Some quick snap reactions to the February 29 announcements today at the Facebook Marketing Conference:
- The Timeline for Pages features seem to be a matter of both give and take. Pages get Timeline functionality, which is now the standard view of both Pages and Profiles. Users can interact with local businesses, brands, non-profits, and people using the same look & feel.
- This is a huge investment in this new structure... Facebook will be very motivated to (over time) make Timeline the default structure for all Pages & Profiles, whereas it is a choice right now. It's just easier to manage with a single data & UI structure.
- Default landing pages are no more -- this only impacts pages of 5,000 Fans or more. But the default view is now the Timeline. Custom tabs are still available, but only four will be immediately visible on the Page. A user will have to click to see more custom tabs. The concept of custom tabs has been on the decline for awhile, and this will only accelerate the trend.
- Fans can send private messages to Pages. Another step in the homogenizing of the Page/Profile experience. To my knowledge, it doesn't yet work the other way around.
- Sticky posts on Fan Pages -- you can give your Fans an extra incentive to post to your Wall by making the best posts from your Fans persistent. This is similar to what happens in Forums and is a very nice new feature for Page Admins.
- Timeline is optimized around your *friends* interactions with a Brand or Company. So it's a way to see only relevant information to you as it relates to a Page. This will really force marketers to optimize around good feedback from people -- because that's what their friends will see when they visit the Page.
- Maps will have prominent real estate on the new Pages, which will be a benefit for local businesses. It will actually bring Facebook local business listings closer to parity with Yelp listings and Google Local Business listings -- and that will be interesting as local/SMB competition intensifies.
- Facebook Offers will be made available to Fans, which in my opinion will revolutionize loyalty. Facebook has created the largest contributory database in the world, and with it a huge % of the world's population. Offers to Fans will drive a huge amount of commerce to participating businesses. In so doing, it will also crush a lot of startups working on this very problem.
- Facebook is introducing Logout Ads to brands, unlocking ad space for the 37 million people per day who actually log out. It's revolutionary because someone will be forced to see an ad, watch a video, or perform some task before logging out. Yes, it's a captive audience -- but it's less than 5% of the total Facebook audience. And it may just annoy people more than it unlocks value.
- Speaking of, Facebook is now allowing ad units to sit in the News Feed alongside real News Feed stories as a premium ad unit. I can't help but think this is a short-sighted move -- if the feature is opened up to everyone. But I'm guessing this will be sold to brands who desperately want News Feed placement -- and will be willing to pay to guarantee it. Even so, how this is executed will be key. It's an art, not a science.
- Facebook will allow you to target mobile users -- iPad, iPhone, Android -- and will put these ads in the News Feed. This is a good development that puts it at parity with Google's Adwords offering.
All told, ads are about to get much more prominent in the Facebook experience. In the past, Users have briefly complained about major changes but have come to accept them. We'll see what happens this time.
Some of the moves are IMO justifiable -- Facebook ad CTRs are very low. Some of these changes are designed to address poor CTR performance. I'm glad to see they are doing that, although I think this will bring about increased ad costs for advertisers -- sooner rather than later. Advertisers will get more clicks for their money, however, so it isn't without a tradeoff.
It should be noted that Facebook is doing this at the same time it is preparing for its IPO. I don't think that's a coincidence. Facebook is under pressure to not just nail their projected ads revenue numbers, but dramatically exceed them. That's what happens when you get a 20x revenue multiple the day you IPO, and it might end up higher than that.
Unfortunately, the story is not over by any means. Many of these changes will roll out over the next 2-3 months. We don't know the full impacts on workflows, costs, and marketing campaigns for awhile. We also won't know how all of this impacts the type of ads that we see -- whether smaller businesses will be able to effectively use Facebook or if they'll be drowned out by big brands.
To me, the big question is whether or not Facebook can pull off this ambitious set of changes elegantly. My hunch is that you'll see Facebook increasingly littered with corporate ads/promotions, and User outcry will be loud. Will it be enough for people to migrate away? Zuck's bet is a resounding "no". We shall see.