November 22, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Facebook changes: are they trying to be everything to everyone?

Facebook changes: are they trying to be everything to everyone?

As someone who loves to cook, I’ve learned to steer clear of buying new kitchen items that only do one thing, or promise to do everything. The former category virtually guarantees you will have no cabinet space left for your dishes, and the latter category seems to do one or two things well, but falls short of doing everything perfectly—and you end up either settling for less-than-ideal results or resorting to other tools, defeating the purpose of buying the “everything” tool in the first place.

Facebook started as a social channel that did one thing well, but many of us found ourselves quickly overwhelmed with “cabinets” full of multiple social channels that each did one thing. We had accounts with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, SnapChat, Tumblr, YouTube, Blogger, Reddit, Vine, Flickr, and Skype…and more.

It was inevitable that there would be some consolidation and streamlining, and that some social channels would become more dominant than others, and this is exactly what we’ve seen happening. Brands no longer have fourteen logos at the bottom of their corporate pages asking people to connect with them on everything—they’ve picked the ones that demonstrate the highest level of engagement with their target audiences. In short, most applications seem to have found a “sweet spot.”

Some recent news from Facebook seems to indicate that they might be reaching a tipping point and heading toward the try to “do everything” category. Within the time frame of one week, there have been announcements that Facebook: now allows you to order food for pickup or delivery right from its app; is testing a resume feature; purchased an anonymous polling app popular with teens; and is exploring removing publishers from the site’s news feed.

A rundown of the new features

Food ordering – This new feature combines things we’ve become accustomed to, such as online ordering and friends’ reviews, allowing users to find restaurants nearby, see what friends have said about those restaurants, and then place an order for pickup or delivery. Restaurants can be viewed under the Explore section. From there, you can place an order using an account that you set up from whichever delivery service the restaurant uses—or, if you don’t have an account with a delivery vendor, you can establish one without leaving the Facebook app.

Facebook has established partnerships with a number of ordering apps, like DoorDash and Delivery.com. By wrapping access to the delivery apps into Facebook, you no longer need to leave the FB app to place orders. It streamlines things, and keeps you on their site.

Resume feature – This appears to be a fairly overt attempt to move people from LinkedIn to Facebook. This is still in a testing phase, so no word yet on whether or not this is just around the corner or a long ways off, but it is certainly an intriguing move that bears close watching. People tend to use LinkedIn differently than Facebook. Will they abandon the professional confines of LinkedIn for the larger audience of Facebook?

Or, will it depend on how people use each of these channels? I have a tendency to accept most LinkedIn requests, even from people I do not know personally, if I can verify by looking at a profile that the person sending the request is a real person, and not pushing a multi-level marketing program of some kind. On Facebook I tend to keep to friends and family, with a few business acquaintances in here and there. The usefulness of a resume feature might be great for those who never fully adopted LinkedIn, so this could be smart tactical move on the part of Facebook, and it should be closely watched.

The polling app – We all know who *doesn’t* use Facebook: teenagers. Snapchat is more widely used among those aged 12 to 17. Which means that Facebook has an “attracting youth” problem. Facebook makes its money off of serving people advertising, and young people are a demographic that advertisers want to reach, so this is a problem Facebook needs to solve—if it wants to continue on a growth trajectory. The polling app is called tbh (internet shorthand for “to be honest”) and bills itself as an “anonymous app with positive vibes.”

The app serves up polls that users can customize by adding their friends in—and this is a key part of how an anonymous app can purport to remain positive. The users aren’t developing the wording in the polls—the app does that. There are still potential challenges—let’s face it, kids can be downright mean—but the app is certainly making waves. Although it is only available in a few states, there have been 5 million downloads already. Can a single polling app fix Facebook’s youth problem? Probably not, but it is a start.

Removing publishers from the news feed – This is the change currently being tested that seems to be raising the most alarm from professional circles. Testing is underway that removes publishers from the main “news feed”—unless they are paid promoted posts, which will still appear. The non-paid content is relegated to another section of a user’s Facebook page in the “Explore” feed, meaning people have to affirmatively seek out that content if they want to view it. This is still a limited test, rolled out in only a handful of countries, but it is ringing alarm bells for publishers. Organic reach plummets under these conditions.

What it all means

Facebook clearly understands that it needs to continue to adjust to keep people’s attention to continue to bring in advertising dollars. However, some of these changes seem to be trying to create an “everything for everyone” platform, which could make it cluttered and, well, annoying.

Businesses, particularly smaller companies and nonprofits which have been able to reach thousands of customers and supporters through carefully building communities on Facebook need to have an alternative strategy. Depending on a platform that someone else owns is risky. Take a look at your PESO program, and make sure that you aren’t overly reliant on the “shared” segment for your business growth. Social platforms will continue to evolve to maximize whatever revenue they can—it’s important that business plans reflect this reality.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for just over 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR work, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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