Facebook the peacemaker


A great deal has been written about social media’s role in the recent Middle East uprisings. This week Mark Zuckerberg alluded to a second, equally-important, role as a bridge that connects people accross political or religous divides.

The chart below comes from peace.facebook.com. Launched in 2009, Peace on Facebook hopes to play a part in “promoting peace by building technology that helps people better understand each other”.

Connecting friends accross borders has proven to be one of the most effecitve grassroots methods of changing perceptions. There are many Arab-Israeli projects working for peace in this way. It can only be a good thing that Facebook is helping thousands on both sides of the divide to connect every day.

New Facebook profile page


image via shutterstock

Here's looking at you. Image via shutterstock

Facebook have just launched a new redesign for profile pages. OK, they don’t really launch it until tomorrow, but you can get an early look by going to http://www.facebook.com/about/profile/ and clicking on the green button in the top right corner. User experience is important in social media and Facebook are clearly hoping that this fairly radical overhaul of the profile area will improve the experience the many millions of Facebook members have.

There are a number of modifications. And they go beyond basic design tweaks. Alongside a general move towards more imagery, key changes in the new facebook profile page include:

  • A new introduction - Facebook have put photos of you front and centre
  • Featured friends - make your most important relationships clear. This one could lead to fights (I seem to remember it being like that back in 2005)
  • Experience sharing - this appears to be an effort to encourage people to share experiences and highlight the most important ones
  • Improved browsing of your social graph - helping you navigate friends of friends and build more connections

You can read more at the Facebook Blog which covers the profile page update. Or watch this short video

Facebook, privacy settings and taking control of your personal brand online


Facebook Logo sticker
Image by jaycameron via Flickr

Facebook today announced new features to address the criticism that is has faced recently for its privacy settings and processes. In December 2009 and then again in April this year, the site made a number of changes to its privacy options and settings. In essence they opened up more data to users beyond your friends and immediate networks and changed some of the default settings. This led to the situation where users had 50 different settings and 170 options to control the levels of access to and sharing of the data and information on their profiles.

As somebody with quite strict levels of access and privacy on Facebook, I know the complexity of these controls and the amount of time and effort needed to control access to your profile and your content. Sites like Openbook, which searches publicly viewable status updates, highlighting the vast amount of content that is out there for everybody to see. In many cases this isn’t because people have actively chosen to share this information outside their friendship groups and networks, but a result of not changing or fully managing your privacy settings.

What Facebook’s privacy changes mean

Today’s announcements are designed to make it simpler for users to see what their Facebook privacy settings are, and to manage them. The changes, to be rolled-out over the coming weeks, will mean that users will be able to:

  • have one simple control over who sees their content - everybody, friends-of-friends or just your own friends
  • easily see what their profile looks like to others
  • opt out of sharing their information with third-party applications
  • opt out of sharing your friends and pages

How easy the process will be, and how much you will actually be able to change will be fully understood as the new privacy settings roll-out, and there are already discussions about the ‘Recommended’ settings shown by Facebook. These will suggest that users share with everybody their status, photos and posts, biographies, family and relationship information. This may be more than some are willing to do.

The real test: will people manage their brand online

However, the real test of the new privacy settings will be the extent to which users actually make use of the ability to edit what they share about themselves and the information they add to Facebook. The previous settings did not help people to make these decisions and changes and to take control of their brand on Facebook without a lot of hassle. The power of the new changes will be if they encourage people to take control of their brand online. This may not mean that everybody stops sharing things, but is more likely to see people making sensible decisions about what they share and why. And this can only be a good thing.

We use social media tools, such as Facebook, for different reasons. Maybe we use it to keep up to date with school-friends, or maybe as a personal organiser for our lives right now, or maybe we just document our holidays with photos. Different people use Facebook for different reasons and so a single approach to privacy settings is not appropriate. That is why it is good that Facebook lets users manage their own settings - we each own our own brand online and should make sensible decisions about how we interact with and share from any social media tool we use.

