Do you remember Facebook before the timeline… before newsfeed?
I do. I loved the introduction of Facebook’s news feed when it happened. Many were up in arms and many thought that Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, was going to destroy the power and potential of the online social network. The idea that you would not explore other people’s pages, but simply have their information, updates and content come to you – on your own profile page – seemed like a stupid idea. Who is laughing now? While many think that photos are the killer app of Facebook (and the reason the company paid a billion dollars to acquire Instagram), none of that would matter had Facebook not had the insight (and the courage) to imagine, develop and deploy this personal RSS feed of our social graph.
Is the newsfeed perfect?
It is not. Nothing is. But newsfeed is – beyond a shadow of a doubt – the true killer app of Facebook. Strolling through the newsfeed and timeline, you easily and quickly get a glimpse of what’s happening to the people you are most interested in (and you can mute the self-absorbed and those who are simply there to inflate their own tires). You are able to like, follow, comment and interact with more information than ever before. As Facebook continues to roll out Facebook marketing initiatives for brands, the newsfeed becomes ground zero. In the past few weeks, there has been controversy about just how much Facebook allows individuals and brands to get listed on the timeline of those they are connected to (you can read more about that here: Each Facebook Post Seen by One-Third of Friends, on Average, here: Disruptions: As User Interaction on Facebook Drops, Sharing Comes at a Cost and here: Facebook to Nick Bilton (And Everyone Else): Seriously, There’s No Pay to Play Scheme Here). EdgeRank is the quiet tool that Facebook uses to filter, hold back and sort what content is displayed in our timeline. It’s a curious strategy, because it runs counter-intuitive to the notion that individuals are choosing who to follow (be they brand or people). In short, if you follow a brand or friend an individual, you will not see everything that they post in your timeline. Facebook throttles how much interaction a brand can have with the people who have given them permission to communicate. Facebook claims that this is a strategy to ensure balance and quality, but to some it feels like you’re giving out your mobile number to whomever you chose, but the phone company is deciding which calls to allow through. If someone (or a brand) is posting too frequently, why not empower the consumer to decide the amount of content (i.e. everything, allowing EdgeRank to take over, muting or unfollow/unfriend)?
The magic of the newsfeed.
TechCrunch reported that Facebook is about to make big and important changes to this feature (which will be announced today: Facebook Will Launch Content-Specific News Feeds, Bigger Photos And Ads On Thursday). Users will be able to better manage and filter their timelines. This could include the addition of multiple timelines (or tabs) just for things like news, images or brands. While the rumors swirl, it’s an interesting but dramatic shift away from what we currently have. The change is analogous to listening to music from your iTunes library or listening to music on satellite radio. The current version of timeline is satellite radio. There is nothing but serendipity that flows in. Every time a consumer hits the newsfeed button, life becomes a box of chocolates. You just never know what you’re going to get. As social Graph Search, more user-controlled newsfeeds and other features roll out in the next short while, the ability for consumers to choose, mute, filter and change what they see will move Facebook into the iTunes world. A place where consumers are getting more control over what they want to do. It kills a lot of the serendipity.
What do people really want?
A vast majority of people will applaud this shift to a more user-centric and controlled Facebook experience. One where you can have multiple feeds or, potentially, pull all of the brands that you follow and like into their own tab segregating it from real friends and connections. Some will argue that this is good for brands, because that section – which may have less users in terms of the overall population of Facebook – will have better interactions with the fans that really care, and it will be less annoying to those who are getting tired of brands asking them to like a photo if they’re happy it’s Thursday (the old quality over quantity debate). There is something powerful (and valuable) in serendipity. There is something magical in suddenly seeing a relevant and contextual brand offering in your feed that gives you pause. Facebook is filled with very smart marketing professionals who have – without question – done some serious thinking about how these newsfeed changes will affect their media business. It seems like the addition of social graph search mixed with new functionality and control over newsfeed will keep consumers more engaged and connected. As always, it is the brands trying to squeeze their messages into these tiny and closely-knit connections that will be put to the test. They’re going to have to develop more social insights and relevant stories to share to earn the trust and credibility of the consumer’s crowded newsfeed. Which, by all of this news, sounds like it’s going to get more fragmented and crowded.
What’s your take on this? Are all of these changes good for brands and the Facebook experience?