Friday Feb 21, 2014

Why Facebook Buys Things Like WhatsApp

In 2009, some guy named Brian Acton was rejected for a job at Facebook.  In 2014, that same guy is worth at least $3 billion because Facebook bought his and co-founder Jan Koum’s 5-year-old startup, WhatsApp, for $19 billion.


Many were stunned by Facebook’s purchase of Instagram in April, 2012 for $1 billion. How could it possibly be worth it? Those same jaws have now dropped through the floor, past the basement, and are tunneling deep into the ground.


Here’s what turned Mark Zuckerberg’s head when he looked at WhatsApp:

  • 450 million users
  • That number reached faster than any company in history
  • A platform adding 1 million users per day
  • 70% active daily use
  • The most popular messaging app for smartphones
  • Message volume approaching the entire global telecom SMS volume.


And here’s what Zuck wants for Facebook:

  • To truly be a mobile and apps company, as declared.
  • To keep time engaged online focused on Facebook properties.
  • To be where messaging on smartphones happens.
  • To capitalize on emerging markets.
  • To keep growing and adding, not losing, younger users.
  • To eliminate a possible rival and keep it out of competitors’ hands.
  • To have additional potential revenue models.


When you find something that gives you everything you want, and you’re Facebook, the wallet comes out.


Look at the $3 billion failed offer for Snapchat. If people are going to real-time message via something other than social nets, Facebook wants that bet hedged. Messaging results in enormous time-spent-on-platform, and Facebook wants to be that platform. It’s said their focus is on mobile and apps, spending $100 million on an analytics service to track apps and surface winners.


Where does Facebook look if it wants to keep growing? 1.23 billion monthly active users is nothing to sneeze at, but it starts to represent saturation in the developed world. That leaves emerging markets, where messaging apps are a prime motivator for even getting a smartphone. Japan’s Line, South Korea’s Kakao, WeChat…all examples of priority going to messaging. Plus, if Facebook can’t draw younger users one way, it can get the job done another way.


But is it worth it?


WhatsApp’s model is free use for year 1, then 99-cents annually. Facebook sees the user count going to at least 1 billion, so that’s $1 billion a year without ever even going to ads, which Facebook doesn’t rule out eventually doing. And users don’t mind paying, happy to avoid telecom text fees, especially for overseas contacts. Then there’s the value of keeping eyes in Facebook’s world, and keeping a tool with explosive growth out of the hands of entities like Google.


Who should be scared? Other social nets like Twitter might not need to be scared but should certainly be aware of changing messaging preferences. Telecom companies probably need cheering up most. Internet-based services overtook carriers in text volume back in 2012, a big moneymaker they’re increasingly getting squeezed to offer free.

Time will tell how Facebook’s 45th acquisition, the 4th-largest tech acquisition of the past decade and one that’s given WhatsApp a greater value than Coca-Cola Enterprises, pays off…or doesn’t.


@mikestiles
Photo: stock.xchng


Tuesday Dec 10, 2013

The Year in Facebook: Part 2

2013 smartphoneHopefully you’ve already ready Part 1 of our journey because today we continue our walk down memory lane, pondering some of the bigger moments for Facebook in 2013.


Comment Threads and Ranked Replies

Facebook is all about conversations, right? Turns out conversations don’t necessarily happen in a linear fashion. So in an effort to get more engagement per post, Facebook started allowing replies to specific comments under a post. That makes the conversations threaded and more organized. Also, exchanges that get the most engagement will rise to the top of the post thread so quality content gets the most exposure.


Marketing Milestone

BOOM! In June, Facebook announced it hit 1 million active advertisers.


Embedding. Posts to Go.

Were posts happy staying on Facebook? We’ll never know, because in July Facebook liberated them by letting them get embedded on sites across the web. This meant more people would see Facebook originated content all over the place. Users could also engage the post without ever going to Facebook. In August, the embeds were made even better, with enhancements to mobile experiences and videos that played right in the embed.


Teen Trouble?

Throughout the year, analysts were keeping on eye on whether or not young people were getting tired of, or moving away from their usage of Facebook. As of August, the fastest growing demo was 45 to 54 year olds. Whether or not youngsters were especially turned off by ads, early in the year Facebook altered Edge Rank which resulted in News Feed appearances by brands becoming even more rare. For 13-19 year olds, platforms like Tumblr, Instagram (fortunately owned by Facebook), and Snapchat continued to grow throughout 2013. 61% of teens said Tumblr was their fave social site.


