brands as persons – the new facebook

Today’s post is a development out of a brief, light Twitter exchange over the new fan Facebook profile. I was drawn originally to social media strategist Carri Bugbee‘s perhaps humorous thought that Facebook had intentionally reduced the impact of brands on Facebook fan pages in order to force them to buy more ads to help traffic:

I felt that this was a wonderful, irony-flavored Tweet, and given some of Facebook’s recent problems with appearances of self-serving greed it had first-blush elements of traction. I think we all have our doubts about Facebook and I’ll go as far as most when imagining the nefarious but clever strategies of companies. The big problem is that Facebook’s new changes to the fan profile page have the potential to be such a game-changing boon to business I would say that this criticism really is diametrically opposed to the truth. Facebook has not reduced the number of ways that a business can reach its audience with messaging, it has multiplied them to almost a radical degree. Facebook has turned brands and companies into functional “persons”.

As I understood it, Carri’s major resistance to the changes has been the loss of the Facebook tabs. And to this I have great sympathy. Because the past page was so rigid, and the company’s role so boxed, tabs were one of the few ways that companies could creatively engage users with navigation and messaging. But the loss of tabs is really the loss of an old way of Facebooking for companies I contend. First of all, custom landing pages are still perhaps the most important way of controlling company messaging on Facebook. And for Real Estate companies for instance, very strong interactive apps on the landing page (through a company like Roost) can make up a great deal for the loss of the central visual of tabs. It would have been nice if we hadn’t spent so much time designing our pages with the tabs essentially in mind, and if Facebook had given us a much better heads up, but the changes have been impressive and generous.

First a Bit About the Pics

The most obvious thing that replaces the tabs is the top “film strip” of 5 pictures. I’ve written previously how this film strip image in the personal profile suddenly joins the FB picture ads on the right now to an entire frame of images, linking ads to all the visual information in a way that should lead to higher CTRs. Also, should be noted that by making the business oriented fan page in the same format as the personal page, the line between business and persons on Facebook is by design further blurred. That is a main goal of the Facebook changes. Additionally though Facebook has now given companies, in a swap for tabs, creative control over the prime real estate of the top of the page, from left margin to center. If companies are smart about the photos they present – if they don’t just want to use it to humanize themselves in casual shots like a personal FB page, this has real opportunity. It has been said that some companies are not photo-oriented companies, but this should be a simply fantastic space to work with. The image below shows what has been done with the 5 pictures. As a non-design man creativity to this extreme is not something I’ve ventured towards – and I am unsure how the auto mix is overcome, perhaps its is not – but one thing is clear a lot can be done with this space. Even just selecting images that convey your brand in a cycle can bring strong messaging that did not exist before:

image via mashable the techcrunch how to

Aside from this unusual new top space, the biggest changes to brand fan pages run quite a bit deeper. In fact so deep that the entire game of social marketing on Facebook has changed for businesses. Contrary to the intuition that brands have become more limited, it was in the previous state that they had be chained down, islanded as passive landing spaces that one had to lure people to through non-Facebook (or FB PPC) means. Suddenly now brands and companies have been given the power of “persons”. They can actively roam the social space of Facebook, and engage targeted users with great flexibility. As I’ll talk about they can build b2b relationships. They can brand associate and value themselves in countless ways previously barred.

Business, Brand and Person

I’m going to use as an illustrative example of the new fan Facebook pages my wife’s own fan Facebook page. My wife’s page is just a modest fan page. She is an amateur Muay Thai fighter and her YouTube page had gotten enough communications to suggest a social space would be best for all the interactions. It’s a niche page, but it represents the way in which Facebook is attempting to blur the line between business and person – brands and interests – in their profile change move. People make a mistake if they believe that it is only the big brand fan pages that are in play in the new model. Not at all. Fan pages are going to proliferate (that is what is behind the new Facebook identity toggle, the promotion of persons being multiple admins). They are not only going to represented big companies; more and more they are going to represent segmentations of personal lives, interests and activities. And it is in this context that the new powers of a business to act like a person (with interests) has to be appreciated. I’m going to use my wife’s small page to illustrate how brands and companies can now project their message, form valuable associative connections, increase impressions and much more. The main change that social marketing has brought to business is that brands have had to work harder to become personal, and because Facebook may be the most personal of social media spaces, being able to act as persons on Facebook is an essential new tool in this.

A main advantage of the new b2b relationships – let’s say b2b is brand to brand instead of business to business with the added understanding that even people now are operating as brands too –  is that when a fan page likes another fan page that page can appear in the left column sidebar as a form of free advertisement. Further, it operates as something of an endorsement. The fan page has control over which liked pages appear there, if they wish to chose to exercise it, but the biggest deal is that your business page will receive free impressions if you get another fan page to like it.

