Posted by: Rob Hof on March 4, 2009
I’m heading to Facebook this morning for a briefing with CEO Mark Zuckerberg and others on the company’s latest product developments. One of them will be the next step for Facebook Pages, the showcase home pages that brands can create to engage their customers more intimately. This won’t be news to anyone who follows Facebook on blogs such as AllFacebook and Inside Facebook, both of which have detailed looks at the redesign. Zuckerberg has a blog post up now too.
The redesign is interesting because now these pages will look more like typical profile pages, which is to say, they’ll change a lot more often, potentially getting people to visit more often. The pages also will now include status updates, the short messages that are the heart of Facebook’s social glue, giving brands ways to provide more regular and potentially more engaging communications with customers or fans. And content from the Pages will show up more often in the feeds of fans who friend them.
Since at least one study shows people on social networking sites tend not to look at ads much, the marketing potential of Pages looms larger.
UPDATE: I’ve arrived and await the coming of Mark. I’ll keep updating from the bottom here, after the “jump”…
UPDATE 2: I had a chance to talk with Zuckerberg after the event, and it’s clear that Facebook is laying the groundwork for marketers to use Facebook to reach people in new ways. In particular, he hopes that the number of connections could become a metric for marketing that goes beyond ad impressions or clicks. With the new Pages, he says, “Now, once you have connections to all these people, you have ways to engage them.”
Another thing: These changes, in particular the “Stream” pictured here, are indeed (as some have speculated) a shot at Twitter. Already, connections are the prime currency there, yet Twitter so far has offered few ways for brands—whether they be companies or individuals like Robert Scoble or Barack Obama—to filter and control messages. Zuckerberg, not surprisingly and probably correctly, thinks real-time communications won’t be limited to one platform like Twitter. So the battle begins…
And here's Mark:
He talks about how much more information people are sharing since Facebook started in 2004. Facebook built more applications, and in 2006 hit an inflection point where people got more interested in what people are doing in real time.
A lot more information flow is happening through these streams. Information flow is just going to get faster and faster.
Twitter doing really interesting things in terms of the pace of information moving more quickly. And MySpace. We really admire what they're doing.
Today, going to talk about a few steps to move more in that direction. Two initial steps to be announced today, by Chris Cox, Facebook's director of product development.
Chris Cox: News Feed (the stream of real-time information and updates on people's Facebook pages) is really why I came here. When he was interviewing for the job, he was impressed with the social graph they showed him. It's this graph of who's interested in who, who knows who. Idea was to take all this personalized info and turn it into a kind of personalized newspaper for people.
I rode back to school and I called my mom and said have you ever heard of Facebook? She said no. I said, OK, I'm going to have to drop out of school to do this. Long setup talking about Marshall McLuhan and how institutions arise when things get connected more closely by things like the telegraph and commercial airlines.
More history: The original Facebook was basically an address book. News Feed started in 2006. In 2007, the platform for applications on Facebook was announced. Last year, further redesigned the profile to make the Wall, full of current happenings, more prominent. This caused people to share more.
OK, finally to this year: 175 million active users now, with great variety of needs by various people. From Mark and roomates in 2004 to Barack Obama, New York Times and Cox's grandma today. There's a lot of different needs on the site, we're going to try to accommodate them all, that's what I'm going to talk about today.
More explanation: How sharing works: social graph leads to stream (of voices and conversations) to connect (ways people get to the stream, from PC or phone or whatever).
So, first announcement: Profiles for Everyone: Pages and Profiles become the same thing. So a business or brand essentially can look like a person with a profile. And at the same time, profiles will be able to be open to a large number of people, not just overt friends and family connections.
Launch partners today are CNN, U2 and Barack Obama, among many others. Anderson Cooper, Ashton Kutcher, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The stream (pictured above) is what's happening. It's as core to us as the social graph. (In other words, Facebook has noticed Twitter!) The stream can be filtered and organized. So... there's a new home page.
Next Wednesday, March 11, that new home page, pictured above, will launch. Current news feed aggregates all of what's happening around you and presents it. Now, the emphasis will be on immediate info. There will be filters to make this manageable. Can filter by family, closest friends, groups like Stanford, and even by applications (that is, only items generated by particular applications).
There will also be highlights on the right side of the page, things that people and brands and companies are publishing.
Now some Q&A:
Q: What are the current restrictions on Profiles that you're now removing?
Cox: Now you can publish status updates to anyone, more than the previous 5,000-person friend limit. If you want to communicate with more than that many people, you need to create a Facebook Page.
Q: What is the new Feed?
Cox: The new feed is more real-time, focusing on sharing and conversations. The current feed is on a schedule, periodically feeding you items.
Q: People don't quite understand the change--what's really changing?
Zuckerberg: We want to converge all of these objects on the site to be similar. We're moving to converge Pages and Profiles closer to each other.
Q: What percentage of users are maxxed out in terms of number of friends? Who are you really trying to serve here with these changes?
Zuckerberg: Less than a 10th of a percent. Want to let companies and public figures be able to communicate with more people, not just "friends." With 175 million users, there's obviously a large range of people who are using the site.
My take on all this: Essentially, it's clear that Facebook is trying to make the service easier for brands of all kinds to have a better, more usable presence online--potentially to millions of people.
Cox: Politicians, journalist, bands--all these people want to distribute information. Athletes, celebrities. Now able to reach many more people and in a more controlled fashion.
Zuckerberg: The concept of being connected with someone has real value. People will also start thinking about connecting with people as something that has value (from a marketing point of view, beyond clicks and impressions).
Q: How are you dealing with the spam issue?
This is why we've emphasized control over the home page. You can click to say you don't want to get those messages, and take them off your page, using filters. (My thought: If this works, it's another challenge to Twitter, which has no filtering despite a clear need for it, except completely unsubscribing to the person.)
Q: To what extent will the new feeds be publicly indexable by search engines?
Much of people's feeds are private, so not on feeds because you have to be logged into an account to see those feeds. But for those who want to publicly share information, over time we'll find ways to get that part of the information indexable. Content on public Pages is already visible to search engines.
Zuckerberg: More sharing means more of that information will be open. Really interesting trend: A lot of people are really open to sharing information because it's not open to everyone. (So presumably a lot of this info will not be publicly available.)
Zuckerberg: This isn't the last time we're going to change this.
The information being shared is happening a lot quicker. Two years from now, maybe with cell phones etc. people will be able to see what's going on right now.
Q: Will this help you better provide targeted advertising?
Zuckerberg: Yes. (Generally--not announcing anything specific on that today.)
Q: Will you add location-based services, like Google Latitude?
Zuckerberg: Probably in the future. The new home page will reflect a faster pace of information. But nothing specific on location-based services yet.
Q: Are you looking at expanding the ability of people to bring in outside content to Facebook?
Zuckerberg: Facebook Connect is a bigger part of the strategy.
And that's it.