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What’s happening to Facebook? A lowdown on the changes ahead

Yesterday, Facebook held its annual developers conference, f8, and announced heaps of new features and changes to be rolled out in the coming weeks. Several changes do have a significant impact on brands on Facebook. The keynote speech is almost 2 hours long – you can watch it here if you like.

1. Profile pages will be replaced with Timelines Facebook has recognised that people feel a deep ownership over their Facebook profile pages and want it to clearly express who they are at any point of time. Timelines is a radical new profile design aimed to “tell the story of your life”, as opposed to merely showing the most recent activity.

“This is the heart of the Facebook experience, completely rethought from the ground up. We’re calling it ‘Timeline,” said Zuckerberg, “Timeline is the story of your life: all your stories, all your apps and a new way to express who you are.”

The Timeline is a realtime stream, like your profile, that chronicles all the events, pictures, posts, activity and so on that has happened to you ever since you joined Facebook, way to your birth. The most recent parts of the Timeline show all or most of the activity, but if you scroll down to the past, say 2007, the Timeline shows the highlights of your year – something like an automatic biography. The timeline can be curated – you can choose what to hide from view and what to show (for example, a particular event from your past that didn’t show up automatically) – allowing you to really shape your Facebook presence.

The Timeline makes profiles much more visual – pictures are more eye catching and you get to have a ‘cover picture’ as the header image to freely express who you are or what you like. Read more about the Timeline here. Zuckerberg made no mention of Pages in his speech, but he simply told businesses to “rethink your industries ” because the Timeline will most likely be extended into Pages as well. This makes sense – it will allow businesses to tell the story of the business right from the start, highlight the social interactions its had with fans and curate the Timeline to showcase the most meaningful milestones (e.g. product launches, events, fan appreciations). However, the Timeline will NOT show actions such as Liking a given brand’s page - this shows in the Ticker instead (see below).

You can learn how exactly the Timeline will look and work at Inside Facebook’s simple step-by-step demonstration.

 

 

The new Facebook Timeline with cover picture and summaries of recent activity, friends, photos, places you've been, things you Like, all summarised

 

 

The new Facebook Timeline - you can see the scroll at the top right for scrolling through your personal history

2. Apps to help you share your activities

Instead of just using status updates, Facebook users will be able to use social apps on Facebook to express themselves and share what they’re doing. For example, having a cooking app will allow you to record and share all the different foods you’ve cooked. The apps can also summarise all your activity on the app on your Timeline, letting everyone know what a great cook you are.

3. The Ticker – a real time stream of ‘lightweight’ activity On the side of the Facebook page will be a real time stream of ‘lightweight’ activity from those in your network - basically an unfiltered news feed feature. It seems very similar to Twitter in that sense, showing all the new status updates, Likes, comments, photos, activities, app use, and so on in real-time as yoru friends are doing them. The Ticker is meant to replace the Most Recent option in the current news feed so as to streamline the Facebook interface and make it easier to zero in on the important stuff and glance at the real-time unfiltered activities as you please, on one screen. The Ticker is intended to allow for serendipitous discovery – it doesn’t clog up the news feed (which Facebook reserves for ‘important’ stories) as you may see that a friend of yours is listening to a new song by a band you like – great! Ticker has the potential to spread content because activities – such as content/media consumption that are happening through Facebook – are automatically shared. However, it will depend on how fast the Ticker moves and whether people are even interested in looking at those little stories that are already deemed somewhat unimportant…?

 

 

The Facebook Ticker on the right side of the page shows an unfiltered news feed

4. A new social graph that allows connection beyond LikesLikes have been perceived as a sign of endorsement. People may be willing to only Like a couple of movies on Facebook even though they have watched hundreds. Facebook will be introducing a new social graph that allows you to connect to anything in any way you want through verbs. For example, you can share with your network that you have ‘watched The Lion King’ without having to actually Like it. Verbs such as ‘running’, ‘cooking’, ‘watching’, ‘reading’ or ‘eating’ can create stories in the news feed through social apps. This will be great for sharing content and brands as people will be more willing to simply share their activity with something as opposed to indicating endorsement. Brands will be able to capitalise on these interactions to target those who don’t necessarily fully endorse a brand/product but are already showing awareness and interest – the necessary first step in marketing. According to Inside Facebook, advertisers on Facebook’s Ads API or who work with the Direct Sales team will soon have the option to target users who’ve shared through these apps or clicked ‘Listened’, ‘Watched’ or any sort of given verbs, letting them reach consumers of their content that might not have Liked a related pageAdvertisers will also be able to turn media sharing and usage of these feedback buttons into Sponsored Stories into Sponsored Stories that turn what would have been news fed or Ticker stories into sidebar ads. All this sharing will allow Facebook to acquire more data about consumer habits and activities and facilitate the development of more powerful, targeted ads.

With the open graph, all media (music, movies, tv, news, books) and lifestyle (exercise, travel, food, fashion) which are inherently social, will be part of apps – great news for content discovery and spreading content through a network as people share their consumption activities. There is also an opportunity for some brands to ‘own’ their own verbs by getting users to take action on them. There is also a chance for greater creativity in how people are allowed to interact with content. For example, a ‘Want’ verb allows for people to create their own wishlist of things around the web. There’s a great deal of potential with the new open graph but Likes are not as important – marketers will have to work harder to earn their place in the news feed space.

Inside Facebook provides a few examples of how the new ad targeting capabilities may be used:

  • A concert venue could target all users who said they listened to band to sell tickets for that band’s upcoming concert.
  • A band could target all users who listened to one of the songs off their soon to be released album about that album going on sale on iTunes
  • A big box retailer could target all users who shared or said they watched any movie starring Johnny Depp to sell a new DVD box set of the actor’s films
  • A film studio could target any user who said they watched a trailer of a new film that a friend shared after watching it on IMDB.
  • A tech conference could target any user who said they read an article on any of the major technology blogs
  • A baby clothing retailer could target any user who said they read on article about how to buy clothes for infants on a blog for mothers.

 

Facebook’s changes have yet to be fully rolled out – we will be anxiously awaiting them to see the implications for social business and marketing. Fingers crossed! In the meantime, try not to panic about the Facebook changes, whether you think they’re good or bad for social business. Facebook has always been careful not to bite the hand that feeds!

 

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