The title of this post is borrowed of course from the classic coming-of-age novel by S. E. Hinton. It also happens to be a great phrase to describe what's happened to Facebook.
We published this a couple weeks ago at CNBC. Although Facebook's IPO has been widely panned, it's important to keep in mind that the company still has a market cap of over $65 billion - that's pretty big. And that valuation has meaningful implications for social business.
Yesterday in New York, Facebook hosted the first annual fMC gathering, hosted by their global marketing solutions team.
As a strategist, the session I appreciated most was led by Mike Fox called "Driving maximum value from your social marketing strategy." Yes, you need a Facebook strategy. Here's Mike's framework for thinking through Facebook opportunities, which every brand should understand before diving into the functional changes and new advertising opportunities.
Connect (quality not just quantity)
Engage (create experiential value for your connections)
Influence (word of mouth at scale)
Integrate (social by design)
I love that the phrase "social by design" was used frequently during the event. Success in social business requires planning and deliberation; Dion Hinchcliffe and I expand on this in our upcoming book Social Business By Design.
In 2002, I was having a budget conversation with my CFO. I was general manager of the online store and we were discussing my requests for FTEs, technology upgrades, and marketing spend. The CFO asked me, "this is an online store...why do we need to spend any more money...doesn't it run itself?" (I'm 99% sure he wasn't joking.)
This week, news has been circulating that FMCG company Procter & Gamble will eliminate 1,600 jobs and shift more budget into digital media. The headline over at Business Insider is a bit more incendiary: "P&G To Lay Off 1,600 After Discovering It's Free To Advertise On Facebook."
About a year ago, Facebook announced its plan to expand its platform availability and allow users to link disparate online activities into a single social graph.
It's a year later and the competition has yet to respond. Google's +1 still hasn't fully launched. Beyond that, Yahoo! was the only other company able to compete on a broad network perspective, while Twitter, FourSquare, and others maintain more isolated social networks.
Some of my quick thoughts from then and now:
The momentum continues and will only continue to build through Facebook's 2012 IPO.
In March 2007, I moderated a panel discussion for the MIT Enterprise Forum of New York called "The Future of Advertising: Integrated Marketing."
To close the evening, I asked the audience a question:
"If you were a VC with $2 billion to spend, which would you buy: Facebook or DoubleClick?"
Here's what happened. So much for the wisdom of the crowd.
(BTW Facebook's valuation was already estimated at $7.5 billion the year before.)
Zuckerberg Suits up for Obama: How Brands Can Suit up for Customers Using Facebook Live
The Facebook Live Townhall with President Barack Obama and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg prompted a lively discussion in our Austin office. Not only about Zuckerberg’s shirt and tie, but our social business take on how the live event went down.
It made us think: If we were going to host a Facebook Live event for a client, how would we do it? Our goal: optimize the Facebook platform to make the most of this opportunity.
First off, here’s what we liked about yesterday’s event:
Opportunities moving forward:
President Obama’s Facebook Live Townhall illustrates the simplicity, yet often overlooked nature of many social tactics. Facebook and Livestream have done a good job optimizing the platform, but brands should never forgo doing their own due diligence in such engagements. As such, it will be interesting to see how future events are customized to fit not only a brand’s needs, but more importantly the needs of their audience. For brands thinking about optimizing the Facebook platform, Obama’s event should serve as a reminder to remember the details and to deploy unique tactics that make the most sense for the audience within the event’s context.
In 2007, Facebook launched Facebook Platform so third party developers could create applications that leveraged the Facebook social graph. Platform immediately became a hot property, with thousands of small developers jumping in the game, each eager to launch the next great application on Facebook, each trying to crack the code that would generate the holy grail of Facebook applications, lots and lots of monthly active users.
In the beginning, a few brands made the leap as well – with some notable successes and a few total failures. It quickly became clear that if brands were to be successful on Platform, they needed to provide value with their applications, not simply use it as another medium to push traditional advertising messaging. Over the last three years, some brands have tried, failed and moved on, and some have been successful and have built on that success to establish a strong presence on Facebook. Many brands are still testing the waters and making that first leap. For those brands, here are a few recommendations that will increase their chances of developing and launching a successful Facebook Application.
Keep It Simple
Applications should focus on one simple idea and execute it well. Don’t try to pack every campaign asset you’ve created into the Application canvas page, and don’t try to link together multiple interactive/content hooks, no matter how clever it sounds back in the boardroom.
Build On the Familiar
To lessen the learning curve, build off social ideas and concepts that people already know and are already familiar with. If you introduce an entirely new idea, it has to be easily understood to be successful at any significant level.
Think about ways your brand can add value to a Facebook users Facebook experience – provide utility, entertainment or convenience. If you are a greeting card company, you might want to think about developing an app that tracks friend’s birthdays first, before you build an app that features digital versions of your cards that people can send to friends.
Make it social. Obvious…you would think…
Don’t build an app whose only function is to try and push content or ads at people or get them to sign up for some service and expect people to add or share it or even use it. Will not work, period. Make sure that your app is focused on adding value to the user’s Facebook experience. Empower your users to use the Stream to share things they want to share about things they’ve made/created using your app, not just your canned brand message. On the flip side, Facebook is a part of many users’ daily lives/activities. Don’t clutter or annoy users with excessive notifications, messages, and invitations.
