If your company uses Facebook to drive online engagement, then you’ve likely noticed the flurry of enhancements the social media giant has made in recent months. There’s been enough activity to make even the most socially-savvy marketer dizzy. So we turned to the cadre of experts at Involver, a Preferred Facebook Developer and technology provider, to break down the 10 most important new Facebook features for marketers. Mike Axinn, Editorial Director at Involver and today’s guest blogger, provides a rundown. (Full Disclosure: Involver is an Eloqua client.)
Facebook is among the most transformative communications companies of our time. It’s changed the lives of people around the world and is rapidly creating new opportunities for individuals and institutions to connect and form communities.
Facebook has achieved this faster than any medium in history through a process of additive development and continual refinement, with new features being added weekly. But this rate of change makes it hard for brands to keep up. To help you sort through these updates, we have prepared an overview of recent changes that might affect your brand.
What impacts your brand?
Looking at the last 6 months, Facebook has added new features including Deals, Credits, and Sponsored stories. We refer to these as proactive changes, because they represent tremendous opportunities for your brand. Facebook also updated its layout to support iFrames and created or made changes to their Like, Share, and Send buttons. These are reactive changes, to which you may need to respond to.
Using Facebook as your company. Facebook now allows brands to interact as pages. Previously only individuals were able to engage in this way. But now brands can Like, Comment, Reply and otherwise interact the way any other page can on Facebook. The ability for brands to develop their own personas and conduct conversations outside of their own page opens up one of the core strengths of Facebook to marketers. However, you should be careful to ensure that the persona put forth for your brand on Facebook is in sync with the one fans associate with your brand in the real world. When handled properly, brand interaction on Facebook can add nuance, accountability and a sense of humanity, as well as encouraging invaluable two-way communication between brand and audience.
Sponsored Stories. Of all the new features that Facebook has added, Sponsored Stories is probably the most groundbreaking. Sponsored Stories allows brands to extend the distribution of activities that users undertake with them on the network. Say someone checks in at your coffee shop; some of their 130 friends will see that. In most cases, it will end up in newsfeeds of the people they interact with most frequently. If the update is popular and generates a large number of likes and comments, a higher percentage of their friends will see it. Sponsored Stories allows you to pay for that same message to be distributed inside of an ad unit to all 130 of those friends.
Since its launch, Sponsored Stories has proved its effectiveness, and brands are adopting the ad unit very quickly as they begin to see much higher click-through rates. This will likely fuel adoption-rates and more proactive behavior on the part of brands, including finding ways to encourage fans to interact with them to create more sponsored stories.
Facebook Deals is a new feature that appears similar to those offered by platforms like Groupon and LivingSocial. Each offers discounts to groups based on their finding a requisite number of participants. However, Facebook Deals offers certain strengths and limitations that distinguish it from the other services. In particular, the socialization of deals is far stronger in Facebook, which has a more robust network to promote this kind of discounted experience. What the other services do better than Facebook are products and services that can be consumed well in small groups or as an individual. Facebook is counting on its core strength: awesome networking capability.
Facebook Credits. This a Facebook feature that may not be as familiar to brands. To convince users to participate in branded games or watch a video ad, brands can offer Facebook Credits as an incentive. These credits have a variety of uses, but are most often redeemed on games like Farmville or Cityville. These credits can be quite effective in driving up activity among players of these social network games, which is a high percentage of Facebook users.
FBML to iFrames. Last March, when Facebook stopped supporting new development in Facebook Markup Language, they made it simpler for brands to achieve more consistency between their fan pages and their web site designs with iFrames. Instead of having to create new versions of designs that worked perfectly well on their home pages, brands can often incorporate the same HTML assets they use on their web sites. It’s also much easier for brands to incorporate all the rich content they use on their sites into Facebook.
Tab functions. On the other hand, the elimination of FBML means that certain tab functions like fan gating, which were previously easy for site admins to implement, may now require the capabilities of a back-end developer. Third party providers like Involver continue to fill in this gap, making it possible to continue to deploy rich Facebook tab experiences to engage and attract new fans.
Content hosting. Without FBML, Facebook is also no longer hosting new applications, which means brands need to provide their own server infrastructure or utilize some of the solutions offered by third-party providers, which can provide hosting, application support, and insulation from any future changes Facebook makes.
New look and feel. The look and feel of Facebook Pages has also changed. It now features a default set of photos at the top where the application tabs used to be. Applications are now located in the left hand column. Because of the emphasis on the top row of images, page admins should take special care to ensure that the photos they upload reflect a strong brand identity and understand that they will have to drive most of the traffic to applications from newsfeed posts.
Share gives way to Like. Another major change on Facebook is the phasing out of the Share button in favor of Like. The most obvious reason for this is simplicity; having two buttons with overlapping functions is potentially confusing, and waters down the power of each. Facebook’s decision to favor the Like button makes sense for brands. It creates a more tangible, quantifiable measure of fan affinity than Share. Nevertheless, the share function remains an option in news feeds for items published in Facebook or “shared” from elsewhere.
The Send button. One of Facebook’s primary intentions in creating the Send button was to improve the functionality of Groups. As such, it works best with Facebook friends and fellow Group members, to whom content items can be sent using a drop-down menu that appears when a user clicks Send. It remains to be seen whether or not Send will take on further importance.
The above changes represent a concerted effort by Facebook to enable greater interaction between brands and their fans. Unlike traditional advertising, Facebook is attempting to create less disruptive media experiences for brands and their followers. The brands that succeed in this environment do more than just build applications and create media, they interact as peers. By establishing an appropriate voice and persona, marketers can build richer and more meaningful relationships with their customers.