It’s All About Pretty Pictures

It was the summer of imagery. Facebook made millions of pictures from Shutterstock available, free, to use in Facebook ads, fully searchable and available within the ad creation tool. Admins could also do simultaneous uploading and make several ads with several images. Want several users to be able to add to your photo album? Facebook did that too. Up to 50 contributors can share up to 200 photos each. Generating much discussion, the summer was also used to point out to users their likenesses could be used in connection with ads. You can limit how, but not if, you can be associated with commercial content.


After the summer, it was the Fall of BIG images. Page post link ads on desktop went 3.5 time bigger, and images connected to links were 4 times bigger on mobile and 8 times bigger on desktop. Even the Suggested Pages feature got more visual pop in November.


Hey Community Manager, Feel Free to Mess Up!

It was one of the most asked-for features users wanted from Facebook. What if you published a post and it had a big, glaring mistake in it? You couldn’t go back in and fix it. But in September, it was announced you could. And all the people breathed a sigh of relief.


What They Bought and What They Might

Facebook enjoyed much success watching its Instagram purchase flourish. Mobile photos, hashtags, short videos, what wasn’t to like? The absence of revenue for one thing. Ads came to Instagram, looking much like Facebook ads, labeled as sponsored. What kind of ads you see depends on your activities on Instagram and Facebook. The next rumored feature, private messaging.


In October, Facebook reportedly offered $1 billion for Snapchat, apparently having lost faith in their lookalike effort called Poke. CEO Evan Spiegel said no, believing his 350 million photo messages per day will only grow. What the offer did show is Facebook’s commitment to adding the tools young users love. And what they love going into 2014 is sharing photos via mobile, with at least some level of perceived privacy.


What will we see from Facebook in 2014? It’s often said the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, so we can likely look for further efforts to super-serve marketers leveraging Facebook’s vast social data, the addition of features user behavior exhibits is desired, efforts to make Facebook “stickier,” more mobile-friendly strategies, and more image-based design. And auto-playing video ads.


Maybe.


@mikestiles
Photo: freedigitalphotos.net

Friday Dec 06, 2013

The Year in Facebook: Part 1

2013 keyAs we head into another year of jarringly fast advancements in social media and social marketing, we thought it might be nice to reminisce over some of the bigger shifts the granddaddy of them all, Facebook, underwent in 2013. It’s quite a list, and it doesn’t even include news related to the business of Facebook like staff changes and shareholder highs and lows.


The New Facebook Graph Search:

We all knew there was an astonishing amount of user data being collected on Facebook, 8 years worth. The question was how it would be used. Enter Graph Search. Users could now search for more than profiles. They could drill down to see friends who like Dr. Who, or friends who like Cajun that live in New Orleans. Graph Search was one of the things that started opening marketers’ eyes to the coming Big Data revolution and the need for a fully integrated, socially enabled enterprise. In September, Graph Search became even more powerful as results now included status updates, photo captions, check-ins and comments.


The Looming Auto-Play Video Ads

Considering word started coming out in the beginning of the year we might start seeing automatically playing video ads in our Facebook News Feeds, it’s interesting to note that we’re closing out 2013 without them. Marketers want more attention-grabbing ad positioning and types. Facebook certainly wants more revenue, it was projected the video ads could bring in $1 million to $2.4 million per spot. But the trick is getting advertisers what they want without chasing away the audience. In February it was predicted they’d be here by the middle of the year. In May we heard it could be as early as July. In September, the news was they had been delayed indefinitely. Advertisers were reluctant to be the first to potentially draw user wrath, Facebook debated whether the audio should auto-play as well as the video, and browser extensions were born to block the ads upon arrival.


Changes to the Timeline

You spend a lot of time looking at Facebook Timelines, right? Well regardless of how many people go to them, the Timeline got a major redesign early this year. Friends, pictures, Likes and interests and notes went into a column on the left so updates could live on the right. And no more preview boxes for Friends, Photos and Map. Those turned into a text menu bar under the cover image. Later, the About page was more customizable, so that should anyone wander onto your Timeline, they could see a better presentation of the music, movies, and books you like, this time in the form of apps.


The New News Feed

In March, Facebook updated the News Feed in the first big way since 2006. The goal? Play up images (since half of content in the average News Feed is pictures) and get quality articles from publishers in front of users. Based on what you’ve liked, you see commonly read articles about it. You also got more options about different feeds you can view, from friends only to photos only to games only. It was also built for consistency across mobile devices. Then in December, along with the stat that referral traffic to media sites soared 170%, the feed was tweaked again to show better suggested, related articles. There was also Story Bumping, which brought posts long forgotten back to the top of Feeds, fueled by new comments on them.


