Facebook’s new features: What B2B businesses need to know

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By Alexandra Reid

Mark Zuckerberg rocked the Facebook boat again last week when he introduced a handful of new features that received mixed reactions from the site’s 750 million users.

From expressions of excitement to confusion to outright hatred on blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, as well as mainstream media such as the BBC, it’s clear that Facebook users have become increasingly more vocal with their opinions of the free site. This PCWorld article reveals a number of immediate user reactions to Facebook’s new features, from the blunt and judgmental, “Sucks,” to the pessimistically speculative, “Wonder what is going to replace Facebook,” which suggests that these new features may be just the provocation Google Plus needed to transition users to its platform. But then again, who’s to say Google won’t turn the product in radical new directions in another year, as The Guardian’s Dan Gillmor asked in his intriguing post.  It isn’t all bad though, as one individual, who was featured on MacWorld, tweeted “It’s the ‘Facebook cycle’ – things change, people complain, they get over it and carry on.”

It may be easy enough for personal Facebook users to “get over it and carry on,” but for B2B businesses that already find the Facebook environment challenging as a marketing channel, these changes could cripple their ability to engage prospects if they don’t have a sound strategy in place. While Facebook has yet to announce how these new features will affect brand Pages, if at all, they do impact how marketers reach their target communities. Furthermore, according to an email from the f8 conference’s press contact, sighted on NY Convergence, the company “hope(s) to make Pages more consistent with the new Timeline in the future…” so it is best businesses familiarize themselves with these new features early on.

Facebook is not just a B2C marketing channel,” as this recent Business2Community post puts it. “Facebook should be thought of as an extension of a business’s website, blog and online store that promotes and publishes to the channel where its customers are hanging out.” Not only can businesses “like” other businesses’ Pages, prospects that straddle the personal/professional Facebook user fence can like your Page and receive updates on your business. B2B businesses should take advantage of these new features to ensure messaging and communication with prospects is as smooth and efficient as it can be.

The most recent changes introduced by Zuckerberg at f8 last Thursday, streamed live on The Telegraph, include Timeline, Ticker, media integration, the introduction of Open Graph applications and a feed subscription button. Here are some things B2B businesses need to be aware of:

Timeline

Facebook’s Timeline allows users to curate their Facebook profile pages with the photos, events and status updates from past and present. Timelines paint a clearer picture of the individual, as they can shape their profile to reflect who they are and share all their best moments in one place, instead of being limited to sharing only the most recent activity. While more than a little creepy, this presents an extraordinary opportunity for businesses to learn more about their prospective customers and nurture relationships with them. While I would never recommend creeping a prospect’s page and then bringing that information up in a meeting, it does help businesses engage in conversations that are more meaningful to individual prospects. In the B2B environment, where one prospect can have the power to change a business’s financial course, a personal touch can be just the right encouragement to make that crucial sale.

Media integration, Ticker, Open Graph applications and the issue of privacy

Facebook announced a number of partnerships with media companies including Spotify, Netflix, Yahoo, News Corp, Guardian and Hulu that will integrate their features with Facebook. Soon, users will be able to see what their friends are listening to on Spotify or watching on Netflix via the new real-time Ticker stream, for example, and begin listening to and watching the same songs and videos within the application without ever having to leave the page.

Facebook’s newsfeed will now be broken into “big events” and real-time Ticker feeds. The news feed will omit the “Top Stories” and “Most recent” links on the top of the News Feed and replace it with a smarter feed that adjusts content based on the last time you checked it, meaning you won’t miss important relationship status changes, photos or big life events, explains Mashable. The news Ticker, which will reside in the chat column on the right hand side, is a real-time feed of all the activity happening in your social graph, becoming the new “Most Recent” feed.

The first concern here for businesses, as explained on Fast Company, is that these new features could lead to a “great deal of inadvertent oversharing.” In the same article, Facebook’s CTO, Bret Taylor, warns professionals to be careful of what applications they authorize, because “by default, much of what you do on Facebook with applications, even outside Facebook with Netflix and Spotify, and Facebook’s other integrated partners, with be shared auto-magically.”

