What Facebook's New Platform Means for your Business

The online world’s been buzzing about the bold announcements at Facebook’s third f8 developer conference yesterday, where Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg discussed his vision of the new social web and unrolled the next version of the Facebook platform.

While this conference was primarily aimed at developers, here are 3 announcements that have significant implications for businesses and users – Social Plugins, Open Graph protocol, and Graph API.

Social Plugins are the “like”/“recommend” buttons or widgets that allow users to share content from any site with their social network. Here’s the “like” button on Levis.com, which is one of the 30 launch partners along with Microsoft and CNN.com.

Levis.com

The Open Graph protocol is the rebranded Facebook Connect but “on steroids”. Developers using this protocol will enable users to “like” and “recommend” content anywhere on the internet as long as the Social Plugins  are enabled on that site.

This allows users to share information back to their Facebook social hub without ever leaving the page or website. Facebook claims that this will enable companies/website developers to,

“ integrate your web pages into a user’s social graph and also allows your pages to be seen across Facebook: in user profiles, within search results and in News Feed.”

This move brings users closer to the “semantic web” than ever before, where any website can automatically recognize the user and serve up relevant content without requiring multiple logins. With Open Graph, all information on user’s preferences and social graph is delivered directly to the website (from Facebook) so the users can effortlessly share and recommend their favorite products to their social network, all of which is great for marketing.

Graph API reflects Facebook’s push towards a more open social web and putting the onus back on the users to pro-actively manage their privacy settings but it remains to be seen how users feel about that responsibility once this is rolled out widely. Facebook is simplifying all its individual privacy permissions into one unified permission.

However, this convenience will come at a price – users may not have much control over how much of their data should be shared with an external site and how their data is being shared or used by those sites.

What adds some more complexity is that Facebook is asking their developers to have their own privacy policies which means that users will have to be diligent in reviewing the policy for every site where they have opted to share their data, it’s not Facebook’s responsibility.

“In addition, with explicit user consent, you can use their data for purposes beyond displaying it back to the user. However, you’ll now need to have your own privacy policy and enable users to delete all of their data from your app.”

Also, for company websites (where this is enabled), it’s not clear if there’s any responsibility on part of the company to safeguard the user information, given there is personal data flowing between Facebook and other sites, which raises some privacy concerns.

These social plugins don’t provide option to “unlike” or share negative reviews of products, which is great for marketers, not so good for consumers. I believe this will complement rather than replace the existing reviews/ratings feature which are widely implemented on most retail sites.

This move also strengthens Facebook’s control over any and all social data, which will reside on Facebook hub not on the company’s website so if you’re a business, you will be dependent on Facebook for access to that social data.

Some additional great news for businesses is that Facebook will be able to provide analytics on their users’ social behavior, which would help in more targeted marketing. However, this move towards “social web” makes Facebook the de facto owner of all social data on these users and could potentially charge for access to this data in the future. This is a bit scary and as MG Siegler points out,

“that’s a lot of power for a still-private company to have.”

Overall, this is a game changing move for Facebook, which is already nearing a formidable 500million visitors per month, according to ComScore. But as they say the Devil is in the details and many of the questions/concerns will be hopefully addressed as this becomes widely deployed.

Here are some great write ups, if you want to learn more:

Debunking the Top Three Social Media Myths for Business

As social media has evolved, so have the myths. Here are the top three fallacies that are widely prevalent in the corporate circles and if left unchallenged, these can do serious damage to your business and brand.

Every Company Should have a Blog

I’ve heard so many “experts” claim that every business needs a blog, so here’s a reality check for all blog advocates – corporate spin by any other name and in any format is still…corporate spin. Unless, the medium is used for what it’s intended, i.e. genuine dialogue/conversation with the readers, a blog is no more effective than a static web page. There are plenty of examples of really bad corporate blogs out there, which should be pulled down because the content is outdated and/or in many cases, it’s just a rehash of the company press releases.

Companies and “experts’ who are fixated on blogs are missing the point. At end of the day, this isn’t (and shouldn’t be) about bragging rights because your company has hundreds of blogs but rather focused on what really matters - meeting and even exceeding your customer needs.

It’s a fallacy that every company needs a blog, because what a company really needs is a medium to engage with and deliver value to its customer, regardless of format. It’s perfectly acceptable for companies to leverage forums, external social networks like Linkedin and Twitter to engage with their customer base rather than force them to read a badly written corporate blog post.

Listening is Critical in Social Media

I’ve said it before and here it is again, “listening” was not invented by social media experts and companies should be open to all feedback regardless of whether it originated in traditional media or social media. Customer feedback is critical to any company’s continued success and just because a customer emailed the feedback instead of tweeting it, shouldn’t make the feedback any less (or more) valuable. 

