For Facebook, is it really about time?

They say it’s about time—that’s Timeline, the new Facebook interface. But at the end of the day or week or month, I suspect it’s also very much about money.

I have been encountering many questions about what Facebook’s newest alchemy means to marketing and business—but somehow, we are all sticking with it and muddling through. The impact on our brands, businesses and personal communications remains to be fully assessed, but in the meantime, a little Facebook insight can help you navigate the sometimes murky online waters. As Mark Zuckerberg’s latest strategic offensive – particularly addressing Google+, this metamorphosis may have you more than a little perplexed, befuddled or even impatient with the ubiquitous Facebook phenomenon. That’s OK. Still, 50 percent of the more than 800 million registered users visit daily for an average of 14 minutes. That’s ample time to get in line.

In so many ways, Facebook is still the Internet juggernaut—even as sites such as Pinterest seem to be gaining momentum on the starboard bow. One of my sassiest Facebook pals posted recently, “If Pinterest is wrong, I don’t want to be right.” Interestingly, Pinterest is definitely doing something right—carving out a new niche or paradigm that is more about following content and less about “connecting” with people. Hey, let’s hear it for content! And with Facebook’s recent purchase of Instagram for $1 billion, Zuckerberg is definitely becoming much more image conscious.

Nevertheless, the latest series of changes signals that Facebook is about people sharing with their friends—not as much about brands sharing with people. Actually, Facebook is challenging brands to more effectively align with Facebook’s underlying user-experience philosophy and gestalt. As an early impresario of the “like” campaign for clients, I have mixed feelings about the latest changes that eliminate forced “like” landing pages to drive brand engagement. Intuitively, it was always a great concept, yet the reality produced questionable brand value with respect to “like” relevance, stickiness, and measurable brand ROI. And from a technical perspective, Facebook did not really make this kind of campaign an easy endeavor.

Brand pages can still offer action-focused, tabbed content–located along the middle bar. It is simply no longer an option to set it as a compulsory initial landing page to drive “likes.” As a visual junky, myself, I love the new masthead image bar. There are so many high-impact options to available for brands in that prime real estate above the fold. Just don’t include blatant contact information, such as phone numbers or arrows pointing to your flashing URL, or the “Faceboook police” may be knocking on your screen!

Back to the balance sheet–as Facebook has diminished the prominence of the “like” page and newsfeed presence, it has enhanced social advertising, pay-per-click and targeting opportunities. But, think about. Those are the money shots. Newsfeed exposure will still be important for brands–yet a harder nut to crack. We’ll have to work smarter creating engaging content and re-calibrating our publishing cadences since response currency, re-posting, and commenting will count more than the number of fans in determining message impressions and frequency. From a macro perspective, the latest changes have both expanded and refined the ways people can interact with each other on Facebook.

Here are the real tent poles:

Real-time interaction — Increased emphasis on real-time interactions with the introduction of the “Friend News Ticker,” in the upper right corner, which also integrates Twitter.

Image Focus — Larger spaces for pictures and video enhance the user experience and better prioritize the things users see in their news feeds. Plus, you can rank and filter some content, but for the most part, Facebook still decides!

List Maintenance — The new “List” feature, “borrowed” from Google+ and to some extent, Twitter, allows you to segment, tag, share and sort what specific friend categories can see on your wall. This basically pre-sorts audiences by actions and keywords. And yes, it’s all about enhancing advertising segmentation and sales. “But what about privacy?” you ask. Guess that’s another post.

Implications for Brands and Business:

1. Creativity and Activity — After one week of implementing the new Newsfeed, impressions (or reach) per post were down 33 percent in a study done by EdgeRank Checker. But likes and comments were up 17 percent, so it looks like Facebook is changing the dynamic as envisioned.

2. Frequency — Brands will likely need to alter tactics—publishing more engaging, relevant, fresher content more frequently to drive greater interactions rather than one-click passive likes/fans. If the average current fan access ratio is 10% or less, reach and impressions will take a short-term dip until we better understand and respond to changes in Facebook’s filtering algorithm.

2. Pictures and Videos Images are becoming larger on the page and much more important. If we need to get fans more engaged and spending more time, we’ll need to create and use more visuals more frequently.

3. App It — There will be more emphasis on building Apps that provide functionality and value to Facebook users to gain access to the Ticker, for instance. One idea might be loyalty points, interactive functionality, or useful tools, such as store locators to increase impressions and re-posting/sharing.

We’ll have to watch. We are already hearing rumblings that from some users that Facebook is becoming too complicated, too labor-intensive, or too intrusive. This is understandable. Many of us do not want to work that hard. We have enough to do in our lives. This won’t be the last Facebook iteration, and the impact is still unclear. However, it’s a platform you cannot ignore. The best strategy is to discover ways you can seize the opportunity.

What do you think of Timeline?

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