Do Your Homework
Dig around in the Facebook directory and see what apps are popular and most successful and understand why. Look for apps that are based on ideas that relate to your brand, and use that as a jumping off point. For example, if you are an alcohol brand, you might want to consider developing an app that allows friends to send a drink to a friend. This has been done repeatedly on Facebook, so the basic idea works…however, don’t directly copy it. The key is putting your on spin on it to tie it to your brand, and make it different enough to be interesting and fresh. Another alternative is simply sponsoring an existing app that already has a significant user base.
Budget Is Your Advantage
Most of the apps on Facebook are created by independent developers or small shops on shoestring budgets with little resources. As a result, most of the apps are poorly designed, buggy, not very sophisticated, and not premium. If a brand understands what makes for a successful app and adheres to these principles, users will appreciate the production value of a well-designed and developed application that has been built by pros, and that will reflect positively on your brand.
Package The App
Be sure and leverage all the available tools at your disposal on Facebook. Before launching an Application, for example, put resources towards developing a Facebook Page for your brand. This is a good place to house content and assets from other parts of the campaign or from brand archives, as well as provide custom content sections that drive traffic to your Applications. The goal of the page is build a fan base that can be engaged again and again with fresh content long after the life span of a specific application or content piece.
With several hundred thousand apps now available on Facebook, you need to allocate dollars to bring it to the attention of Facebook users once you launch it. Contact Facebook and let them know you are interested in developing an application and get them on board in the beginning. They will help you determine the best way to launch your app and cut through the clutter.
Work With Someone Who’s Done It Before And Knows Facebook
Your agency of record is not likely going to have a clue how to build a Facebook application, even if they have an interactive department. Find and work directly with a shop that has experience building Facebook Applications and listen to their ideas and recommendations, or make sure your agency outsources the Application development to an experienced developer.
Be Prepared To Maintain Your Application
Facebook is constantly changing to meet the needs of its users. This means their API – the tools that Facebook provides developers to integrate apps with Facebook – are constantly changing too. One change to the APIcould dramatically affect the way your application works. Make sure you choose a partner that is able to keep on top of these changes, and be prepared to listen to, budget for, and follow their recommendations in an ever changing environment.
Late last year, Facebook announced three major changes to the Facebook platform: more transparency about the user data that apps use, the ability to download profile information and a complete reworking of Facebook Groups. All three are likely to improve the Facebook experience for all users, which ultimately is a big win for the brands who want to continue to be able to reach them there. But it’s the potential of the new Groups functionality that we’re most excited about, both for users and brands alike.
Previously, Facebook Groups was a poorly understood feature with functionality that overlapped with Pages, to the point where some brands were confused as to whether their Facebook presence should be a Page or a Group. Now, Groups are a quick and easy way to bring a specific group of Facebook friends together around a particular topic or interest. And while the new Groups feature is aimed at bringing context to a user’s Facebook experience, socially savvy brands will find ways to capitalize on them as well.
Bite-Sized Bits of Info
First of all, it’s important to keep in mind that a Group is designed to facilitate conversation around a specific topic of interest to a relatively small group. So, for instance, a resort could set up a Group where fans who have scheduled upcoming visits could virtually meet up prior to arrival.
A brand could also use a Group to encourage collaboration on a specific cause marketing initiative or crowdsource fan coverage of an event, similar to the way Twitter #hashtags are used. Creating meaningful Facebook Groups could encourage fans to form stronger social ties with each other, with the brand at the center of those ties.
And while it might pose a bit of a slippery slope for brands that don’t have a disciplined social media strategy in place, a Group could be the ideal place for brand representatives to interact directly with fans, using their own Facebook profiles.
If a specific customer service issue arises, a brand could try to move the discussion of it off of their Page and into a Group established to help their fans with the issue. It’s a far more effective way to discuss a single issue than trudging through 300 comments on a Wall post. It also empowers fans to help each other out and separates a negative conversation thread slightly from the brand’s primary Facebook presence.
For 5% of Fans
Groups could also be used to encourage discussion around any aspect of a brand that has a small but extremely devoted following that might not be of interest to the larger fan base. If certain posts generate a great deal of feedback on the Wall but also coincide with a bump in the number of fans unsubscribing from updates or un-Liking the Page, moving those conversations to a Group might be the solution.
A Persistent Presence for Content
Given the transient nature of Facebook Wall posts, setting up a Group could be a good way to give a persistent presence to something that the brand wants to feature but doesn’t want to post about repeatedly, because of its limited appeal to the larger fan base.
But Wait, There’s More
Active Groups could also pay secondary dividends for the brands that administer them. The brand’s Page admin might use content from their Groups and curate it for the Page. And if Facebook Ad targeting remains unchanged, a brand can include Groups in their media targeting and potentially pull in new fans who have joined a Group but not the main brand Page.
Finally, since Groups will have its own APIs, developers will be able to create applications that leverage Groups in ways that we can’t predict. But it’s a safe bet that their versatility will only increase over time.
Let the Brand Beware
Now, with all of this said, there some significant caveats. In a Group, the most recently commented-on post moves to the top of the page, which makes it difficult to push a specific brand message or bury unpleasant content “below the fold.” Administrators have to use personal Facebook profiles when posting to the Group; they cannot comment or post as the brand itself. And if a brand gets too Group-happy, there’s a danger of fragmenting the fan base and diluting the social messaging strategy.
Groups will never replace Pages, and brands should never use them interchangeably. Also, not all users have access to the new Groups yet, and as with everything else about the Facebook platform, aspects of it are subject to change without notice. But for creative, informed and engaged brands, Facebook Groups could be a powerful and versatile new tool for connecting to and activating fans, and we look forward to discovering new ways to do just that.