Monday, April 5, 2010

Facebook Gets Brand-Friendlier

Facebook made a few moves last week to make themselves more friendly to brands and brand marketing, creating new Community Pages and luring members to connect with brands by renaming the ‘fan’ button.

These new policies are an open invitation from Facebook for businesses to become more active on the platform. While these are more evolutionary than revolutionary changes, brands should understand how Facebook is providing more opportunities for your business by:
  • Renaming the Fan button on Pages to Like
  • Creating new category: Community Pages
  • Renaming Pages to Official Pages
Does It Really Matter If I ‘Fan’ or ‘Like’ a Brand?

Replacing the label 'Fan' for 'Like' is a subtle semantic change designed to dramatically increase the number of connections between people and brands, or total member reach.

From a social perspective, the difference between ‘fan’ and ‘like’ is the emotional connection to the brand—being a fan is a much deeper commitment and suggests a stronger sense of identity with the brand. “Like” is a much weaker connection, less discriminating and requires less of a commitment.

I like ice cream, for example. But I’m a fan of Blue Bell because I think it’s better than Ben and Jerry’s or Haagen Daaz. I still like Ben and Jerry's ice cream, but if I'm going to choose one to identify myself with, I'm going to tell my friends that I'm a 'fan' Blue Bell. Our fan loyalty is generally only given to one brand in a given category.

With the new label change, it's less of an emotional connection to say that I like Ben and Jerry's. And I like Haagen Daaz. And I like Blue Bell. The label on the 'join' button helps define my commitment to the brand.

Why Would Facebook Make This Change?

An internal memo from Facebook to its advertisers makes the case that people use the ‘like’ feature twice as much as the ‘fan’ feature. The name change is designed to get more people to connect with brands on Facebook.

While some might think that a brand would prefer a deeper connection that comes with attracting 'fans', the reality is that they don’t really care—it’s more about the numbers. Advertisers and marketers like BIG numbers and the numbers on most brand fan pages just aren’t large enough to justify big dollar investments yet.

Imagine, however, doubling your connections from 1 million fans to 2 million “likes” just by changing the label on a button. Sure it sounds better to say "we have 1 million fans", but if someone is going to give you big bucks to advertise on your platform, it's just as cool to say "2 million people like Brand X."

Even if the connections don't double immediately, any increase in activity comes from the result of very little effort and investment. Facebook's advertising and marketing revenue increases, and brands extend their reach just by changing the name on a button.

Smart move, Facebook.

The New Facebook Community Pages

What's a Community Page? It’s the newest classification of identity on Facebook bringing the total up to four: Profiles, Official Pages, Community Pages and Groups.

It’s getting a little confusing for users and brands, so here are the core differences between the pages:
  • Profiles are for humans—plain, ordinary people doing ordinary people things
  • Official Pages are for businesses, brands, and organizations. Musicians, artists, politicians and celebrities are included.
  • Community Pages are for member causes and topics that no one really ‘owns’.
  • Groups are a place for members to share professional interests or hobbies

Community pages are designed for users who want to bring attention to causes and topics of their choice, or to create ‘unofficial’ pages around brands or celebrities.

Causes highlight or promote actual causes with real-world consequences, like providing global disaster relief (500K fans), show support for gay marriage (660K fans) or protest the health care bill (1.2M fans).

Topics can be on any subject, but typically are a reflection of pop culture and entertaining memes, like “I Need a Vacation” (4.7M fans), “im just gonna rest my eyes while they text back....*next morning* dammit!!” (1.2M fans) or “I Stand In The Shower for An Hour Because I like Hot Water.” (1.1M fans)

Most topics are not really ‘owned’ by the creator of the page (ie: who owns the need for a vacation?), but owning the page gives certain privileges to a page admin, like the ability to email (or spam) all the fans of the page.

To reduce the spam threat, once a Community Page has passed a yet-to-be-defined number of fans, Facebook will convert the page to community ownership, like a wiki. The ability to email all fans of the page will be removed.

Official Pages are for businesses and brands on Facebook.

You must have the right to establish the page on behalf of the company/brand in order to create this type of page. So only Starbucks may own pages classified as Starbucks Official Pages. A fan may still create "Starbucks--The Best Coffee”, but this would now be classified as a “topic” and be categorized as a Community Page.

Artists, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, government agencies, politicians, movie stars and other celebrities will also use Official Pages. Fans of celebrities who want to create fan pages for their favorite artists would use the new Community Pages.

What Is Facebook Up To?

Quite simply, Facebook is trying to be more brand-friendly. By removing causes and topics from Pages and creating Community Pages, Facebook is doing some spring cleaning and making it easier for brands to be found.

If you were to search FB Pages for “Apple”, for example, NONE of the top 10 results in Pages would display the Cupertino-based computer maker. But you could find the topic “Apple turnover served over a hot, steaming child”, a business “An Apple A Day Depot” or the page for the Apple Valley PTA.

My hunch is that Official Pages will be weighted more heavily in search results and result in more click thrus to brand pages. Coupled with the semantic change to “liking” a brand, Facebook is clearly trying to increase traffic and build an ad platform that can meet or exceed television-like numbers for brands.

For all the advantages that online marketing offers, the gold standard for advertisers and marketers is still television. A very lowly-rated show on cable still garners more than a million viewers. There are around 300 Pages on Facebook that generate that type of attention, and most of those are of the "causes" and "topics" variety.

If Facebook wants to keep the marketing and advertising dollars flowing, they've got to get more traffic to brands any way they can. It's as simple as that.

What are your thoughts on Facebook’s new brand-friendly moves? Are these shrewd moves, adding to user confusion, or part of a massive selling-out by Facebook?

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