Hey, We Want the Hashtag Too!

No, your worlds weren’t colliding. In March, our Twitter friend the hashtag made its appearance on Facebook. Usage so far has been, let’s just call it questionable. Just as in Twitter, the hashtag can be used to surface similar topics. The move continued the interesting dance in which Facebook strives to be more like Twitter and Twitter strives to be more like Facebook.


Now With More Targeting!

There are few things that excite a marketer more than targeting, and Facebook made moves in that direction. In March they let brands target users for status updates that did not appear on the brand’s Page. That gave brands access to subsets of fans without boring the others. Facebook also rolled out Lookalike Audiences so advertisers can target people who are similar to their existing targets. In October, Facebook expanded on what they did last year when they let brands advertise their mobile apps within News Feeds. That worked, driving over 145 million installs. So the update lets them target people who have already downloaded the app for added engagement with it beyond the download.


Obviously, it was a busy year. So be sure and join us for our next post and Part 2 of the Year in Facebook.


@mikestiles
Photo: freedigitalphotos.net

Friday Jun 28, 2013

Social Network Updates: While You Were Busy Marketing 2

biz showerSince social moves at the speed of data, it’s already time for another update, as we did back in April, on the changes the various social networks have made or gone through while you were busy marketing.

Facebook

There’s a lot of talk Facebook’s developing a mobile product to act like Flipboard and surface news, from both users and media outlets.

The biggest news was Facebook/Instagram’s introduction of 15-second videos, enhanced with with filters, to take some of Vine’s candy. You can also delete parts of videos and rerecord them, and there’s image stabilization.

Facebook’s ad revenue is coming along just fine, thank you very much. 35% quarter-to-quarter growth in Q2. And it looks like new formats like Mobile App Install Ads and Unpublished Page Posts are adding to the mix.

If you don’t already, you’ll soon see a little camera in comment boxes letting you insert photos right into the comments you make. The drive toward “more visual” continues.

The other big news is Facebook’s adoption of our Twitter friend, the hashtag. Adding # sets apart the post topic so it can be easily found or discovered. It’s also being added to Google Plus, Tumblr, and Pinterest.

Twitter

Want to send someone a promoted tweet when they’re in range of your store? That could be happening by the end of this year.

Some users have been seeing automatic in-stream previews of images on Twitter.com. Right now it’s images in your own tweets, but we can assume all tweets are next.

Get your followers organized! Twitter raised the limit on the number of lists you can create from 20 to 1,000. They also raised the number of accounts you can have in a list from 500 to 5,000.

Twitter started notifying you when someone favorites a tweet you’re mentioned in or re-tweets a tweet you re-tweeted. Anyway, it’s the first time Twitter’s notified you about indirect interactions like that.

Who’s afraid of Instagram? A study shows 6-second Vine videos are being posted to Twitter at the rate of 9/second, up from 5/second 2 months ago. Vine has over 13 million users and branded Vines are 4x more likely to be shared than video ads.

Google Plus

Now featuring a 3-column redesigned stream, and images that take up a whole column. And photo filters Auto Highlight and Auto Awesome work to turn your photos into a real show.

Google Hangouts is the workhorse for all Google messaging now, it’s not just an online chat with 9 people anymore.

Google Plus Dashboard improves the connection between your company’s Google Plus business page and your Google Plus Local. Updates go out across all Google properties and you can do your managing from the dashboard.

With Google Plus’ authorship system, you can build “Author Rank” based on what you write and put on the web. If your stuff is +1’ed and shared a lot, you’re the real deal and there are search result benefits.

LinkedIn

"Who's Viewed Your Updates" shows you what you’ve shared recently, who saw it and what they did about it in real-time.

Influencers” is, well, influential. Traffic to all LI news products has gone up 8x since it was introduced. LinkedIn is quickly figuring out how to get users to stick around awhile.

You and your brand can post images and documents in status updates now. In fact, that whole “document posting” thing is making some analysts wonder if LinkedIn will drift on over to the Dropboxes and YouSendIts of the world.

C’mon, admit it. Your favorite part of LinkedIn is being able to see who’s viewed your profile. Now you’ve got even more info and can see what/who you have in common. Premium users get even deeper insights about how people are finding them.