In the above example you can see that Alias Fight Wear gets prime placement pretty far up on her left margin. At least half of Sylvie’s followers are a choice demographic for Alias, and in fact Sylvie has a relationship with Alias as she is sponsored by them, and even writes for them. This goes possible Facebook relationship between company and endorser goes all the way up the commercial ladder. Fan pages can be braided to reflect explicit associations. But just above the Alias page is Master Toddy’s Muay Thai. This is company that Sylvie has no affiliation with at all, though in the realm of female Muay Thai it is an important brand name. It’s presence communicates something about Sylvie’s page and interest. Both of these are free, prime placements for both small companies in an audience that is receptive to their business. Neither placement has been pursued.

Now, it may be objected that Sylvie’s fan page is really just a person, why would a “real” brand like another real brand, and give free advertising. There are lots of reasons for this. One may be that larger, more prominent brands become valuable to other companies in the association because of the image they represent. Either the large brand confers a beneficial association of strength to the smaller company, or – and here is something missed in the move – it gives smaller companies the opportunity to act like persons. Let’s say a plumbing company likes the Starbucks fan page. Immediately there is an affinity established with other Starbucks lovers. The appearance of the Starbucks fan page in the sidebar can instantly humanize the plumbing company. They are coffee drinkers like us! Perhaps there are even associations towards hard work or late hours that come with the Starbucks fan page placement. Or think about the cloud of values that surrounds Starbucks followers:

image via the era of interest

The point of social media is to project a transparency towards the human beings within a company, and this can be accomplished through brand association. If an accountant business page likes the WSJ this is something that mutually serves both entities. In fact this hand-washing-hand can be the source of a substantial interweave of company to company connections, one that simply has not existed before this new Facebook page change. It’s one thing to quote a NY Times article on your business Facebook page, another thing to like the NY Times, something your followers might also do.

Carri brought up an excellent and serious point in our brief discussion. Companies have to be very careful who they endorse and travel with. Connection cuts two ways. A wrong turn and you get dragged down a public image alleyway you don’t want to go down. I can certainly see this to be the case with large corporations. The pages they like have to be select because they are making endorsements of a kind. All the same, encouraging other pages to like your page provides roots for your brand in very focused social spaces, associations that are as risky as having individual persons like your page. For companies smaller than the elite, fan page liking as a company is the opportunity to present yourself as a person in a personal space. A golden social media combination. A mix of business associations reflecting real partnerships, and the kind of likes that a person would make, go a long way to portraying what the business yet still emotive scope of the company is.

Becoming Biz Social on Facebook

This directs us to another feature of the new Facebook. When you have liked a fan page you can then post on that page, as a brand. Let me repeat that with more detail. You can present yourself to the focused audience of another page and if you do it with sympathy to that environment you can confer upon yourself the values of that page. Of course this should be done sensitively, but brand to page posting is a powerful capacity that has to be weighed. Consider below. A company with investment toward images of women’s health might like a Breast Cancer Awareness page, and post something in support on their project. If anything I want to communicate here, Facebook pages are not just big-boy brands duking it out for attention, where everyone is your enemy/competitor with the big risk of being associated with the wrong partner. They are a wide array of brands, interests and persons of increasing variety, and there is much to invest in in ways that may be far more effective than any Facebook ad would bring. A business can entered into the actual social conversation in a way that is analogous to the flexibility of conversation that Twitter affords. There are some increased risks, but in fact there are even bigger chances for gain, as long as they are strategized out.

An additional benefit to the direct association achieved through a wall post, if you wall-post on a liked page your post will then appear in the News Feed of all the followers of your own page (below). (It will also be seen in “recent activity” on your wall. ) It’s pretty significant if you are a business that tends to only broadcasts news about yourself, the kind of thing that only the most hardened followers would find interesting. Here, instead of putting a “deal” or a new blog post title into followers New Feeds, you can put evidence of an interaction on a topic obliquely connected to your brand. This lateral wall-post gives readers something to grasp onto other than the broadcast of your own wonderfulness, very much in the same way that a Twitter interaction might draw a user into a topic or a partner.

The idea of entering the conversation as a brand – a whole new para-advertising social space – involves actually entering the conversation. That is, as a fan page you can make a comment on a comment thread of a page you have liked. In the example below, not only has your brand liked the Starbucks page, perhaps posted on the Starbucks wall (and thus on your followers feed)  it now has made a comment on the post that is floated to the top of the everyone mode of the Starbucks wall. In everyone mode the first listing isn’t even a post by Starbucks, but is a post that is weighted by Facebook as the most interactive.  Commenting where others comment is a way of presenting the most social side of your brand. It not only portrays you as conversational, it also puts you in the context of users who have already commented. As with Twitter there are strong social etiquette restrictions on the mode of how you comment. But it is a rich source for brand exportation and image shaping.

There are additional sources of Facebook interaction that are possible now. How about liking a community activity page and posting comments there if you are a company that is connected to that region or the nature of those events? And if you are a Hudson Valley business, why would you not support those who are looking to further the community itself, even if you are not immediately invested in those events? There is much to be had here. Perhaps through interaction you can find yourself sponsoring a future event. Building real ties with those who already have a stake in your area can be beneficial for both, the business and the user.

