Brenton Gieser is the President of ConvoSpark, a social media development agency focused on building socially engaging technology on Facebook, mobile devices, and other social media platforms. You can find him discussing the intersection of social media and entrepreneurship on his personal blog, BrentonGieser.com.
All the buzz about Facebook’s most recent changes has left marketers scrambling to get a grasp of what these new products and features mean for their business. For marketers, keeping up with the entire social web is a job in itself, and Facebook()’s constant evolution doesn’t make it any easier.
To sum up the recent announcements, it is appropriate to simply state that Facebook has moved one step closer to creating the semantic web — that is, a human-powered web — and positioning itself at the center of this new universe.
Facebook’s Open Graph protocol will help cultivate richer and more useful data in an attempt to make “social” the new default of the web. Still, the looming question is: What does this mean for businesses that have invested so much in Facebook marketing? If any of Mark Zuckerberg’s audacious F8 presentations come to fruition, businesses should start optimizing their Facebook presence now more than ever.
What Was Introduced at the F8 Conference?
There were three primary items that were announced at F8 that will work in conjunction with the rest of the web to make it more social:
- Social Plugins: Social plugins are the easiest way for anyone to integrate Facebook’s social features on their website. By adding a few lines of code to your site, you will give visitors the ability to engage with both your website and your Facebook presence. The focus is on the “Like button.” Clicking it places content from that web page in your Facebook stream. This differs from the Facebook “share button,” as you now receive updated content from that web page directly in your feed.
- Open Graph Protocol: The Open Graph is less of a feature or product and more of the overarching concept of what Facebook is employing. The foundation of the Open Graph protocol lies in having website owners identify their pages as “objects” (examples: a movie on IMDb or an athlete on ESPN.com). This allows Facebook to establish a connection to those objects, optimizing the website’s presence across Facebook and setting up two-way channels between the web pages and Facebook.
- Open Graph API: This is the actual API that developers will be working with to integrate websites with the Open Graph. At F8, Facebook’s product team stressed the simplicity of implementing the API, perhaps after seeing the mass adoption of the Twitter() API and its ease of use.
Integrating Facebook Into Your Web Presence Will Be Easier
If there was one message that Bret Taylor, Facebook’s Director of Product, wanted to hammer home at F8, it was that the Open Graph protocol will be extremely simple to implement. Any website that has pages representing real-world things can utilize the Open Graph to create a more social experience for visitors.
One of the purposes of the Open Graph protocol is to simplify the sign-in or profile linking process between Facebook and websites. In many instances, logging into the website through Facebook will be unnecessary. If a visitor is logged on to Facebook through their browser, they will still be recognized by that website without any authentication through Facebook Connect. To go a step beyond that, Facebook is adopting OAuth, which will make it easier and safer for users to authenticate their Facebook log-in through third-party websites.
Facebook has also made it easier for developers to incorporate new features on websites. As I stated before, a few lines of code can create dynamic social web integration. This is great news for websites that are looking to avoid the complexities of the Facebook Connect API and to provide a big upgrade from simple Fan Page plugins.
By reducing the cost and time it takes for websites to become a part of the Facebook platform, Facebook has created a win-win proposition for many companies hoping to market on the network. Websites will be able to provide a constant flow of content to the people who “like” what they publish online, while Facebook becomes one of the primary aggregators of social data across the web — not a bad deal.
Community Pages Connect the Web Via Common Interest
You may have noticed that the majority of Facebook’s user profiles have been changed recently. Interests, movies, and other descriptives on a user’s profile page are no longer just inanimate text. Rather, those objects are synced up to Community Pages. This new feature stems from the Open Graph protocol and Facebook’s move to gather the web’s socially generated data.
Community Pages have the ability to organically group people together based on what they like. Whether you clicked “like” on the LeBron James ESPN.com web page, or you have him listed in your interests, you will be connected to the LeBron James Community Page and everyone else who has done the same. Gathering people together based on interest is not a novel idea, but doing so from a pool of over 450 million people means vast amounts of people-powered information.
Since Community Pages are built actively and passively by users, companies need to make sure to monitor pages related to their brand in order to manage their identity within Facebook and the rest of the social web. Marketers who recognize Community Pages as a great place to engage with their enthusiasts will see early benefits. Sparking conversations with these individuals and asking for feedback on your company’s products and services may help shape public opinion of your business and improve sales on the whole.
What Are the Effects on the Current Model?
Since the Open Graph protocol will reshape how the rest of the web is connected with Facebook, what does that mean for the current method of connecting?
The new social plugins offer your website a rich feature set very similar to that of your Facebook Fan Page. But hundreds of millions of people continue to log-in to Facebook every single day. You still need to maintain a strong presence within the site’s walls. Your Fan Pages will remain valuable to your social media marketing efforts, and syncing them to your websites will be a viable option moving forward.
Facebook applications may become an even more intriguing option when it comes to packaging a viral marketing message on Facebook. With access to the new API, developers may find ways to better leverage data and create an even richer social experience.
Facebook Connect is probably the biggest question mark of the bunch, as it seems likely to be thrown by the wayside. With the addition of the Open Graph API and the social plugins, much of what Facebook Connect offers will be obsolete. Still, there are some questions about how exactly developers are supposed to accommodate these changes.
What Should Your Business Do Next?
It’s no secret that Facebook is making a huge push to lock down their top spot on the social totem pole and they hope that the users will follow their lead. In Facebook’s case, it’s safe to say both users and marketers will stay on board. With Facebook’s size and reach, if you are not keeping up with the changes, you are going to be left in the dust.
Businesses will need to build their web presence with the Open Graph in mind. Moving forward, Facebook-enabled websites will become an essential piece of lasting success in the digital space. Content dissemination will occur more often and be more relevant to users, and applications will take on many new forms.
Social optimization is to 2010 as SEO was to 2005. Facebook, along with other important social platforms are now giving you the tools to optimize your social media presence based on the quality of social engagement you create. As Mark Zuckerberg said, the web is defaulting to social. It’s time to act accordingly.