Now that 2013 is well underway, we are going to take a quick look back on some changes in one of our favourite subjects here at Costa Connected – that’s right, Facebook.
Facebook is indeed an old friend in social media terms, famously founded in a Harvard dorm room in 2004. Over the past couple of years though it tipped and went mainstream- the point at which most people you meet can probably be expected to be ‘on Facebook’ to some extent or another. They might not be a power user running several business Pages, administering groups, and pulling in feeds from other networks on their smartphones – but most likely your parents and their friends and your kids and their friends, have a Facebook profile and are part of the 1 billion people actively using the service.
But now that this point has been achieved and we have all started to take the use of Facebook for granted as part of our lives, it’s payback time. When you sign up for a profile, you are told that ‘Facebook is FREE and always will be’, but it is also one of the biggest businesses in the world, and makes money out of you every day.
It’s funny, because when launching the IPO Facebook made it clear that for them it was not about profit. “Simply put: we don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services,” stated Zuckerberg, in the public filing. However when that public becomes new shareholders, certain values and priorities have to shift a bit to keep pace – and you can expect that pace to accelerate in 2013.
The problem was the little ads that used to occupy the bottom right of the screen on Facebook simply weren’t working. However well targeted they were – and that is the big attraction for advertisers, being able to laser-align your ad to users who are exactly targeted for your offer – if people don’t notice them they are never going to click. And if they don’t click, then Facebook doesn’t make any money. It’s like banner ads, we aren’t looking at them, we fail to see them… So in recent months, Facebook tried two primary tactics to drive us to interact with their ads.
The first of these simply used eye-tracking technology (and commonsense) to put their ads we might actually stumble across and notice them – that is, our newsfeeds. Suggested posts, sponsored stories, trending articles… noticed them? Stuff you haven’t actually subscribed to, but Facebook thought you might be interested in. Sometimes you are interested, because this is quite targeted and carefully chosen, but that advertiser has paid for it to be put in front of you. And one big change has been the suggested posts and pages on mobile – it’s hard to believe but a few months ago Facebook had essentially NO way of monetizing it’s mobile applications, because of the lack of right sidebar space. Now, when you fire up your mobile Facebook app you have to scroll past at least one ‘suggested’ commercial post to reach your content.
The second and more controversial way Facebook attempted to leverage its big data archive to sell you more stuff was the use of ‘ sponsored stories’ – you might like this because your friend likes it. At the time of writing various legal challenges to this use of your preferences are still outstanding, suffice to say that a lot of users object to being used by Facebook to flog stuff to their mates. Big surprise. Social proof is an essential part of the new economy, but users like to stay in control of it – if I want to recommend something to my friends online for free I may be happy to do so, but I’d prefer to decide for myself. All of this can be opted out of, and we will be reviewing recent Facebook privacy changes in a few week’s time, so stay tuned.
Back to making money however, for businesses as well as individuals the ‘give it away long enough to get you deeply hooked’ model was also employed, when exposure of Facebook Page posts was dramatically slashed in the early autumn of 2012. Instead of reaching most of the people who had liked your Page at some point, suddenly you were reaching only a few percent by default – with the option to pay to ‘promote’ those posts you wanted to reach further. Later in the year the ‘promote’ option started to appear in personal profile postings as well, which is far more weird. Business messages are one thing, but if I have a really important personal status do I want to pay Facebook to promote it to my friends? I expect soon we will see notification of who has actually read our status (as we do in groups), or at least numbers (as we do in Pages), to encourage us to pay to promote our latest personal stuff. Strange world.
Coming soon to a Timeline near you: Facebook offers (already rolling out in Europe), paid messaging (non friends /mutual friends able to pay to message your main inbox), and many more ways to feed those poor starving shareholders. Whatever you think of Facebook’s approach – sound business strategy, monetizing a social service so they can reinvest and add new features…. or more like a street corner meth pusher first getting you hooked on the free stuff then calling in the payment – expect to see more monetization as Facebook progresses into 2013. Always remember your eyeballs and attention are Facebook’s product not their customer, and you will know where you stand and pretty much what to expect.
Published in Costa Blanca News, January 18th 2013