As Ben Parr said in his article on Mashable, “Facebook has finally done it. It’s just a few updates away now from euthanizing the concept of privacy, already ailing on its network. Timelines and Open Graph, introduced at this week’s f8 conference, sit on either edge of the sword that’s just been run through privacy’s heart.”

As Facebook moves towards providing its users with a “frictionless experience,” professionals should take time to read through their privacy settings. As mentioned previously, be careful which applications you authorize. If you’re friends with a prospect on Facebook, what you’re watching, reading and listening to, and even what locations you check into, can impact their perception of you professionally and damage business relationships.

The second concern is Facebook’s ongoing commitment to making the channel your permanent home on the Internet as it pulls “more partners in, rather than helping (users) get out to the wider world.” Taylor says “if you are a business, and you have a Facebook presence, you are going to need a much broader Facebook marketing strategy in order to find your new customers solely within the Facebook platform.” While there are lots of people on Facebook, these new applications will create a lot of noise, making it more difficult for businesses to find the “right” people.

Subscription button

One of the biggest privacy challenges which businesses have faced on Facebook is that they are not privy to receiving news feed updates if they are not friends with a user. This obstacle has been levelled with the introduction of the subscription button, which allows people to subscribe to parts of a user’s news feed without having to become a Facebook friend. “The new features feels very similar to the follow button on Twitter, where you choose to follow someone’s feed,” explains a New York Times post. Now, businesses can subscribe to a prospect’s feed and also select what information they receive, from photos to status updates, which helps filter out some of the noise. However, users can still set privacy restrictions on what information they are willing to share and with whom, so it’s still not a complete fix to the businessperson’s dilemma.

What are your thoughts on the new Facebook features?

/// COMMENTS

3 Comments »
  • Nick Stamoulis

    September 30, 2011 9:27 am

    I think that the new Facebook features are a little overwhelming for both personal and professional use. While individuals may not care all that much about the changes and will just continue using Facebook as they always had, businesses really need to “get” it in order to use it to their advantage.

  • John Duncan

    September 30, 2011 11:34 am

    Good points here. I think the main problem for marketers is that FB is just too crowded with stuff and noise and that people tune out. I believe the ultimate trend will be towards specialized environments where there is real social transaction going on. Hearsay.i is a social news reader where you can find any news you want and share to a Hearsay stream just by reading it. That offers some really interesting stream opportunities for marketers. We are playing with allowing users to hook up their ecommerce accounts and share what they buy in their news stream. And allowing companies to be “People” in the system and have streams that users can follow. The onus is on the marketer to generate useful content that people want to consume and because you share everything there isn’t anything in the way of that consuming (an offer, a positive review, an opinion, a survey) from spreading throughout the ecosystem. But on Facebook? Too much other stuff and noise. And too heavily used for other things to the point where I can’t see it working to add in a passive “user generated marketing” element.

  • Alexandra Reid

    September 30, 2011 1:18 pm

    Nick: I agree that businesses do need to “get” the new Facebook features, though I wouldn’t say they are overwhelming. Currently, these new features are only available to personal accounts, as I mention in this post, but they may soon be available to business pages. It’s exciting to think about what a business could do with the new timeline feature, and I suspect many businesses are looking into how individuals are currently using this feature on their personal accounts and beginning to think about how they could integrate some of the ideas into their timelines to best express the history of their business. I’m certainly looking forward to it.

    John: I disagree that Facebook is too crowded and noisy. Have you heard of Twitter? Now there’s a platform that requires consistent attention and tools to filter out relevant content. I would say to your argument that Facebook could do with less noise from businesses, which should instead focus on providing their fans with interesting and engaging content that sparks in-depth conversations, instead of linking their Twitter accounts to Facebook and littering their fans with short updates that clutter their news streams. I don’t understand what you mean when you say that Facebook is used for “too many other things” to be beneficial to marketing. Isn’t the real merit of social platforms to provide us with the ability to communicate about whatever it is that interests us? It doesn’t matter what platform you chose; there are people everywhere that care about you and what you’re offering. What matters is your ability to find those people and communicate your message effectively to them. That’s where a good social media strategy comes into play. What do you think?

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