Facebook’s perpetual evolution – and what it means for you

My latest piece for Marketing Profs’ Daily Fix went up this week and I wanted to share it here because it raises some really interesting questions about why and how we should consider using Facebook, especially this week, when both Google and Adobe announced innovative new ways to track the role that social media interactions play onconverting.

Facebook’s changes include increased sharing apps (Facebook teamed up with 60-plus partners to enable frictionless sharing of content to Facebook), Facebook premium ads that are entirely social in nature, and Timeline for Pages (the most recent change, which I was privileged to see before general release).

With close to 800 million users, Facebook draws people and friends by itself, which is significant. The recent announcements demonstrate a desire to also use applications and tools as major drivers in Facebook’s next period of growth.

In the 2006-2007 app rush, there was a flood of interest in Facebook because users and brands could do more in Facebook than ever. Fast-forward four years. We’re in the same boat—except this time, the apps integrated into Facebook are proven successful services, bringing millions of members with them.

These services relied on people wanting to spend time away from Facebook (for music, news, etc.) but the emerging trend (not just in apps, but new services, too) seems to be one of creating new experiences in Facebook.

Are the Apps Up to the Job?

At the moment, this really only applies to Spotify. And as an app, it is basic. Spotify Mobile updates seem erratic, more about basic bug-fixing than new features. Its desktop app updates are even rarer. Spotify’s biggest advantage—creating playlists—is also its biggest downfall. Creating playlists is easy, but it’s nigh on impossible to organize them.

Sound familiar? This is exactly the problem that Google+ and Facebook are managing with friend lists. Apple has managed the problem with iPod, so what is Spotify’s solution? This issue of noise is only going to get worse as more and more friends experience musical serendipity.

Spotify and all entertainment services now need to consider themselves social platforms. Spotify is a social platform that plays music rather than just a music-playing one with sharing functionality, and this will require a fair amount of innovation based on what exists at the moment.

This is a significant change in mindset.

Frictionless Sharing and Privacy Issues

Spotify’s integration with Facebook is now so tight that new users have to have a Facebook account to make it work. Furthermore, anything and everything you play on Spotify, wherever it may be being played, is now being fed back into Facebook. While this admittedly causes concerns about sharing what you might secretly listen to, this integration is a brilliant way to find stuff that you didn’t know about or to discover what your friends are listening to.

As Brian Solis suggests, this change alone is forcing us to re-evaluate what we believe privacy is. We have all traditionally been free and easy with our information, but that’s because we have been in control of what is public, even if it is to a limited number of circles or friend lists. Now, everything has changed. Are we happy to have the people we consider friends alter their judgment of who we are due to our listening and reading habits?

Ask yourself this question: Has the benefit of finding new music or even favorites you’d forgotten been of more value to you than anything embarrassing your friends might have seen?

What this frictionless sharing introduces properly into our lives is genuine serendipity. For the last five years, services and algorithms have been trying to find ways to only show us the things that it thinks interest us.

Trust Usurps Influence

This brings me onto the issue of influence. We are all influential about all sorts of different topics—yet we will happily accept advice from our closest friends about a topic, track, film, or pair of shoes. The same applies to music and news.

As apps and services wake up to the opportunities that tighter social integration brings, I expect the trust we have in our friends to introduce more experiences and products than we currently see. This brings one massive headache with it: How do we measure this influence?

Are We Doing This Because We Can or Because People Want It?

In the span of two weeks, Facebook has introduced Friend Lists, Subscriptions, a mini-stream, new profiles and timeline, integration with Spotify, and news apps. But are everyday Facebook users (people who just use it to communicate with friends) capable of understanding the benefits of all this innovation?

Are we likely to see everyday Facebook users divide their friends into specific friend lists and subscribe to different bits of content from each list? I suggest not. Are they going to be massively concerned seeing the content they interact with now auto-posted to their Walls? Yes. Are they going to be massively concerned that sites they visit outside of Facebook are being fed back to Facebook? Yes.

Cookie issues aside (which Facebook is now addressing) and complex account management aside, “chain statuses” with scary stories of what can be seen on your Facebook Wall and what data Facebook can see are abundant. Everyday users are scared. However, all these changes are necessary to ensure that we have a way to manage what will become a deluge of information from streaming movies to music and news.

Noise management is perhaps the most crucial aspect underpinning all of these changes. Facebook is becoming our main window to the Web, but we need a proper way of managing this information.

What Does This Mean to You?

You will now have to “think social” because Facebook is now forcing your hand. And by “thinking social”, I don’t mean broadcasting your messages through social channels, No longer can a strategy be based around the “if” of Facebook; it is now more of a “must.” And that is not just about Facebook Pages either. You must now consider how your brand can be social. And being social is not, as we all know, about simply using old message techniques on new platforms. It is about behaving differently and taking a fresh look at your product and service in entirely new ways.

However you look at it, the world has just changed. Massively.

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