Birth of a simple gesture
Facebook made a fundamental shift in its approach to social interaction with the introduction of Open Graph and social plugins. It started with ability to “Like” content and Facebook Pages from anywhere on the web, which at the time was a seismic change. But now the next chapter is underway.
The “Like” supreme
As Facebook continued to grow and brands became more focused on reaching people through the social network, “Likes” (formerly “Fans”) became the de facto measurement of success. There is no shortage of conversation citing what seems obvious: in a social environment, engagement is the metric of importance. Merely amassing an innocuous indicator of affinity does not signal a healthy social community, all it signals is one of a certain scale.
“Likes” can be misleading
For instance, let’s say I decide to “Like” U2. By taking that action both Facebook and U2 will know something about me, but the knowledge gained carries little depth.
As an action, “Liking” something is a broad-based statement that often signals something different than what a Page owner or administrator might think. For instance, if I “Like” U2, do I like a U2 song or do I like the band in general? Did I attend every U.S. concert since 1997, or is their latest song a turning point where I now align with their musical style? Or maybe I just clicked the “Like” button to gain entry into a contest.
“Liking” is a generalized activity that happens only once, and herein lies the fundamental change that the revamped Open Graph and Open Graph actions bring. By interacting regularly and with more detail, a user’s actions are far more telling.
Actions are coming
Facebook’s Platform Product Manager, Eddie O’Neil, provided a succinct explanation of what Open Graph actions allow in a recent post on Facebook’s developer blog: “Starting today, developers can build apps that let people add anything they love to their Timelines–whether it’s eating, traveling, shopping, running or taking pictures.”
Under the new rules I can still “Like” U2 on Facebook, but Facebook Applications leveraging Open Graph actions can provide far more telling interactions. You may have already seen the shift with Spotify, the DRM-based music streaming service. If one of your Facebook friends listens to a song through Spotify’s actions-enabled application, Spotify posts artwork related to that song in your Newsfeed as well as the ability to listen to the song. That’s the status update. What it creates, however, is a different relationship with the band because you are actively listening to them.
Facebook recently approved 59 additional applications that produce similar results, which means you’ll likely see mention of everything from exercising and cooking to driving and knitting. You name it, the information is coming.
Facebook is also moving towards something called “frictionless sharing.” Once someone authorizes an application to share his activities, the application need not ask permission again. It may sound intrusive, but if Spotify asked permission to post each new song in a playlist it wouldn’t take long before the requests became annoying.
Assuming users don’t revolt at that level of permission, marketers will have access to a deeper set of information that will allow for more targeted advertising campaigns, which in turn should produce more effective advertising results. This is good news for advertisers, but the clear winner is Facebook. The lion’s share of Facebook revenue comes from Facebook Ads, and improving the performance of those ads yields more revenue.
“Like” lust no more?
Facebook Insights, the analytics tool for page administrators, has also shifted focus away from “Like” metrics to refocus administrators on reach and engagement. What people do, and what they share on and off of Facebook through Open Graph applications is the future that Facebook sees.
But analytics aren’t the only change. A Facebook user is no longer required to “Like” a Facebook Page in order to interact with the content or post on the Wall. Additionally, Facebook is aggressively making a case that marketers need to advertise to not only grow, but to engage their audience. In 2011, Facebook actively pushed Sponsored Stories, a way of getting advertisements in front of friends of those who interacted with a brand. As alluded to earlier, the latest advertising method released allows targeting based on actions taken when using Open Graph applications.
Does that mean that the “Like” is going way? Not yet. And maybe not ever. But as Facebook continues to improve its engagement models, the algorithms could mature to where they provide a better gauge of which content it should put in front of users without having to rely on the “Like” button.