This week, Facebook announced “Applications for Timeline,” including a freshman set of 60 partners. The focus, as expected, is on entertaining, highly social activities such as fashion, music, fitness, food and travel. The idea is that people can now integrate apps into their timeline that reflect particular interests, allowing them to share–and learn from–friends with the same interests. Some of the initial partners include Foodspotting, Ticketmaster, Pose, Pinterest, Rotten Tomatoes and TripAdvisor.
On the face of it, it’s a fairly straightforward announcement–it’s no surprise that Timeline would become a major locus for development–but there are a few interesting implications for brands to think about, even at this early stage.
1. Building a richer experience for customers and community
Facebook says they are now approving any app that wants to integrate with Facebook and Timeline. The initial partner set is mostly composed of small companies, but note that Washington Post, USA Today and Ticketmaster are also launch partners. This should prompt brands to think about how and whether they should consider building a Timeline app as part of a holistic engagement strategy.
The point is not to create another push marketing vehicle, or spark another apps frenzy as we saw with smartphones and iPads, but to be brutally honest about how such an app could be of value to the user. The best apps will make people smarter about what they and their friends are doing, aid in discovery of interests and new friends, and provide entertainment and informational value.
It goes without saying (yes I’m saying it anyway) that new types of interactions carry the potential for unforeseen privacy implications, so companies must be scrupulous to build in appropriate controls at the outset.
2. Engaging based on the interest graph and the social graph
I love my friends, but I don’t always share their interests in fashion, music and travel. But there are plenty of people–friends, or friends of friends–whose interests I share, and I learn about new bands, books, dishes to try, places to visit and tons of other things from them.
Adding apps to Timeline makes it easier for brands to host communities of people with similar interests, leveraging not only the social graph but also the interest graph, which is by definition more targeted. The implication is that an interest graph grants you access to like-minded people, not just friends, and data about who influences whom. This could be the seed of advocacy and influencer programs of the future.
3. Insight into the impact of social engagement on your business
One of the most intriguing implications of OpenGraph has been the idea that Facebook can now move beyond the ubiquitous (and not very meaningful) “Like” button to a more granular view of attitudes and actions. The impact to brands is that more granular action buttons yield more granular data, so they can start to better understand just how people interact with them in the social sphere. For this reason, one of the most interesting apps I saw at the launch was by Ticketmaster, which lets users share their event-related plans, invitations, recommendations, and even purchase tickets from within the app.
What’s useful for social analytics wonks is that the action buttons correspond cleanly not only to points in the traditional marketing funnel (after all, “I want to go” correlates with consideration/intent), but that people can also invite, recommend or buy tickets (i.e., convert) from there.
This is critically important for businesses who are becoming frustrated with the difficulty of correlating social media activity with direct revenue generation. True, revenue should not be the primary (short-term) objective of social media, and not every brand will lend itself to such a clear and clean use case, but that is part of what companies need to learn if we are to integrate social media successfully into business strategy and measure it effectively.
For that reason, I would recommend that organizations approach Timeline as a way to test and learn about how people behave and interact, whether they’re consumables, luxury, nonprofit or even B2B brands. This may be frustrating initially, but learning more about how people interact with you across platforms, channels and media is ultimately of tremendous value–even if you end up discovering something very different from what you had originally intended.