The real test of the new privacy settings on Facebook will not be how many people share more or less of their data. The real test will be how many people take control of their personal brand and make sensible, and often personal, decisions about what to share, with whom and in what circumstances.

Facebook’s monetisation plan? Market research?


WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM ANNUAL MEETING 2009 - Mar...Image by World Economic Forum via Flickr

An article in today’s Daily Telegraph in London (Networking site cashes in on friends) reports that Facebook has plans to monetise in a way that it has been unable to do to date. It’s not advertising or charging for premium services. Rather Facebook is going to get it’s money from a rather more prosaic source: the market research industry.

The social network is trialling features that would allow firms to survey its 150 million members to find out their thoughts on their product or market, get insight into their lives or test new concepts with them. In fact they could test just about anything they wanted. And given the fact that Facebook collects vast volumes of profiling information, they would allow this research to be targeted based on location, gender, age, and just about anything.

The company has been demonstrating the benefits of its new polling feature (called Egnagement Ads) over the last week to some of the most influential business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos. It asked a range of questions to Facebook members and were able to feed responses back to those at the Forum pretty much in real time. Engagement Ads are also being trialled at the moment by two firms: CareerBuilder, a global graduate recruitment firm, and AT&T.

As Randi Zuckerberg, Facebook’s global markets director, said to the Telegraph:

I had tonnes of people saying ‘this could be so incredible for our business’. It takes a very long time to do a focus group, and businesses often don’t have the luxury of time. I think they liked the instant responses.

We’ve written before on this blog about why Facebook really can’t be your online research community. Facebook, and indeed other social networks, isn’t suited to getting the depth of qualitative information that you can get from an online research community. As we wrote at the time:

It’s only in a research community that you can really make sure you get the most out of the discussions and debates [...] do you have right of response and an ability to enter into an equal discussion with other members [...] can you build and analyse the profiling data you get from the members and the vast backlog of their contributions and opinions [and] do you have a set of members who are their to engage and interact directly with the brand and there to support you

Perhaps what Engagement Ads more closely represents is a large online research panel. With firms able to buy questions and target a particular set of respondents based on their screening criteria. Even here, there are some concerns about Facebook. Panel providers spend a lot of time screening participants. They hold the same data on every participant and are therefore able to screen respondents fairly and comprehensively. The problem with Facebook is that it just does not collect data in the same way. As a member, I can opt what data I give them. I don’t have to tell them my age, my location or even my gender. So if somebody wanted to poll men aged 25-34 in London, England, Facebook might not approach me, even though I fulfill all those criteria. Respondents are therefore biased towards those who are willing to reveal this profiling data, rather than being a fair and random sample.

But of course, Facebook has a significant advantage. Size. With 150 million members, spread across the globe, it doesn’t matter if a proportion (even a large proportion) havent’ filled in their profiling information and so are excluded from the sample. There will be more than enough respondents available to get the responses they need. And to get them quickly.

So if Facebook is to use Engagement Ads as a market research tool then it won’t be tuning into an online research community. It won’t even compete fully with online panel providers. But it will offer something new to the market - a vast, rapid-response and (potentially) relatively cheap way of testing opinion and getting a flavour of what people think. For more depth of insight, however, firms are probably going to have to look to other sources.

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  • Facebook’s Monetization Plan? Polls. And Lots Of Them (mashable.com)
  • Facebook offers up users as marketing tool (guardian.co.uk)
  • Facebook begins testing ad-driven polls (venturebeat.com)
  • Facebook Polls Bring Reality To Davos Elite (ajax-blog.com)
  • Mark Zuckerberg, WEF, and the Sentiment Engine (allfacebook.com)
  • Not in Davos? Get Your Opinion Heard, Via Facebook (mashable.com)
  • Facebook (NOT) Rolling Out New Product Research Service (Updated) (allfacebook.com)
  • Facebook is NO ‘Market Research tool’ ! Telegraph misinterprets FB (techpluto.com)
  • Newsflash: Facebook Not “Cashing In On Friends” (ajax-blog.com)