And lastly, business names, brand associations, cause pages, area pages do not exhaust what a Facebook page can be. There are interest pages that do nothing more than provide anchors to interests (with a large number of followers). While the interaction here is minimal, it does allow a business to associate itself with broad interests that further personalize its presence, giving a potential user/follower of your page a point of identification: me too. Below is the Muay Thai interest page, but there are thousands of interest pages to like now.

The key is to build a profile of activities (likes, comments, posts) that illustrate the values and relationships that the brand expresses, just as a person would. While there are restrictions on businesses to just whom it is best to associate with, this new way of business to present themselves is unparalleled in the history of advertising (not to overstate it). We have to think differently. Social Media is not broadcast. As the line between brand and person continues to blur, as the variety of fan pages expands, the actions of a company in this environment necessarily will become more humanizing,  more value-rich. What Facebook has done is empower businesses to at least consider the ways that they can both export their brand, but also associate their brand in a much more identifiable way, far beyond the mere advertising sphere.

This is of course not yet to mention the urgently needed notification feature in the new page which enables real time admin interaction with posters,  or the multiplicity of poster ID toggles between pages which allows a much more fluid human commitment to administrating fan pages, as well as an additional ability to comment on your own page, as a person. These are immense improvements to the business side of Facebook that should change the way that fan pages are handled and experienced.

I really want to thank Carrie Bugbee for the impetus for writing this piece. It comes out of only a brief discussion we had, but it touched off a real enthusiasm for what Facebook is doing in this recent change.


Twitter Users As Different Dogs?

Tom Webster at Social Media Explorer discusses some data that he believes suggests that Twitter users are not expressive of either internet users, nor social network users. They instead are those that are most open to and interested in “asymmetric connections” with relative strangers.

Data like these do not reflect causal relationships, of course – merely correlations. In the case of Twitter, which is still a growing and developing organism that has yet to cross the chasm to mainstream adoption, these findings certainly don’t posit that Twitter itself has enabled group membership. Rather, it suggests that Twitter users – a small subset of overall social networking users – are more receptive to joining groups. In other words, Twitter does not encourage or necessarily even facilitate group behavior; instead, it rather neatly aggregates humans who are already predisposed to joining groups in the first place.

If you think this through, it is of course common sense and even axiomatic. After all, what else is Twitter and other asymmetric networks than a group of loosely related (or even unrelated) individuals, seeking connection with other humans outside of their normal social circles of comfort? Most people connect with social networking sites and services to retain or foster connections with people they already know, either currently or from their past. Twitter’s asymmetric nature is such that those who join Twitter and continue to use it past an initial trial (out of curiosity, say) are those who welcome asymmetric connections with heretofore unknown humans.

via Twitter Users And Receptivity.

I love the reference to asymmetric relations, and I do believe that Tom hits on a key there, but the initial paragraph above really overstates things. Data indeed CAN reflect causal relationships and not merely correlations, that is something to be uncovered. Also the conclusion that Twitter does not encourage or facilitate certain behaviors seems completely ungrounded to my eyes. Tom seems to feel that Twitter only gathers together a kind, a class of person, segregating them, but has no active role in what they are doing. This seems odd.

Indeed it would appear that the Twitter medium’s very asymmetric relations is central here. Clearly relationships are formed through Twitter, modes of information exchange, versions of intimacy forged that simply would not exist without it. The “one way glass” of Twitter invites (I would say encourages) the very exploration that Tom picks out as essential to groups. And successes on Twitter may very well bolster one’s social skills in this thin, fast, asymmetric way. Someone who may be slightly predisposed towards social extending, once becoming experienced with Twitter may very well become proficient in those modes. This is not even considering the specific ways in which Twitter can be used to find people with specific interests, be they lists or keyword search columns.

It isn’t just that there is a breed of dog out there, and Twitter acts like a net scooping them up unmodified and without growth. It seems more the case that IF there is a predisposed nature to Twitter users, it is indeed nurtured and given to thrive in Twitter environments. This goes a bit to Tom’s final point, that branding towards Facebook and Twitter indeed should be different…there is no one “social media” strategy.

As Twitter usage begins to creep towards a double digit percentage of Americans, it is likely that differences like these between social networking users in general and Twitter users specifically, if they continue to hold true, may indicate that Twitter users are more than simply the “early adopter” subset of social networking users. Rather, it may be that active Twitter users, with their predilections for  group membership and asymmetric relationships, really are different dogs.

In other words, if you don’t have differential strategies for Facebook and Twitter (and are instead merely broadcasting similar messages across both), you are potentially missing significant opportunities for segmentation and tailored communications.

I certainly agree that strategies need to be different for different medium. And I do agree that Twitter users express different thresholds and needs for social interaction. What I would like to add is that such a strategy needs to see Twitter itself as more than an aggregate of a class of users. Rather, it needs to be seen as an active culturing of these predispositions. If indeed Twitter users are open to asymmetry, speed, thinness of communication, breadth of connection, pin-point brevity, but prone to group joining, then it is in the language of these things that brand strategy makes the most sense.

One of the most productive aspects of this may be that Twitter users as natural explorers among the anonymous, are the best Brand carriers.