph, including listening to music or watching a movie. You used to only be able to “Like” something, but now, using what’s called Facebook Gestures, you can [verb] anything, like “Cook,” “Watch,” or “Run."

What It Means: Apps that encourage sharing are going to be a big deal. More and more Facebook activity will be focused on apps, but marketers must be careful that their apps are focused on the user, not the brand because the goal is to encourage engagement. The more people use (engage) with an app, the more it will be shared and the more users it will gain. When one friend has an app and uses it, their friends will be able to see the activity, click and start using it for themselves. 

Graph Rank, a system that is intended to give the most engaging and relevant apps the most prominence, will determine the way in which an app is distributed. Every app’s Graph Rank will be different in each instance. For example, my mom may be more interested in meals that I’m preparing, so my interactions with a recipe box app will be more prominent in her News Feed. However, my interactions with a music app (we don’t have the same taste) may be viewed more times by my friends than by my mom because she’s not as interested in that activity.

Essentially, there are three ways users will see app interactions:

  1. The Ticker will be a real-time feed of friend activity to the right of the Facebook home page, but it receives little prominence. The chances app activities will make it to the Ticker are fairly high.
  2. The News Feed will require a considerable amount of engagement to have a high enough EdgeRank score (the algorithm that determines what content is and isn’t worthy of displaying in the News Feed by evaluating likes, comments and the source of the activity) to be displayed.
  3. The Timeline (the new profile view) will only include the most engaging activity in any month or year of a person’s life, unless the user adds it manually.

This is a particularly important shift for Facebook because it’s trying to share activity across the web, outside of Facebook. The data Facebook can get on what users “watch,” “run,” “read,” or anything else can help other services deliver better experiences to users. For example, if Fandango knows you just re-watched the Spider-Man trilogy, it may want to use that information to deliver a discount on passes to the franchise’s reboot.

The big questions will be related to how comfortable users are with this information being out there and if something is shared that users would have rather kept to themselves.

Multimedia Integration—Why Would You Leave?

Facebook wants to be the platform users will never have a reason to leave, and it’s taken additional steps to do just that by integrating multimedia platforms into the social network, including: Hulu, Netflix, Spotify, Rhapsody, MOG, Rdio, Soundcloud, Earbits, Vevo Slacker Radio, Songza, The Washington Post and others.

Users will now be able to watch Hulu and Netflix content without leaving Facebook, and as they watch, the Ticker will provide a real-time feed of what they’re watching for the Facebook friends to see, potentially leading them to watch as well. Netflix will not be available to U.S. Facebook users at launch because of legal constraints, which should be addressed in the near future. Other partners that will integrate well with watching video on Facebook include Flixster, IMDb, DirecTV and Miso.

Video isn’t the only kind of content coming to Facebook as music partners Spotify, Rhapsody, MOG, Rdio, Soundcloud, Earbits, Vevo, Slacker Radio and Songza will be integrated into the platform. Users will be able to authorize their preferred service. Then, as they listen, their activity will appear in the Facebook Ticker for Friends to see. Friends who click will be able to listen to the song immediately. In addition, a “Listen with a friend” feature will let you listen along with your Facebook Friends. Music activity, including top plays, playlists and recent listens, will appear in user Timelines.

Finally, The Washington Post, The Daily and Yahoo News have joined Facebook to create news consumption experiences within Facebook.com. This is being brought to life through experiences like The Washington Post’s Social Reader application, which brings personalized news based on Facebook profile interests, “likes” and friends’ reading activities, and front page stories to users. The app displays stories with little blurbs and photographs. When an article is clicked on, users can view the full article on Facebook. Their reading activities are then shared to the Facebook Ticker to their Friends.

What It Means: Multimedia’s integration into Facebook is a reflection of two main things.

First, Facebook wants to be where people spend their time online. The integration of other online services, particularly time consuming activities like watching videos or reading news, means people will be spending much more time on Facebook, making it even more attractive to advertisers and even more of a threat to other online brands like Google.

Second, it means more social discovery. Users won’t have to actively share or recommend something to others. It will be done passively by simply taking actions, which are shared to Facebook Friends. It moves from online word of mouth to online share of activity. The more brands can integrate sharing opportunities within their Facebook executions, the more likely they’ll gain additional exposure on the platform.

The big question that needs to be answered is how Facebook integration will affect launch partners. Their performance will be test for whether or not other online platforms will do the same.

Facebook Has Changed the Game… Again

Facebook has taken its own formula and made some significant changes that ultimately come down to five key takeaways:

  1. The free part of Facebook is less valuable. There’s still room for branded Facebook Pages, but Facebook’s changes make getting Page content in front of consumers a bigger hurdle. The reorganization of the News Feed to emphasize the most relevant content means that Page content will have to pass a tough test to get front-and-center exposure. This means that app development and paid Facebook advertising will need to be integrated with non-paid Facebook activities even further to make all efforts be effective and work together.
  2. Marketers must take a publisher mindset. Content rules the day. Users now have more abilities to control what they see and what they don’t when logged into Facebook, which means content that is not meaningful or useful will find itself hidden from the News Feed. Brand Pages and applications will need to provide a level of utility and experience worth interacting with and coming back to. Marketers need to think about the intersection between their brands and their customers’ interests, create content consumers want to interact with by commenting and “Liking,” and offer experiences through apps that allow consumers to participate and share with Friends. It’s much more about creating experiences people want to engage with and share with others than it is about delivering marketing messages. Focus on the consumer, not your product because the more interaction content receives, the more likely a consumer will see it front-and-center on their News Feeds.
  3. Encourage action. Facebook has introduced new ways to encourage interaction with content. It’s no longer “Like” or nothing. Think about how sharing can be encouraged through your brand’s Facebook efforts. Your brand saying something carries less weight for Facebook users than when someone’s friend says they do something with your brand.
  4. Users will have fewer reasons to leave Facebook. Facebook is focused on bringing more services into Facebook, not giving more opportunities to leave and go somewhere else. This means thinking about who your customers are, how they use (or don’t) Facebook, how to reach them and, finally, how to encourage them to share content.
  5. Facebook is offering better mechanisms to target consumers. All of Facebook’s changes are encouraging users to share more about who they are, what they’re interested in and what they’re doing, which ultimately means better targeting capabilities.

More on Facebook’s Changes:

Retooled Facebook Could Give Brands More Ways to Reach ConsumersAd Age notes that the Facebook changes make it simple to share your media consumption habits and “opens up a whole new way to target. What users are listening to, watching or reading now will become a filter to serve ads against.”

Facebook's New Verbs Have Marketers Talking: ClickZ points out how Facebook’s new approach to user actions and analytics make for various marketing opportunities for brands on the platform, including apps and content.

What subscriptions and timelines could mean for Facebook ads: Via SmartBrief’s blog, another broad perspective on a seemingly minor Facebook change. “Facebook has — with just a few quick strokes — combined the immediacy of Twitter and the granularity of a blog network like Federated Media with its own deep trove of personal data.”

Media Companies revisit their AOL days with FacebookGigaOm weighs in on something we’ve been grappling with around Facebook’s new media apps. While they make for an immersive Facebook experience, “it seems more like those media outlets have signed over a big part of their destiny to something that feels like an AOL-style web portal.”

The Battle for Your Web IDDigiday walks through how Facebook’s recent news shines light on a larger struggle between Apple, Google and Facebook to become web users primary Web identity – and what this means to consumers.

Facebook Gets in the App Discovery Game with “Graph Rank”: All Things D reports the app discovery feature is designed to help apps get more users. But it also looks to be flooding the newly designed timeline with updates.