With over 800 million users, Facebook is moving its focus from growth to engagement. This means big changes that will necessitate an evolution of how museums and visitor serving organizations think about engaging folks on Facebook.
Mark Zuckerberg explained on Thursday at the f8 Developer Conference in San Fransisco that Facebook is about to roll out some big changes and new features in the next few weeks. Some of these changes (like the Ticker on our right sidebar, for instance), are upon us already. More changes, including the public launch of Facebook’s new and famous Timeline, are on the way. These big changes will affect how brands interact with people online, and change-up the way that museums are connecting with the public. Here’s what Facebook’s new changes mean for museums and visitor serving organizations:
1. The focus on social applications means that content is (still) king– but with a way, WAY fancier throne: Because Facebook is turning its focus to engagement, organizations and brands with high levels of creativity are most likely to be organically rewarded and shared by users. One of the biggest changes that Facebook is launching is Timeline. The aim of Timeline is to tell the story of a person’s life through past and present Facebook content. Facebook is branding it as an online scrapbook of your life. In sum (and in my own words), it is a very intense, longer profile that aggregates past statuses, comments, and Facebook activity, and makes it public. You can check out a video preview of the feature here. Though some folks are already giddy about how much they like Timeline, others are already warning folks about privacy, noise, and the potential inundation that users will likely feel from brands– specifically, those that are Facebook’s partners like Spotify and Netflix– which will play big roles in Facebook’s changes. At f8, Zuckerberg was explicit about two, key goals of Facebook’s changes: to help folks fill out their Timeline by helping them to share important information, and to help people discover new things. That second point sounds like a good thing for all brands on Facebook. It also sounds like there will be a lot of noise and competition for prime spots on Facebook users’ Timelines.
Brands come into play in the Apps feature of Timeline. This is a new part of your profile where users can add apps to share what movies they’ve watched, what music they are listening to, etc. This is also the prime real estate that ZAMs will be going for with apps. Experts are predicting that the apps that survive and get shared will be those that are the most engaging. That is, they inspire conversation and provide compelling content. Unlike joining Facebook and just aiming for “likes,” organizations are going to need to get active. Rising above the noise won’t be easy, but there’s one thing that everyone seems to agree upon: “Your content is going to need to be absolutely amazing.”
There’s another incentive to put even more creative energy into creating compelling content: boring brands will have low visibility, and may not be seen at all. People will be able to “vote up” and “vote down” the importance of actions on their Timeline. Over time, Facebook will pick up the pattern and automatically vote up or down content that fits the user’s patterns. Recently, we could see notifications like, “Jessica likes The Field Museum.” Already, however, this information is often reduced to a coming up in the Ticker (small, ongoing, right hand feed) if it comes up at all. If the Field Museum doesn’t have an engaging presence on Facebook, then the Museum’s content will be “voted down” and won’t make it very far– let alone onto a person’s Timeline. The new goal of Facebook is for people to share and interact with more content. If your organization isn’t providing this content, it’s not going to be shared easily. But that’s not all that bad news for nonprofits! Nonprofits are often considered masters of storytelling. Joe Green, the president of Causes.com is already excited about the potential for these Facebook changes to bring us one step closer to changing the world for the better.
2. Building up the “walled garden” means organizations will need to broaden their marketing strategy– AND celebrate evangelists. Facebook is already a “walled garden” (term from Fast Company), meaning that it is a closed network. Because people are gatekeepers of their own friends and the organizations with which they engage, information doesn’t just go from outside, inward to you. (In other words, if neither you nor your friends are fans of Adidas, their messaging won’t make it into your newsfeed). Recently, the obstacle for organizations has been attracting new evangelists to engage with their brand. This is only going to become more important… because the walls on the “walled garden” are growing taller.
Netflix, Spotify, and other Facebook partners will be automatically integrated into users’ App section of their profile. This means that Facebook is pulling more partners inward for users. Organizations will have to compete with these already-integrated social apps and will need a broader marketing strategy in order to attract attention and infiltrate folks’ Timeline.
While it will be important to “go broad” with a social media strategy, evangelists will also be more important than ever. This is because they are the people who will be most likely to prioritize your brand within the “walled garden.” They will “vote up” your brand’s messaging and incorporate pictures of their family at your museum in their Timeline. I will guess (if I may be so bold), that as it gets harder to penetrate users’ profiles in a significant way, the word of mouth marketing value of organizations that pass through the gate will be higher.
3. Increasing “passive sharing” means ZAMs must become a part of other people’s stories (through their own openness). There will be more brand sharing on Facebook, but it will be harder to be a brand that makes an impression in a meaningful way that is likely to result in earned media or word of mouth marketing opportunities. In the words of Todd Wasserman in Mashable’s recent article, brands will have to integrate into users’ “digital autobiography.” There will be a mix of direct and passive sharing that will likely change the way that people think about brands in their day-to-day lives. Throughout his presentation at f8, Mark Zuckerberg spoke under the context that we all (Facebook users) want to share everything with our friends. And though that seems strange, perhaps he’s onto something… The guy has a pretty good track record. He says, ” The future is heading for a greater openness.”
I think museums are visitor serving organizations are heading in the same direction. We’ve seen time and time again that transparency pays off when it comes to online engagement. I’ll argue that a key to being a nonprofit organization (or any kind of company) that survives in an online sphere is proving that they are out to achieve something good and worthy– and being transparent about it. That’s easy for nonprofits! They have a bottom line of achieving a social mission. Our task, then, is letting that social mission shine through engaging content and compelling storytelling that allows people to relate, react, and interact– not only with the organization, but with one other. Visitor serving organizations will need to go social with their social missions online. If you ask me, it’s something that I believe we can do– and perhaps were made to do.
What’s the take-away? That everything that is already important for ZAMs and visitor serving organizations existing online will be even more important and those who are not up-to-speed risk falling away. Creative content, storytelling, transparency, and inspiring evangelists are already critical for a successful online identity that achieves a specific goal (say, increasing attendance by elevating reputation). They will all become even more important, and the organizations that are falling behind in these arenas risk dropping out of the game of online marketing. It seems to be true: the more things change, the more they stay the same… even in the reality of online engagement.