The conference was held on the 22nd of September in San Francisco and streamed live to over a hundred thousand interested observers. Product updates designed to both enhance the Facebook user experience and extend the Palo Alto giant’s reach throughout the web have typified F8 and made it a must for those wishing to capitalise on the marketing benefits of the social network.
Personally, I watched the conference streamed via the Mashable iPad app and broke from the screen only once to chase Britain’s largest spider around my flat with a shoe. That was an annoyance as this latest installment of the Facebook story showed a new side to the company, their strategy and indeed their principle founder - Mark Zuckerberg.
Facebook's Development Strategy
The World’s youngest billionaire framed the Facebook development strategy by citing Moore’s Law as a suitable comparison when looking at their planned roadmap. The Law, named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, states that the rate of technological advancement will double every two years. Granted, Moore was initially talking about the number of transistors you could fit on a circuit board but the fact that this is the kind of target floating about the engineering labs at Facebook speaks volumes.
Whilst there are many areas we could discuss on the new interface (the Timeline is the most talked about of the new functionality updates...) it is the marketing ramifications of Ticker and 3rd Party integrations we will primarily be addressing.
The feeling on Twitter was varied as the conference progressed. Users (or ‘normies’ as we in the technology & advertising business call them..) were excited by the new designs but palpable fear spread through the hundreds of start-ups who have been developing businesses that gravitate towards and orbit around the Facebook universe like satellites. As one Tweeter put it, “Every time Zuckerberg puts up a new slide a startup dies...”.
Integrating with technology & content providers
It could have been worse....Zuck could quite easily have chosen to take Spotify, Netflix et al head-on (or acquired them...everyone knows they now have more investment muscle than God’s own private venture capital firm based in the clouds looking for sound, scaleable planets to advise and exit on...). Instead the integrations show that Facebook are happy to partner with technology & content providers to augment, share and improve the user experience. Smart move on Facebook’s part as they could have risked alienating the great innovations currently coming out of the worldwide developer community.
One of the key words that I’ve seen bubbling to the surface over the last nine months is ‘discovery’. With so much content out there for users to consume we have seen a multitude of technologies trying to solve the questions of either relevance or discovery. Facebook is trying to do both and this is where the marketing play really comes in.
If the targeting strategy is correct then the relevance you can gain as a brand from advertising across Facebook is huge. Anyone that has spent time using the Facebook advertising API will know about the detailed targeting capabilities the social network offers for advertisers and their campaigns. That's the ‘relevance’ box checked.
‘Discovery’ comes with the new ticker-box on the right hand side of the Facebook interface. To use the words of Zuck, “Real-time serendipity”. The Ticker is a Twitter-style feed of medium-low priority activity shared through your Facebook friends. For example - right now I can see that my friend Bradley James is listening to Lets Go Surfin by The Drums on Spotify or Dave Smith is watching The Big Lobowski on Netflix. This provides a great opportunity for the 3rd party application that your friend is using to gain new users - i.e. you.
The way in which these updates are ordered is now determined by GraphRank - Facebook’s own ranking system. This is one of those moments that has the potential to change the online ecosystem - in the same way that Googles PageRank created many jobs in search engine optimization, could GraphRank do the same for businesses looking to get their apps feeding into the Facebook Ticker? The interesting differentiation comes when you consider the user has the option of flagging an app that they feel encroaches too far into their social sphere - thus downranking the way the app is displayed in Ticker.
Patrick Stokes of Buddy Media used the term ‘noise machine’ when pondering how users would be engaging with the Ticker. The potential for information overload is indeed dangerous but Facebook is also angling towards an area many feel will be huge over the next year and that's the idea of shared online experience (something myself and the team at Combusta actively have start-ups pointed towards).
All fine and well for the likes of Spotify but where does that leave the performance marketing industry...?
I’ve long held the belief that the future of performance marketing in social media is inherently product led. Being able to match a user to a product which is both needed and desired is the holy grail but driving it with an information pool rich enough is the tough part...Cue the new Facebook tagging verbs! By introducing new verbs into the tagging (thus trackable) graph users can now share tags such as ‘read’, ‘watch’, ‘listen’ etc (this is rather than just ‘liking’ an item - or ‘Object’ as it appears in the API manual).
Combined with Facebook Places - the geo-targeted function that challenges FourSquare for the hearts and minds of users that simply must check-in and share every time they visit a new location - you can see where the advantage now lies with advertisers looking to serve the most relevant of advertising.
It’s no accident the word share has now appeared in this article five times...the 2009 Econsultancy Internet Compendium states that you are 90% more likely to purchase a product online if your friend has recommended it.
How we've analysed these changes
Birmingham/London-based start-up Digital Animal has been closely analyzing how sharing affects traffic for advertisers. Product recommendations by friends is key to the Digital Animal offering and initial testing has shown that every time a user shares an advertisers product they are driving nearly 11 new users back to the advertisers site. Notably this research has been conducted across all forms of social media and email - not just Facebook (although most users choose Facebook as their default sharing platform). The smart money is on social relevance combined with friend-driven discovery as the area where performance advertisers can win.
Some commentators are looking at ‘New Facebook’ as an unholy alliance of closed-network partners focused to take on Google in a fight to the death. It’s a hard one to call at this moment but one thing's for certain- the real winners will be the users. And that's the way it should be. Unless the user is a spider in my flat...in which case he must be destroyed...
About the Author:
Sanjit Atwal is the Managing Partner at investment accelerator Combusta, Commercial Director at Digital Animal and founder of Social Media consultancy Eagle5Fox7.
You can follow Sanjit on Twitter here: @SanjitAtwal.