It will also be remembered for the definitive moment when Facebook set coordinates for a direct head-on ‘fight for the future’ between itself and Google (more on this to come...).
The over-arching theme of the conference was that of the effect of social media in moving the Web towards an interlinking series of ‘connections’ between people and their respective interests. On a mass scale, this provides developers (and ultimately affiliates and advertisers) with a powerful tool to target and add value to users.
Mark Zukerberg (CEO) and Bret Taylor (Head of Platform Products and Founder of FriendFeed, which Facebook acquired at the back end of last year) showed off three major launches that are of note to the affiliate marketing industry:
- Social Plug-ins
- Open Graph Protocol
- Graph API
These all go hand-in-hand...
“Instantly engaging social experiences (with just one line of HTML)”
Facebook will have the ability to stretch into each and every content driven website by offering developers and affiliates the opportunity to integrate a number of key Facebook features (or ‘plug-ins’).
The most significant of these is the ‘Like’ button. You’ll recognise this from the Facebook Fan pages and as the option on every status update/picture/event that appears on your Facebook interface.
The Like button currently allows you to quickly and easily inform your friends when you have positively engaged with something they have posted on their pages. This is now being offered to publishers to allow users to see when their friends have ‘Liked’ a piece of content on their site. Importantly, these are external sites not currently in the Facebook universe.
For example, right now you can go to an article on CNN.com and see which of your friends have Liked it. Obviously, this means your users are much more likely to read and engage with content that their friends have recommended. For more information on the Like button, see this post on the td Blog.
Other plug-ins that will be available are a ‘Recommended’ box offering recommendations based on your previous liked/friends-liked objects, an ‘Activities’ feed and also a toolbar which sits at the bottom of a publisher’s page.
The toolbar is interesting as it offers developers (and Facebook) a very strategic and flexible platform to engage with users over a multitude of sites. It includes basic Facebook functions such as Chat and Updates, but also has room for developers to input their own applications.
For affiliates, this is significant for a couple of reasons. We saw with the Google changes (Nov 09-Jan 10) a turning point in our industry’s relationship with Google. The search giant demanded affiliates improve the quality of their sites to ensure they add value to the Google users’ purchase decision via PPC advertising. As many of you in the industry will know, this brought many affiliates solely reliant on search traffic to their knees with some businesses sadly unable to make it through this period; ceasing trading or shifting focus altogether.
Then, through Real-Time Search, Personalised Search and Caffeine, we saw Google asking publishers to integrate a greater level of Social Media for SEO. See the td Blog for more information on how these affected affiliates.
With the plug-ins, affiliates will be able to, quickly and relatively easily, bring a greater level of social media to their sites, which should translate to Google ranking affiliates higher in natural SERPS due to relevant, fresh and updated content.
One possible drawback of the social plug-ins could be that users are dwelling longer on the sticky content and, subsequently, conversion rates dip. However, it could also be argued that the users that ARE being pushed through to the merchant are of a higher quality as they have had more information in their purchase path). This will undoubtedly be a balancing act for affiliates in 2010.
“A handful of launch partners were announced and, in the UK, those are film site LOVEFiLM, Sky, ESPNCricInfo and MyDeco. The benefit for them is a powerful personal recommendation tool, from a site with a very broad audience base that will help drive traffic.
For LOVEFiLM, it means every film and actor's page will have a Facebook 'like' option, which is likely to increase their traffic as people share their film tastes with their friends, and also gives them data to display the site's most 'liked' content on their homepage.” – Guardian Media
The biggest take-away from this development is that Facebook is offering affiliates an important new set of tools to reduce reliance on Google for traffic levels.
Open Graph Protocol
“Any webpage can now easily become part of the social graph”
In the previous CNN.com example we looked at a user ‘Liking’ a review or article; once this is clicked the link to CNN will also be visible on that user’s Facebook page. From a brand point of view it extends reach and, from a product/affiliate point of view, you can see how the promotion of a specific offer/voucher code can spiral out into a user’s friend circle.
“...You gain the lasting capabilities of Facebook Pages: a link from the user's profile, ability to publish to the user's News Feed, inclusion in search on Facebook, and analytics through our revamped Insights product.” – Bret Taylor, Head of Platform Products, Facebook
This is Facebook effectively trying to map out (as they have done on their own platform) each individual on the Web as whole; their habits, their likes, their friends’ likes, and then offering (via the social plug-ins) the ‘correct’ recommendation for that person at that time.
Again, with targeted recommendations, we can work towards both high volume and conversion rates on affiliate traffic.
I believe it is inevitable that we will see privacy issues to begin with, but I don’t think anyone is anticipating this to hold back development.
“A drastically simplified way for developers to use the Facebook Platform”
Alongside all of this great new data will be a new API for developers to search the social graph that Facebook’s new tools are enabling. Developers are offered access to the Open Graph API, which they can pull as a live feed of Facebook data (significantly, due to privacy concerns, Facebook had only previously allowed developers to access their own API once every 24 hours. This policy has now been scrapped).
“We've enabled a search feature which lets you search over objects like people and events, and over the stream — both public stream updates and personalized ones for your users. In addition, the graph is ever-changing, so we're launching real-time updates to let you subscribe to updates to user data.” – Bret Taylor, Facebook Product Manager
This is interesting for search affiliates as (as many have been guessing for a while now) Facebook would be incredibly well-placed to deliver a semantic search engine type product. As the keener minded among you may guess, this would put them (due to their massive size!) into a very Google-y space in the market.
“Facebook is trying to add socially intelligent metadata to the entire Web — this is a move that puts Google in its crosshairs. Google can use its gobs and gobs of data to infer what Web pages are about, but it has so far failed to execute on any of its social projects and therefore doesn’t really have a good idea of how these pages matter to real people.” – VentureBeat
Overall, it would mean that potentially search affiliates would be able to deliver targeted campaigns across a 400-million person audience. Having spoken to a fair few affiliates this week, it appears that the ball is already rolling on that front :) .
Ultimately, these moves would seem to be a positive step in the affiliate/Facebook relationship and over the coming months we may begin to see a radical change in the traffic generated by affiliates adopting the social graphs of Facebook.
I would advise watching the F8 Conference keynotes on (where else...) Facebook for more information.