Smart companies already had programs in place, to gather and route feedback from customers, prospects, influencers and other critical stakeholders, before the advent of the social media. Granted that enabling technologies for monitoring the social media landscape may be new(er) but without an overarching framework/plan for using all that customer data, the “listening” part is quite pointless.

Anyone can “do” Social Media

Just because anyone and their granny can update their Facebook status, doesn’t mean that anyone in the company can “do” social media. Engaging on a social network in the business setting requires people skills and the ability to communicate effectively (even under pressure) on a public forum. In addition, social media roles such as blogging require content creation skill sets like solid writing and subject matter expertise, so the blogger can add value to their readers.

Social media has evolved from random tweeting and blogging to a sophisticated medium that should be taken seriously because it has serious implications for your brand. Companies should staff their teams with the right talent rather than handing off social media to the first employee who signs up, because regardless of what the “experts” say, your customers deserve better.

Let me know if there are other myths you would add to this list.

The 3 Critical Ws of a Successful Social Media Listening Program

Social Media listening is all the rage these days but many companies are still struggling to do it right because the tendency is to substitute technology for business objectives and processes. 

This may be good news for the social media vendors, but not so good for your business. Whether you’re trying to set up your very first social media listening program or evaluating your current program, here are the 3 critical Ws that no business can afford to ignore.

Note: I use the terms listening and monitoring interchangeably, although one could argue that monitoring is much more pro-active while listening seems somewhat passive.

Why? Define your objective.

Listening may be the new black but it’s certainly not something that was invented by social media “experts”. Any smart company knows that listening to customers is critical to the continued success of business and while the medium may have been different in the past, the need to listen has always existed. The challenge with social media is that it’s tough to keep up with vast amounts of complex, unstructured conversations across multitudes of social channels. And that brings us to our first W of social media listening - ”Why”.

Clearly define your listening objective (closely tied to your business objective) at the outset of your listening program as this will keep your program on track and less likely to get distracted by all the noise in the social media space.

Some good examples of listening objectives : Customer support questions/complaints, competitive news, product/company mentions, etc.

Tip: Having clear objectives will help you define your success metrics and help prove the value of your program.

Where? Determine the key social channels.

For many companies starting a new program, it’s a challenge figuring out where to start because there are many different social channels (including blogs) and not all social channels are created equal. The second “W” - Where to focus your listening efforts will be partly determined by your objective and your target audience. 

When in doubt, ask your customers about their social media preferences and where they prefer to engage.It can be as simple as sneaking in an additional question in your annual customer survey (assuming your company does one) or conduct some primary research to understand their preferences. This will, at the very least, give you a starting point and you can slowly broaden your listening program to include other sites, as needed.

Tip: Focusing on a few key social channels (internal or external) rather than trying to  can focus on the channels that are most relevant to your audience.

Who? Identify the right person/team to receive the (listening) information.

One critical part that’s often overlooked (and typically underfunded) in the social media listening  programs is “human intervention”. You may have the best listening platform that money can buy but unless there’s someone actively analyzing all the gathered conversational data and the information is routed to the right person/team for action, it’s a pointless exercise.

There are two key parts to this human element in a social media listening program: Folks who listen and folks who respond/engage/use the data. It’s much more easier when the folks who are doing the listening are the ones tasked with taking action. For example, when the customer support group is actively listening and responding to customer queries/complains. However, in companies with centralized social media programs, it is critical to identify the end user/s for the gathered data.

Tip: Start with one functional area or product/service group and get all the kinks ironed out before rolling out the program company-wide.

Bottom line: Clearly define your listening objectives, focus on the most relevant social sites/channels, and last but most importantly, route the information to the right person/team for action.

SF Giants Tweetup – Clever Use of Social Media or Overkill?

Apparently, the San Francisco Giants are planning the largest Tweetup at a baseball event in history, which (in theory) sounds like a great idea. I am all in favor of sports leagues using social media to connect with their fan base, build loyalty and all that good stuff.

But I would love to find out how many folks think it’s a good idea to host a ”panel discussion with social media experts” at a ball game???

And I guess they got so busy with planning this historic Tweetup that they forgot to tell their fan base about this.

Even if we assume the target audience is actually crazy enough about social media to pay $$ to spend quality time with these unknown “experts” , but what about the game? There’s no mention of tickets to the game and whether those are included in this super-duper deal.

So, out of sheer curiosity, love of the game and of course, cheap beer, you decide to ”Buy Tickets Now” (as I did), only to cry foul because there’s no mention of this package with the “extra-special t-shirt” and other goodies.

Whatever happened to the $20 offer? Is that in addition to the ticket price or is the Tweetup included in this final price tag? I am just baffled there are no additional details provided on this offer or is the hope that the fans will be able to figure this all out on their own?

While, I wish the  organizers good luck in their attempt at this historic record, I (along with others) can’t help but wonder if this is a good use of social media.

What do you think? Does SF Giants’ use of social media merit a mention as pure genius or does it deserve to go down in history as a prime example of social media overkill?