From search to social
Close to 1/5th of total time spent online is spent on Facebook. This is a huge shift from the composition of web activity eight years ago when Facebook first began. Back then, it was a search-focused web. Most content creation and consumption happened on siloed web pages and search functioned as a bridge to this content. Google became synonymous with “search” and built an empire that dominated the web.
Search is not dead
Let me be clear, this is not a “search is dead” post. Search is far from dead, and phrases like that are overly simplistic at best. It’s not that search is shrinking, it’s that the web is growing and this growth is outpacing search. This growth is very much related to the seemingly infinite channels of content creation with Facebook leading the charge.
The roles of search and social
Search is still the best way to find a product or service you are looking for. It is still the top driver of traffic for most websites. People go to search when they have a problem to solve and hopefully your website will have that solution. But seeking solutions to problems is just a slice of the time spent on the web. The rest of the time is spent browsing the abundance of content created and Facebook is the biggest window we have to display that content. The majority of users use brand sites and retailers to research and buy products and services, and search is their gateway to these sites. Facebook, however, is a place where people are sharing news, favorite products, reviews, movies, games, and anything else that interests them.
The content boom
Not only is Facebook the biggest repository of content, it is usually relevant to us because it is content created by a trusted source, friends and family. This trusted source is often an important factor in deciding on the next car you buy, or the insurance company you choose, the hotel you stay in, restaurant you will have dinner at, or your next smartphone. Because this high-value content is constantly streaming through Facebook, we are checking Facebook daily for the next insight into our social network’s behavior which will have an impact on our own.
The problem: A needle in a haystack
Given the above, the obvious value in this behavioral shift from search to social media is the sheer volume of content now present on the social networks. The downside is that the content on Facebook is disorganized. Specifically for brands, most of the content and interaction exists in the form of comments and likes. Now with the new OpenGraph, application developers can do more by contextualizing interactions into objects and actions like “books” and “read,” respectively. But Timeline for brands does not yet include these new OpenGraph improvements.
The solution: Facebook applications
By effectively using and promoting Facebook applications on your brand pages, you can convert the unstructured smorgasbord of content on your timeline into reviews, questions, polls, feedback, and other structured data types that can be used and tracked across your different channels. Facebook applications give you the ability to structure your conversations with fans. They remove the nebulous “comment” structure inherent on your Timeline. If someone asks a question on your timeline, how do they know when it is answered? How can that answer be shown to others that have that question about the same product? When someone shares their experience with a product on the timeline, how do other users shopping for that product on your website see this experience? They can’t because the content is lost in the noise of your timeline stream. It can’t be leveraged elsewhere. Facebook applications should push and pull content to and from the Facebook Timeline, while page owners should be able to leverage this content in meaningful ways across all channels.
Another advantage of contextualizing content with Facebook applications is the ability to better track the impact of the content. Tracking the impact or value of a comment on your Timeline is next to impossible. Facebook applications give you far more flexibility in terms of attributing value to the content created within the application. For example, a cosmetics company could create a polling app that learns a customer’s hair color or eye color and stores it in CRM for future campaign targeting. Or a review created in a Facebook application can be used in the purchase path of your users.
What do you do with your content on Facebook? What metrics to you use to indicate the usefulness of content collected?