If you’re a big fan of security, you’ll love that LinkedIn started offering two-factor authentication (2FA). It’s optional, but step 2 is a one-time code texted to your registered mobile.

Pinterest

A study showed pins have a looong shelf life compared to other social net posts. “Clicks kept coming for 30 days and beyond.” Most pins are timeless, and the infinite scroll causes people to see older pins.

Is it a keeper? Pinterest jumped 82% to 54 million users in the past year. It’s valued at $2.5 billion and is one of the biggest sources of referral traffic there is. That said, CEO Ben Silbermann adds, "Right now, we don't make money."

A new search feature stops you from having to endlessly scroll through your own pins looking for that waterfall picture you posted. Simply select “just my pins” in the search bar.

New "Rich Pins" lets brands add info like price and availability to pins that can be updated daily via a data feed from your merchant site. Not so fast, you have to apply to Pinterest for it first.

Like other social nets, Pinterest does not allow sexual content, nudity, or even partial nudity. However…some art contains nudity, and Pinterest wants to allow art. What constitutes “art” will be judged by…what we have to assume are Pinterest employees who love their job.

@mikestiles
Photo: stock.xchng, Tim Marmon

Tuesday Jun 04, 2013

Threaded Conversations Make Management Platforms a Must

threadThe phrase “Facebook is rolling out something new” always charges the air with a mixture of excitement, curiosity and anxiety.  One of the more recent innovations was threaded conversations and ranked comments.

Threaded conversations allow users to reply to a specific comment so discussions around that comment are relevant and can be easily followed in a thread. Ranked comments bring the comments getting the most engagement to the top, the idea being to “reward” engagement-inspiring contributions with better positioning. Plus, each user should see personalized rankings so comments from people they know trump others.

Facebook will kick these features on for all pages by or around July 10. The goal, of course, is to increase overall engagement and thus, time spent on Facebook. And while you may not lie awake at night worrying about what Facebook needs, engagement means more time spent with your brand’s posts, and that’s a good thing for you.

A Facebook spokesperson said, “We think this update will allow for easier management of conversations around posts.” However, now might be a good time to go check and see if your Community Manager’s face is turning blue or if they’re reaching for a blood pressure cuff.

On the user side, it all makes sense. Conversations will be more organized. Users will be notified of additions to conversations they’re participating in so they’re easier to follow. There’s no need to tag an earlier commenter, because the reply will be nested under the comment.

On the admin side, a Social Media Today piece outlined potential challenges. If a CM with multiple pages doesn’t want to get bombed with notifications, they’ll have to manually, repeatedly go through each post and thread to see what’s new and what warrants a response. No more glancing at the bottom of comments to see if something’s been added. Discussions with high engagement go to the top for higher visibility…yes, even those bashing the brand. Admins can down-rank such comments but have to catch them first. And, since direct response to comments makes things more personal, some CM’s are seeing an uptick in bullying.

Which makes finding a social channel management tool more essential than ever. For Oracle’s part, the Engage component of the Social Relationship Management Suite supports these new features. Comment replies do allow for direct responding to fans and hold particular implications around social customer service. But with the management suite, CM’s have access to Read/Unread status so they can easily see which comments and replies have been read so nothing falls through the cracks. The suite’s workflow lets CM’s assign the message/comment/reply to the right person internally so it can be quickly addressed. Labels let managers categorize messages, both manually and automatically, for easy access. And the full message audit trail lets them follow up to see what team member took what action on what post, and when.

Clearly, the combination of multiple social channels per brand, numerous fans on each channel, and an ever-growing list of new features such as threaded conversations and ranked comments increasingly makes the notion of effective, customer-pleasing page management using native-only functionalities a non-starter.

But if you’re going to go that route, you may want to buy your CM yoga classes or some other type of relaxing activity.

@mikestiles
Photo: stock.xchng

Tuesday Apr 30, 2013

Social Network Updates: While You Were Busy Marketing

many phonesYou’re a busy, powerful social marketer, so you may not have time to track every little change the social networks make. And they make a lot of them. Since these trends can inspire and inform strategy for brands, let’s look at some recent developments with 4 of the big ones.

Facebook

Facebook’s moves continue to underscore their growing self-image as a mobile company.

