In the two previous posts we have provided an overview of the Facebook changes and what the new developments will mean to marketers. Next in our series on Facebook Changes, this post will discuss what these changes mean for everyday Facebook users. Part 4 of the series will cover some of the potential long-term results of these developments.

How will the changes to Facebook affect users?

As we noted in Part 2 of this series, one of the most talked-about changes to the Facebook is the updated advertising platform. Changes in this area send red flags flying for personal users. Past users of MySpace or Friendster will likely recall how the monetization of those social networks changed the sites from being an enjoyable means to interact with friends, into a spam battle from hell. Given these past experiences, it’s no wonder the changes to the Facebook interface have received considerable push-back from the community at large. As community members first, and marketers second, we also wondered how will these changes affect our beloved Facebook? So let’s break it down.

First and foremost there are the changes to the user profiles. The Improved Friends Lists has obviously created quite a stir. This new optional categorization of friends, which can be used to give access to posts, photos, and all other content on a user’s profile can be a little tedious. True, it takes time to go through every Facebook Friend you have with the purpose of selecting which ones fall into which category and after you’ve placed those individuals into said lists, it may take you a few moments of consideration before giving access to posts, photos, and other information on your profile. This does diminish the ease-of-use for which Facebook is known, but on the flipside, it allows users to have greater control over what they deem appropriate for public exposure. Think about it, do you really want your grandmother to see those photos from your best friend’s bachelor party?

It also provides a means for users to prevent current and potential employers, colleagues, professors and other business contacts and acquaintances from getting a little too personal. This option is mirrored with added control over what users see with the addition of the Subscribe Button. This feature allows users to choose what they see from friends in their News Feed, and hear from users including those who are not friends. Conversely, it can also let other users hear from them, even if they are not friends. While this innovation has been met with criticism over not seeing complete friend feeds or the time that it takes to subscribe to those individuals whose posts matter most to you, there is a HUGE user benefit here.

Each one of us has had the experience of logging into Facebook for a quick check of status updates only to be sucked into the endless stream of posts on our Home page. It goes something like this: you’ve been out of town for the weekend. During your lunch break you decide to login to see what you happened while you were gone. The next thing you know, you look up at the clock and realize you’ve spent nearly an hour reading about your high school boyfriend’s vacation to Disney World, complete with family photos. Shake your head all you like; you’ve been there.

The Subscribe Button was designed to give users a way to streamline the information they receive so only the most relevant news stories, updates, and marketing messages will appear on the user home page. Another way Facebook is doing this is through the Graph Rank. It’s the much complained-about News Feed and Ticker that now appear on the upper right-hand side of the user’s screen. These feeds are based on users’ engagement activity, showing only the updates that are scored as being most relevant to each user. The point is, Facebook executives understand that we are busy. They have added these tools to enable users to drill down to the information that is most important to them, making Facebook a more valuable user of our time.

Now, from limiting the information users see and share, we shift to the other end of the spectrum with the introduction of Timeline. While still in the beta stage, once live community-wide, this feature will allow a user’s past Facebook activity to be readily accessed by visitors to the user’s profile. Once launched, the Facebook platform will auto-fill this section with information that qualifies as major life changes, i.e., relationship status updates, employers, educational institutions, hometowns etc., as well as photos in chronological order. Users, should they choose to do so, can fill in the gaps that are not automatically populated.

For example, if you were born in 1981, but didn’t join Facebook until 2009, you can go back in your timeline to add all the cities and towns you lived in as you moved around while you were growing up, complete with photos from those awkward years, i.e., middle school, that we’re all so fond of sharing. This is a great feature for newcomers to the network who have reconnected with past friends, classmates and former colleagues as a way to allow those individuals to see what the user has been up to for the past 10 years. For those of us who don’t necessarily want to open up our history books for the entire world to see, Timeline can be edited at the user’s discretion.

Advertising Integration

Okay here’s the biggie. If you have read up on Facebook’s new integrated advertising initiatives, you probably know that now brand’s Facebook posts will begin to appear as ads in the form of Sponsored Stories, with the addition of users’ friends’ engagement tagged in the ad. Confused yet? See the graphic below:

Some will see this as Zuckerberg selling out, bowing down to the pressure of investors who have long sought a means by which to make this media channel more profitable. And while this change will enable Facebook to expand their existing advertising base, the user experience remains at the heart of this new marketing strategy.

Consider this, the number of Facebook users worldwide now represents the equivalent of the world’s third largest country. Every day the number of daily users and the minutes spent per user on the network is increasing. Given the numbers alone, it is clear that marketers need Facebook more than Facebook needs paid marketers, which is why the new advertising platform is based on user engagement and relevance. It is Facebook’s answer to getting the best of both worlds. Facebook users will be exposed to sponsored stories if and when their Friends engage with a brand message. Because we tend to share similar interests with our friends, it is more likely that the brand message shared through this ad will be more relevant to us than a brand message, arbitrarily aimed at users meeting our demographic profiles, living in a particular city or state. Additionally, the likelihood of the message reaching you relies directly on whether or not one of your Facebook friends finds the message valuable enough to react to it with a Like, Share, or Comment. This will drive marketers to create brand messages that are more interesting, valuable and relevant to their followers in an effort to expand their word of mouth.

Frictionless Sharing

This new addition to Facebook, which was also released at F8 is a little trickier. While it may be nice to share playlists from Spotify or note interesting articles you have read on your favorite news site, there are still some bugs being worked out with the system. Until it launches and their is a general consensus regarding the privacy issues behind these applications, we recommend users carefully read the terms and conditions before adding any new Sharing apps to their profiles.

Remember to check in on Wednesday for Part 4 of our Series, which will cover some of the potential long-term results of these developments. As always, your feedback is welcome.

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