An evolving network - understanding Facebook's recent changes

Facebook: evolving
Facebook: evolving

Facebook has seen many changes over the past few months that impact upon marketers, writes Colin Grieves, general manager of Alchemy Social, an Experian Company.

Changes in usage patterns and devices on which users access the site have come at the same time as the platform itself has evolved the services that it offers - such as the introduction of clickable hashtags and video ads. All this makes for a rapidly shifting environment for brands operating on the platform and to succeed, marketers must take a step back and embrace such changes while keeping the customer at the centre of their campaigns.

Vital Statistics

The news that Facebook had 24 million daily active users in the UK is an exciting statistic for marketers – but the fact that the site also claimed 26 million monthly active users and 20 million daily active users on mobile explains why, from an advertising point of view, we’ve really seen Facebook focus its efforts on mobile – with the news feed becoming the hub of activity.

The numbers reported by Facebook reflect the rise of the always on consumer, who is continuously and digitally connecting with brands across a number of channels. Indeed our own research into the most connected consumer groups has revealed the following regarding Social Butterflies, a group generally  made up of young females about town aged 18-24:

 - Three times more likely to access social networks across every connected device than other groups.

- Three-and-half times more like to purchase something seen on a social network.

 - Four times more likely to purchase something recommended by peers in this environment.

With such large numbers of people accessing Facebook across a range of different devices, marketers must make the most of the data at their fingertips to ensure that they understand their target audience and can make Facebook pages, posts and campaigns fresh and engaging. This includes data from Facebook itself – such as using information on which posts are most popular to help develop future posts – but it is also important to look at data beyond this platform to assess customer lifetime value, for example.

Facebook Video

An additional change seen this year for the social network was the launch of autoplay video adverts within the news feed. Certainly, online video continues to gain momentum, with Experian Hitwise data showing that the UK internet population spent 323 million hours watching online video content in February 2013, accounting for 100 million more hours viewing compared to the same period in 2012, an increase of 45 per cent.

Facebook has long targeted an environment where content was almost indistinguishable from advertising.

Facebook has long targeted an environment where content was almost indistinguishable from advertising and the Facebook video announcement is at least partially driven by that vision. User attention spans are shorter online than when watching TV and you could argue that Twitter’s Vine, with its six second video length, provides a better user experience with short focused clips. However, advertisers will want more time to deliver their message. Facebook has chosen 15 second slots which it believes, while half the length of a traditional TV slot, will best balance the needs of users and advertisers.

High production costs will eventually cause a consensus to be reached amongst the major digital channels. Although online video continues to go from strength-to-strength, brand advertisers will not want to produce one advert each for TV, Instagram, Vine and YouTube, and this should drive standardisation. Fifteen second slots therefore seem like a quite reasonable compromise.

Facebook hashtags

Facebook developed a pre-existing targeting capability called ‘topics’ within their keyword systems, these are rolled up keywords with hashes like ‘#football’ rather than more specific, hash-less, keywords like ‘liverpoolfc’. Enabling real hashtags will improve the quality of the data used for these ‘roll-ups’.

This new tool could also open the door for a sponsored trends ad product akin to Twitter’s, although that will depend on how visible the eventual trend functionality is within the system. If it’s on the home page it will have enough visibility and would justify consideration of a new ad product.

Data is king

As our recent Always On Consumer study showed, the customer should always be an individual at the centre of a marketing strategy. This is true across all channels, and particularly so on Facebook, where marketers can reach people on a personal level. Marketers should take advantage of new technologies rolled out by Facebook, as well as consumer insight and data released by the company, which can help reveal both broad and subtle behavioural habits to help inform not only their Facebook activities but also those across other channels.

In today’s world of cross-channel marketing, marketers must work in less siloed environments; sharing information about the successes and challenges of TV adverts, email campaigns and more to inform Facebook activity. It is this intelligent use of cross-channel data linkage that can make the difference between a poorly focused campaign which lacks engagement, and a highly targeted and impactful campaign which makes use of all the latest technologies available to reach an increasingly demanding audience.

This article was first published on The Wall Blog

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