  • Facebook Home, an Android overlay that lives across the operating system, piqued enough curiosity that it got well over 500,000 downloads on Google Play right out of the gate. It’s preloaded in many phones. But do users like it? The average rating has been around 2.2 stars out of 5.
  • Facebook made your brand pages look different on mobile.  Some say it’s about the “Yelpification” of Facebook. It’s easier for your customers to see your hours, get a map, check prices, check ratings, contact you and like or recommend you. It’s more visual and pinned posts are prominent, but…no tabs.
  • On the iOS app, users now see the same choices for viewing their News Feed as they have on desktop.  The dropdown lets them get Most Recent, All Friends, Following, Pages, and other sorting options. Some users have a list for the brand pages they follow. Let’s hope they check that one a lot.

Twitter

Twitter’s developments have mostly been about going beyond text-based messaging toward being a gateway for all online multimedia content.

  • Twitter Music launched, a way for music lovers to use Twitter to find and enjoy music and artists.  They’re open to more music sources, but right now streams come from iTunes, Rdio and Spotify. Basically, it uses Twitter activity to see what tunes you might like and plugs you in to music and artists your fave artists follow and tweet about.
  • There’s talk Twitter’s getting into local tweet discovery. If they execute this take on letting users see tweets from a certain radius around them, whether they follow the tweeters or not, that gets interesting for brands who want to tweet offers to nearby users.
  • Twitter made a deal with the sizable Starcom MediaVest Group that will give its clients access to special ad opportunities on and with Twitter. Those in the know look at this plus Twitter’s keyword targeting and see a commitment from the little blue bird to play ball with marketers so everybody’s nest gets feathered.

Google Plus

King of the “should we or shouldn’t we increase the amount of attention we pay to this” platforms. The value prop, G+’s integration with other Google products, continues.

  • If you open a Google Drive file, now you’ll see G+ profile shots of the others looking at it.  Mouse over the pic and you’ll get the person’s G+ card, cover image, and which circle you put them in. It’s all about making Google Plus a key integrated collaboration tool.
  • Most still use Facebook to log in to websites, but a Janrain report says Google Plus' share went from 31 to 34% quarter to quarter. Google’s also shutting down its acquired Meebo Bar in June. Google Plus tools will then serve as the user/website matchmaker.
  • But they also want Google Plus to be fun!  So now when you put a photo up on your G+ account, you see an emoticon option that (get this) analyzes the expressions on the faces in the photo and assigns each an emoticon that goes over their heads. Let me answer what may be your first question, yes you can turn it off.

LinkedIn

Linked in turns 10 in May and is enjoying nice growth; revenue and profit up 80% in 2012 and 200 million users. LinkedIn knows what it does and doesn’t want to be.

  • The new Linkedin Contacts pulls all your contacts from various sources into one place. You can make notes about each, get details of past interactions, be alerted to meetings and birthdays, and sort on the fly based on several criteria. Info automatically updates when changed on the sourced platform. Not included: Twitter & Facebook contacts. LinkedIn wants to be all business.
  • LinkedIn is also quite aware mobile is where it’s happening.  A revamped mobile app features big visual improvements and works hard to deliver users content informed by their profiles and habits.
  • Speaking of content, LinkedIn has made big moves toward being a key content provider for business.  They acquired newsreader Pulse to “be the definitive professional publishing platform.” That gets added to LinkedIn Today and the ability to subscribe to the content of Influencers.

You have now been quickly caught up on which way the social network development winds are blowing. Therefore, we expect you to be even more busy and powerful.

@mikestiles
Photo: stock.xchng

Friday Feb 01, 2013

Surprise! Social IS Mobile

Woman with phoneYou probably saw the headline in at least one place this past week, “Facebook is Now a Mobile Company.” Yes, in the grand tradition of the social space moving ahead at an unrelenting pace, our working concept of what “social” is must already change.

Many brands and enterprise organization still haven’t caught up to the old concept of social. Now here they are confronted with a fundamental shift in social technologies and how the public wants to use those technologies.

What does it mean that Facebook is now a mobile company?

First, it means the public is increasingly deciding they want to access social networks on mobile devices as opposed to desktop/laptop. 680 million people, 64.2% of Facebook’s users, are using it on phones. For the first time ever, more daily active users are going on Facebook via mobile than desktop.

One infographic nicely summarizes why mobile is where social networks, social marketers, and anyone invested in social data want to be. Users are researching products on mobile while they’re in a store. They’re searching for local info, then calling or visiting brick and mortars afterward. They’re buying things on tablet and smartphone.

So Facebook had/has two pressing tasks; improve the mobile experience so users stick around longer, and capitalize on the revenue growth potential mobile offers…without tainting that positive user experience.

