Facebook: A handy roundup of latest developments and commercial opportunities

31st October 2016

Although it is nearly seven years since Time Magazine observed that Facebook was ‘the site that ate the internet’, in the intervening years the social network has only increased its influence in the digital space and beyond.

In the 2016 Interbrand ranking of world’s most valuable brands, Facebook climbed eight places up the list to 15th, and is the fastest grower, with its brand value up almost half (48%) to $32.6bn.

On a daily basis, developments at Facebook take up a large amount of digital news column inches; but what do all the recent changes mean for marketers?

How can you best take advantage of the ever-changing opportunities on Facebook’s many channels?

Here then, are some highlights of the latest commercial opportunities with Facebook.

Facebook Workplace

Facebook’s first enterprise offering has hit the ground running, claiming 1,000 global organisations and 100,000 groups, many of which had been using the previous service, Facebook at Work.

Here are some of the pros of the new service:

1. It could be a platform to tap into a new generation of workers.

Workplace gives millennials a platform they are already comfortable with, and one which could more easily create new relationships in the workplace.

2. Workplace offers ease of communication, connectivity between members and the potential to help individuals understand more about their work environment and network, by assessing large amounts of personal data.

But here are some of the cons:

1. Facebook is late on the scene, with services like Slack already well established.

2. Workplace is not connected to the systems people are already using.

Employees, will still have to go to Salesforce, SAP or Oracle to view their records.

3. Workplace’s big claim is that it will eliminate email. This is a promise made before and always without success.

Email is the place people spend their work time; it’s the place they go to receive and share information with colleagues and customers.

It will be hard, even impossible, to wean them off it.

4. Finally, what will companies think about giving even more of their precious information to Facebook.

Robot shopping

Facebook is back again with its latest ecommerce iteration, following a few failed attempts in this area.

Facebook’s new ecommerce capability allows Messenger bots to accept payments without requiring users to leave the app.

People with credit card information stored with Facebook or Messenger will be able to make instant purchases within the bots of their favorite stores and services.

Launch partners include Booker, BookingBug, Front Desk, HomeAdvisor, MyTime, Pingup, Schedulicity, Setster and Simplybook.me.

Amongst other things users can now order food, request an appointment, get a quote and buy tickets.

For more on this topic, read Econsultancy’s post looking at why chatbots are an important opportunity for retailers.

Facebook Live

Although launched back in April, Facebook Live has been in the news recently as a result of Donald Trump launching a nightly talk show on this channel, seeking to avoid ‘biased’ liberal news media in the US.

But what are the opportunities here for brands and businesses?

Facebook Live offers the opportunity to add to your PR efforts, or even offer up next level support for clients.

Some of the key areas to consider when setting up and screening a Facebook Live event are:

  • The audience: Getting the time right; when will your audience be at its largest and most receptive?
  • Production: Lighting (employ LED work lights) and sound (use the right microphones) are hugely important.
  • Connectivity: Ensure a very strong WiFi connection.
  • Promotion: Start a good time in advance and maintain updates with regular frequency leading up to the event. Ensure a clear and concise description of the event in all communications
  • The Event: Provide good context to maximise relevance, generate high levels of interaction, and make the event ‘real’ rather than ‘staged’.

Word of Mouth

This is a new feature that makes it easier for users to get and organize recommendations in one place and allows them to put out a call for recommendations from their connections.

When they are writing a status update seeking advice, Facebook will detect the query via its machine learning systems and suggest that they turn on recommendations for the post.

The focus here is on highlighting local businesses – one can switch on the feature for any post in which recommendations are being sought, but the map feature only provides assistance when a query relates to geographic proximity.

The tool will provide additional discovery potential for local businesses, though the businesses themselves will have no control over how they’re recommended or highlighted.

Of course, it could also lead to businesses working with well-connected local influencers to have them recommend their services in a related query, but given the tool is built to work within an established friend networks, it’ll likely be difficult to influence commercially.

Worth however, keeping an eye on this to see how it develops.

Going out

Facebook’s been working to improve its events offering, launching a new, dedicated events app recently, in order to capitalize on the millions of people who use Facebook Events every month.

In addition to the new app, Facebook has also re-vamped the Events bookmark within Facebook itself.

The update makes it easier to see what events are happening in your area, as well as those that your friends are either hosting or attending, and events that you’re likely to be interested in, based on past activity.

A good opportunity here for businesses in the experiential and events space to promote their offering.

Facebook Marketplace

Launched a month ago, this venture hit the UK headlines for the wrong reasons, as illegal and inappropriate items went on sale at the outset.

Ecommerce businesses will already see this channel as an important one that will compete with big players such as eBay.

Interesting that Facebook’s share price dipped with its announcement, presumably an observation that this initiative represents getting into a very competitive market.

It is too early to know how quickly Facebook’s ecommerce platform will grow, but it is likely that social commerce will play a big ongoing role in consumer shopping, and that Facebook and Messenger (along with platforms such as Pinterest) are well positioned to compete given their scale and access to data.

Also worth noting that increasing Facebook commerce is also a positive for service providers such as Shopify, Big Commerce, and ChannelAdvisor, who help to power merchant sales.

(Read Econsultancy’s review of Facebook Marketplace.)

Here come the commercials (again)

Starting mid-October, Facebook announced several new advertising options for Instant Articles: Support for new and custom ad sizes, as well as video and carousel ads.

Publishers can use the Facebook Audience Network to monetise Instant Articles and can now incorporate video ads and carousel ads across iOS and Android with no additional implementation.

Given the ever-increasing importance of mobile, both in terms of user numbers and performance, this is an important development.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that this video ‘good news story’ comes hot on the heels of the less good ‘erroneous video metrics story’ as reported recently in Marketing Week.

Help talking to our friends….

Facebook has launched a ‘Conversation Topics’ feature in Messenger.

The idea behind Conversation Topics is simple: If you’re looking for a way to break the ice with a new Facebook friend or catch up with an old one, these conversation prompts help you figure out what to talk about.

Additionally, the feature would have the added benefit of being a more basic News Feed of sorts, as it lets you catch up on friends’ recent activity, without having to scroll through News Feed and its clutter of shared links, posts from Facebook Pages, ads, and other content.

Most interestingly, this could be an attempt to build public chat rooms on Messenger’s platform around shared topics and interests.

Commercial opportunities in this space are as yet unclear, but worth watching closely.

Virtual reality

Mark Zuckerberg recently unveiled the concept of virtual reality social networking.

This is why this could be a game changer:

  • VR is no longer a solitary experience.
  • It can be about the ‘real’ and not just the ‘virtual’ world (Zuckerberg used his device to connect to his wife… and his dog).
  • ‘Touch’ handsets, to be released shortly, will allow us to touch things, and people, virtually.
  • Brands will be able to create engaging and interactive communal experiences, which we can virtually attend with our friends.

For more on this topic, download Econsultancy’s report on the Marketer’s Guide to Virtual Reality.