In the three previous posts we have provided an overview of the Facebook changes, what the new developments will mean to marketers and for Facebook users. Part 4 of the series will cover some of the potential long-term results of these developments.
Facebook’s recent innovations will have lasting ramifications for the network’s 800 million users and how they interact with brands.
According to a recent study conducted by USA Today and Gallup, about 56% of Facebook users who are aware of changes to the network dislike them, while 36% liked the new innovations.
These statistics are reasons for concern among those who have built their livelihood on the social media phenomena.
While these numbers may seem disastrous at first glance, as with any major change in media, they should be examined as merely a portion of the larger picture. Much of this negative response is the result of concerns about privacy. This could be due mostly to the new Timeline and Frictionless Sharing features. While the Frictionless Sharing has some obvious bugs, like any software issues, they will be resolved or face user rejection.
The Timeline feature shares old posts, status changes, and acts to give Facebook more targeted information for advertisers. It’s possible that users who have been engaged with the network for a number of years would prefer that some of this information remain buried in the past. Mashable‘s poll of 3,200 users on Sept. 30 showed that approximately 59% of users said they had no plans to fill in their Timelines. Translation: if users make no additions to the auto-populated information in the feature, Brands stand to gain nothing from this innovation.
The feature has been stalled due to a copyright suit, but Facebook still plans to launch Timeline as soon as possible. While the reality of how Timeline will be utilized remains to be seen, it should be noted that users have the ability to delete or hide any information they choose. On the flipside, if users become engaged with the feature, it will serve as a better means of sharing their preferences not only to other users, but also to brands that may tap into usage patterns and interests in order to send only the most relevant messages to users.
Other innovations that will impact users and brands are the new integrated APIs and advertising programs. The added user engagement features that go beyond simply “Liking” a product, brand, etc., to “Listening,” “Reading,” and the soon-to-come “Want,” definitely open the door for marketers to more effectively target potential consumers. This too is garnering criticism from users who think this is a bit to “big brother.” However, the underlying element here is that while these innovations will help marketers, they will also help users.
While questions of whether or not Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has “sold out,” abound, when carefully examined, it’s quite plain that these new additions still fit the company’s mission statement of “giving people the power to share and make the world more open and more connected.” Even at f8, which is designed “to bring together the developers, entrepreneurs and innovators who are building a more social web,” Zuckerberg and his colleagues used their stage time to talk about changes for the network’s users, rather than the marketing elements.
Yes, the addition of Share features and the open APIs will make user information more visible to marketers, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Moving forward instead of Brand Pages simply trying to amass millions of Facebook fans, they will need to provide value to their followers. As we noted in Parts 2 and 3 of this series, if a Brand Page is not providing content that stimulates engagement from its fans, there will be no opportunity for this content to turn into Sponsored Stories. That means that the overzealous promotional messages that hold no significance to users will be replaced with relevant, interesting content that motivates us to act through a “like,” a “share,” or a comment.
Of course this evolution won’t come overnight, but the brands that hope to succeed will modify their behavior to become more engaging and we as users will be left with more relevant, valuable messages that may impact our future behavior. While some users will reduce their engagement with the network, it is safe to say that 8 billion users aren’t going to disappear overnight and given Zuckerberg’s history of really listening, if these innovations prove to be detrimental to the network or the users, he can always go back to the drawing board.