Moving away from the one-size-fits-all HTML5, the network focused on app design for each mobile operating system to maximize speed and features. In a year, they went from fewer than 24 mobile app engineers to hundreds. On-campus classes are held on Droid and iOS mobile operating systems. Mobile traffic responded positively to the new focus.

Now for the revenue part. Mobile beats every other kind of Facebook advertising when it comes to engagement. Average CTRs on mobile News Feed ads hit 1.738% compared to 1.254% on desktop, while overall mobile CTRs went up 34% for the quarter. The power of a smooth-running app presenting relevant value to customers wherever they are helped Facebook’s mobile revenue go from 14% to 23% quarter to quarter.

Questions remain. Can Facebook pull in mobile ad network buyers and close the gap with Google, with its 57% share of the US mobile ad market according to eMarketer? Can they find the sweet spot of how many mobile News Feed ads users will tolerate? Will App Install Ads, now used by 20% of the top 100 grossing iOS apps, keep growing? And can Facebook excel at creating its own mobile-first experiences like Poke?

Let Facebook worry about that.

All you need to know is none of this would be happening if the public weren’t broadcasting their intentions to use social on mobile, where they’re more likely to reward your presence there with engagement.

Adjust your mobile strategy accordingly, and make sure you’ve got an integrated socially enabled enterprise system by your side to wow those mobile customers and maximize the data they’re offering you.

@mikestiles
Photo: Ambro, freedigitalphotos.net

Friday Jan 25, 2013

Social Graph Search: a Different Kind of Big Data

heart mazeYou can always count on social to give us a development that leaves everyone wondering what this new flavor of the month will evolve into or lead to.  The flavor of interest for this month appears to be Facebook’s newly announced Social Graph Search.

Most compelling is the wealth of social data Facebook has been able to accrue from willing users over the course of 8 years, and this new initiative to put that valuable data into play as a usable feature.

Facebook Social Graph Search lets a user enter a query such as “Friends who like Italian restaurants in New Orleans,” and get a list of friends (and friends of friends) who have engaged in some way around Italian restaurants in the Big Easy.

So there we have a much different algorithm at work than your friendly neighborhood Google or Bing search, which is keyword, link, and other SEO trickery-driven. Fueled mostly by social check-ins and Likes (at least for now), the power of trusted peer review and peer recommendation is now being surfaced in a quick and easy search function.

Facebook advertisers have long been able to target based on Likes, interests, etc., but soon the Facebook user base at large will be able to drill down and discover brands vetted and heralded by social connections who have nothing to gain by not telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

For brands who are strong in the quality of their products and services, and who largely generate happy, satisfied customers, this is really good news. It does nothing but further amplify the voice and influence of your social brand ambassadors. Fans you’ve already won over will lead new customers who are specifically looking for what you have to offer right to you.

On the other hand, detractors of brands will be equally amplified and influential. What once was mostly unutilized, obscure information will now be mined and put on display in the search results of relevant queries, good or bad.

This makes your brand’s mission to use every social relationship management tool and social engagement & moderation tool at your disposal to effectively generate the social satisfied customer, that raving fan who’ll gladly post they ate at your Italian restaurant in New Orleans and can’t wait to go back. That Like, that check-in, that tagged photo of their entrée will now be paying perpetual dividends search after search after search, rendering every social fan acquired a significantly bigger ROI proposition.

And then there’s the big data that can now be mined from Facebook’s legion of users and from the Social Graph Search queries themselves. Know who’s searching your product category, know where they are, know what time they’re looking for it, their demographic information, even their overall likes and interests. If you’ve constructed the socially enabled enterprise, that’s the kind of big data that can be pulled into the CRM, used to inform future marketing, content creation, sales, UX design, product development, etc.

It’s a new kind of big data, but it won’t be the last new big data source to present itself. Fortunately, you can have social fully integrated across the organization to fully capitalize on Social Graph Search, as well as the other data opportunities that no doubt lie just around the corner.

@mikestiles
Photo: stock.xchng

Saturday Dec 15, 2012

Where Facebook Stands Heading Into 2013

2013confettiIn our last blog, we looked at how Twitter is positioned heading into 2013. Now it’s time to take a similar look at Facebook.

2012, for a time at least, seemed to be the era of Facebook-bashing. Between a far-from-smooth IPO, subsequent stock price declines, and anxiety over privacy, the top social network became a target for comedians, politicians, business journalists, and of course those who were prone to Facebook-bash even in the best of times.

