Is the Facebook Brand Page now dead?

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One thing was notably absent from last week’s F8 conference, any discussion of Facebook Pages and how these might change. To date these have looked very similar to individual’s profiles but with the launch of the new Timeline, these now have diverged dramatically. There’s no nice way of saying this - Facebook Pages now look old and behind the times compared with the new Timeline. As a social media agency working with brands, we’re actually disappointed. There is so much scope for creativity with Timelines we’d love Pages to be structured in the same way. And they’re not.

This now stands out as a real weakness within Facebook - Brand Pages should be a place that brands (if relevant to them) can express themselves in a creative way just as Profiles are for members.

A second important change in the role of the Brand Page is Open Graph and what this means for the next generation of Facebook apps. Apps, and especially how they work with the new Timeline, mean that there is significant value for Brands to develop ways to connect people through actions that they do. It is less about developing the definitive destination page for your brand or for a topic, now it is more about facilitating activities, conversations and events through an app. For Brands using Facebook creatively, they may now find that apps are more useful than Pages.

So the Brand Page is dead, right?

Well possibly. But probably not. I find it unlikely that Facebook will leave Pages exactly as they are. The creative power of the Timeline is too much for brands to be denied the chance to use it. Apps are useful, but brands that have spent time, effort and (often) money building their audiences on Facebook will want to continue to work with these people. It is true that the new generation of Facebook apps offer real change and new ways for people to interact with each other and for brands to use Facebook to engage their audience. But I predict new Pages for Brands within the next few months, new ways to engage your audience around content and discussions as well as around apps and activity.

Watch this space.

Facebook changes: the next generation of apps

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F8 Facebook Lifestyle AppsI thought Facebook had lost its firepower. I was really starting to feel that it was losing momentum and that Google+ had a chance of stealing serious numbers of users away. Yesterday, Facebook proved me wrong.

Much of the media appears to have focused on the media sharing and timeline changes. These are cool but the open graph changes and the new social object presentation surfaces that the timeline enables have even more potential to fundamentally shift the social media landscape.

The new apps and APIs enable us to define any of the socially interesting activities that people can do within our web site, mobile application or Facebook application. These are the activities that people use to express who they are, what they enjoy doing and what interests them. Mountain bikers want to record trails. Kitchen ninjas want to share recipes and the meals they cook. Fashionistas want to share the latest looks that they’ve spotted out on the streets. Programmers want to share the latest releases of their Github social coding projects.

It’s no longer a case of just liking something. It’s about filling in each of the placeholders in the sentence “Person <verb> an <object>“. Using the new apps we can define each of the verbs and objects that we want to socially enable. When a user does one of these activities, we can add it to their timeline. Using the new aggregation features, we can attractively present these activities back to the user and anyone viewing their timeline. We can show how they make the person who did them who they are and make it easy for friends to discover and explore shared interests and passions.

Facebook now enables us to define rich social objects within the graph. We’re not limited to books, movies, music, articles and such like. We can now create, interact with and present pretty much anything we like.  The new APIs allow us to define any number of custom properties against an object, from simple stuff like strings to more complex properties like geographic location and altitude. This enables us to move, or at least mirror, richer real world objects and elements of content in the graph in much more engaging and interesting ways.

Apps will now get their own PageRank (called, er… GraphRank) that will determine the prominence of their output on timelines. Only the popular apps will get the prominence to acquire new users through friend discovery. It’s going to be aggressive app natural selection. I think it changes the dynamic from flash-in-the-pan campaign applications to apps with more longevity that really help people to express themselves via their timeline. Companies need to think more than ever about the user experience and services that the user gets from the application itself and the social actions and objects that it creates and presents within Facebook. When both are just right the results will be incredible.

Building on Matt’s excellent article on what Facebook’s changes mean for brands and marketers, we’ll be looking at case studies of what will become possible for brands in the context of this new breed of lifestyle apps.

What F8 and the changes to Facebook mean for brands and marketers

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Timeline beta available nowThe announcements at yesterday’s F8 conference included a few of the changes we expected to Facebook (the music service was a very poorly kept secret) and a few more radical changes that went further than we might have guessed. For brands and for social media agencies working with Facebook, now is the time to begin to digest and understand what this means about how people will use the social network in different ways and what this means for them.

Here are three initial trends that I see having an impact on brands and organisations that use Facebook and suggestions about how to capitalise on them:

1. The Timeline becomes the centre of the Facebook experience

To date, Facebook has worked by showing the latest things people have said in a single long stream of activity. If you went away on holiday for a week or two, when you returned you would see the latest things people had Liked or commented on or said. Everything else that had happened would be buried. The introduction of the Timeline changes this. It replaces a users profile with a timeline of events (status updates, photos, things they have done in apps) and then this is shared in Newsfeeds. It allows others to explore updates from friends this week, or last week, or last month. And (perhaps critically) it means that only certain actions will be highlighted here.

The Timeline will no longer show actions like ‘Liking’ a brand page. Instead your friends will see that in their Ticker, a fast-moving set of updates of every action your friends do. This means it will be buried and and brands that rely on friends if friends seeing that somebody has Liked your page to drive traffic will need to think again. This should be nothing new anyway, we all know it’s really about creating an engaging Facebook page.

Secondarily it looks like only apps that use the new Open Graph will appear in Timelines and Newsfeeds. So whilst you can now post messages based on things people do in your apps (and only need to ask their permission once to do this), you may need to rewrite part of them for this to work.

2) A new vocabulary (and new area for creativity)

Let’s be honest, ‘Like’ is not the most versatile of words. I might not want to say that I ‘Liked’ a movie, but would rather say I ‘Watched’ it. And now I can [verb] any [noun]. This is a great development and is one brands should start to think really creatively about.

There is an opportunity for some brands to start to ‘own’ verbs by getting users to take actions on them. There is also a chance to be more creative in how people interact with content. Rather than ‘Liking’ items that you want to buy, how about a more emotive ‘Want’. Then maybe Facebook could gather together all your ‘Wants’ in one place as a gift list of things that you would like people to buy you from around the web. Could Facebook be the new place for your wedding gift list rather than having it tied to one store?

3) A shift from numbers to engagement

A real focus for Facebook to date has always seemed to be getting more and more Members; we were even told proudly yesterday that they now have 800 million members globally (about 12% of the global population). Whilst this drive won’t become less important the real impact of the changes announced at F8 is to make engagement as important. The introduction of music, movies, news and the Timeline feature is really about social discovery (letting me find our even more things about my friends) and adding a social layer to my life.

Facebook is no longer somewhere I come to update my friends through a status. It is now a scrapbook of the things I do, the things I like, the places I’ve been and the people I know. I can explore this through shared interests, through music and film, through maps through photos. I can also record important events in my life (everything from a death in the family to breaking a leg!)

This is done to make Facebook more engaging, to make people spend more time using it and get greater reward from this investment. For brands this should be a positive trend. The best have known for some time that social media is about engagement. And with people spending more quality time on Facebook the brands that get Facebook right should find this means people spending more quality time with them.