But amidst the “this is the end of Facebook” headlines, the company kept experimenting, kept testing, kept innovating, and pressing forward, committed as always to the user experience, while concurrently addressing monetization with greater urgency.

Facebook enters 2013 with over 1 billion users around the world. Usage grew 41% in Brazil, Russia, Japan, South Korea and India in 2012. In the Middle East and North Africa, an average 21 new signups happen per minute. Engagement and time spent on the site would impress the harshest of critics. Facebook, while not bulletproof, has become such an integrated daily force in users’ lives, it’s getting hard to imagine any future mass rejection.

You want to see a company recognizing weaknesses and shoring them up. Mobile was a weakness in 2012 as Facebook was one of many caught by surprise at the speed of user migration to mobile. But new mobile interfaces, better mobile ads, speed upgrades, standalone Messenger and Pages mobile apps, and the big dollar acquisition of Instagram, were a few indicators Facebook won’t play catch-up any more than it has to.

As a user, the cool thing about Facebook is, it knows you. The uncool thing about Facebook is, it knows you. The company’s walking a delicate line between the public’s competing desires for customized experiences and privacy. While the company’s working to make privacy options clearer and easier, Facebook’s Paul Adams says data aggregation can move from acting on what a user is engaging with at the moment to a more holistic view of what they’re likely to want at any given time.

To help learn about you, there’s Open Graph. Embedded through diverse partnerships, the idea is to surface what you’re doing and what you care about, and help you discover things via your friends’ activities. Facebook’s Director of Engineering, Mike Vernal, says building mobile social apps connected to Facebook in such ways is the next wave of big innovation. Expect to see that fostered in 2013.

The Facebook site experience is always evolving. Some users like that about Facebook, others can’t wait to complain about it…on Facebook. The Facebook focal point, the News Feed, is not sacred and is seeing plenty of experimentation with the insertion of modules. From upcoming concerts, events, suggested Pages you might like, to aggregated “most shared” content from social reader apps, plenty could start popping up between those pictures of what your friends had for lunch. 

As for which friends’ lunches you see, that’s a function of the mythic EdgeRank…which is also tinkered with. When Facebook changed it in September, Page admins saw reach go down and the high anxiety set in quickly. Engagement, however, held steady. The adjustment was about relevancy over reach. (And oh yeah, reach was something that could be charged for).

Facebook wants users to see what they’re most likely to like, based on past usage and interactions. Adding to the “cream must rise to the top” philosophy, they’re now even trying out ordering post comments based on the engagement the comments get. Boy, it’s getting competitive out there for a social engager.

Facebook has to make $$$. To do that, they must offer attractive vehicles to marketers. There are a myriad of ad units. But a key Facebook marketing concept is the Sponsored Story. It’s key because it encourages content that’s good, relevant, and performs well organically. If it is, marketing dollars can amplify it and extend its reach.

Brands can expect the rollout of a search product and an ad network. That’s a big deal. It takes, as Open Graph does, the power of Facebook’s user data and carries it beyond the Facebook environment into the digital world at large. No one could target like Facebook can, and some analysts think it could double their roughly $5 billion revenue stream.

As every potential revenue nook and cranny is explored, there are the users themselves. In addition to Gifts, Facebook thinks users might pay a few bucks to promote their own posts so more of their friends will see them. There’s also word classifieds could be purchased in News Feeds, though they won’t be called classifieds.

And that’s where Facebook stands; a wildly popular destination, a part of our culture, with ever increasing functionalities, the biggest of big data, revenue strategies that appeal to marketers without souring the user experience, new challenges as a now public company, ongoing privacy concerns, and innovations that carry Facebook far beyond its own borders.

Anyone care to write a “this is the end of Facebook” headline?

@mikestiles
Photo via stock.schng

Friday Nov 02, 2012

9 Ways Facebook Monetization Could Change Your Marketing

Think Facebook monetization isn’t a head game?

Bored kidImagine creating something so functional, fun and addictive you literally amass about 1/7th of the planet’s population as an audience. You have 1 billion users that use it at least once a month. But analysts and marketers look at what you’ve done and say, “eh…not good enough.”

What if you had a TV show that garnered 1/7 of Earth’s population as an audience? How much would a spot cost? And how fast would marketers write that check, even without the targeting and engagement analytics Facebook offers?

Having already changed the marketing landscape forever, if you’re Facebook’s creator, you’d have to be scratching your head and asking, “Wow, what more does a product need to do?” Facebook’s been busy answering that very question with products and betas that will likely directly affect your brand’s strategy.

Item 1: Users can send physical gifts to friends through Facebook based on suggestions from user data. A giant step toward the potential power of social commerce.

Item 2: Users can pay $7 to promote posts for higher visibility. Individual users, not just marketers, are being leveraged as a revenue stream. Not impressive enough? There’s also the potential Craigslist killer Facebook Marketplace.

Item 3: Mobile ads. 600 million+ access Facebook on smartphones. According to the company, half of the $1 million a day generated by Sponsored Stories as of late June was coming from mobile. Ads in News Feeds seen on mobile had click-through rates 23x higher than on desktop News Feeds or the right side panel.

Item 4: App developers can buy install ads that show up in mobile News Feeds so reliance on discovery in app stores is reduced.

Item 5: Want your posts seen by people who never liked your Page? A test began in August where you could appear in non-fans’ News Feeds on both web and mobile.

Item 6: How about an ability to use Facebook data to buy ads outside of Facebook? A mobile ad network is being tested to get your targeted messages on non-Facebook apps and sites surfaced on devices.

Item 7: Facebook Collections, Facebook’s answer to Pinterest. Users can gather images of desired products and click through to the retailer to buy. Keep focusing on your imagery.

Item 8: Facebook Offers, Facebook’s answer to the Groupons and Living Socials of the world. You can send deals to your fans’ News Feeds.

Item 9: Facebook Exchange lets you track what fans do on Facebook and across the entire Web. Could lead to a Facebook ad network leveraging Facebook users and data but not limiting exposure to the Facebook platform.

Marketers are seeing increasing value in Facebook (and Twitter for that matter).  But as social grows and adjusts, will marketing budgets aimed in that direction grow and adjust accordingly, and within a reasonable time frame?

@mikestiles
Photo Christie Merrill/stock.xchng

Friday Aug 31, 2012

Facebook Sponsored Results: Is It Getting Results?

man with magnifying glassSocial marketers who like to focus on the paid aspect of the paid/earned hybrid Facebook represents may want to keep themselves aware of how the network’s new Sponsored Results ad product is performing.

The ads, which appear when a user conducts a search from the Facebook search bar, have only been around a week or so. But the first statistics coming out of them are not bad.

Marketer Nanigans says click-through rates on the Sponsored Results have been nearly 23 times better than regular Facebook ads. Some click-through rates have even gone over 3%. Just to give you some perspective, a TechCrunch article points out that’s the same kind of click-through rates that were being enjoyed during the go-go dot com boom of the 90’s. The average across the Internet in its entirety is now somewhere around .3% on a good day, so a 3% number should be enough to raise an eyebrow. Plus the cost-per-click price is turning up 78% lower than regular Facebook ads, so that should raise the other eyebrow.

Marketers have gotten pretty used to being able to buy ads against certain keywords. Most any digital property worth its salt that sells ads offers this, and so does Facebook with its Sponsored Results product. But the unique prize Facebook brings to the table is the ability to also buy based on demographic and interest information gleaned from Facebook user profiles. With almost 950 million logging in, this is exactly the kind of leveraging of those users conventional wisdom says is necessary for Facebook to deliver on its amazing potential.

So how does the Facebook user fit into this? Notorious for finding out exactly where sponsored marketing messages are appearing and training their eyeballs to avoid those areas, will the Facebook user reject these Sponsored Results?

Well, Facebook may have found an area in addition to the News Feed where paid elements can’t be avoided and will be tolerated. If users want to read their News Feed, and they do, they’re going to see sponsored posts. Likewise, if they want to search for friends or Pages, and they do, they’re going to see Sponsored Results. The paid results are clearly marked as such. As long as their organic search results are not tainted or compromised, they will continue using search.

But something more is going on. The early click-through rate numbers say not only do users not mind seeing these Sponsored Results, they’re finding them relevant enough to click on. And once they click, they seem to be liking what they find, with a reported 14% higher install rate than Marketplace Ads.

It’s early, and obviously the jury is still out. But this is a new social paid marketing opportunity that’s well worth keeping an eye on, and that may wind up hitting the trifecta of being effective for the platform, the consumer, and the marketer.

Tuesday Aug 21, 2012

Social Content: Creativity + Common Sense

Are you stuck trying to figure out how to generate a consistent flow of quality content?  You're not alone.  Here are some the reason why brands get stuck and a formula for getting un-stuck. 

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