Facebook has released an application called Paper and, in doing so, has potentially changed the future of social networking.
Described as half social network, half Flipboard, Facebook Paper revamps your Facebook experience and takes it from a simple social network to an incredible, fully mobile visual display of everything you've ever wanted to read on the Internet.
The tech community has embraced this new tool, and chances are good that it will only improve with time. But as we know with many launches from Facebook and other networks, a change like this requires mainstream adoption from the network's audience to truly gain steam. Regardless of whether this particular application takes off, it signifies a major shift in the way social networks will operate in the future. Here's what businesses should know and plan for:
1. The rise of the new-media companies. With this change, Facebook has clearly taken the first step toward becoming a media network. When traffic was diverted from Facebook by publishing sites such as BuzzFeed and Upworthy, Facebook immediately shifted its algorithm to gear up for a transition from "the place where you go to be social and to win free stuff" to full-on media hub.
Articles began showing up more and more in the news feed, and many brands were furious to see their own engagement and visibility decline. Jay Baer of Convince and Convert wrote a great piece that stated: "Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter aren’t the new Myspace, they are the new ABC, NBC and CBS." He's exactly right. If Paper is adopted by mainstream audiences, this shift will be more fully realized.
2. Content is more important than ever. Content is about much more than simple Facebook updates. It's much more about quality content that lives across the Web. With the new news channels on Facebook Paper, content that is shared across the Web gets funneled into its relevant place on Facebook--in categories such as Tech, LOL, and Family Matters. Meanwhile, the updates of your friends get their own channel, where brand fan page updates can still be seen.
Native advertising on Facebook with relevant content just became much easier. A sporting-goods company might write a long-form post on its site and promote it in the Score section of Paper, which compiles the best-of-the-best content in sports news across the Web.
Specific advice for brands?
- Focus on video (it autoplays in the feed) and long-form content (long-form content is mobile-optimized in the new Paper app).
- Include imagery, because the Facebook Paper app highlights the story you're reading at the top of each channel with an image beautifully displayed.
For now, Paper is ad free--but the future seems abundantly clear.
3. Measuring success on Facebook will change. Thank goodness for this. For nearly a decade, marketers have been struggling with how to measure the performance of their Facebook campaigns. Think about it: Brands spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a fan base. Then, about 10 percent to 20 percent of that audience actually sees the updates, if you're lucky. As the algorithm has shifted, it's been harder and harder to reach those fans--and the frustration from brands has only grown. But the future win on Facebook has less to do with adding fans and more to do with the virality of your content.
If you're creating and advertising great content, that content does not need to live solely on your Facebook page. It can, certainly, but those pages will just be used differently. Instead of a content-distribution channel, Facebook Pages will be a customer-communication channel. Content distribution will happen on Facebook using Paper--but in a format that is designed not just to increase engagement but also to drive traffic back to publishers' sites. This was confirmed by Facebook, and it's perhaps the biggest trend of all.
All of this is exciting and game changing, but of course, we're not quite there yet. In fact, Facebook Paper may suffer the fate of other innovative concepts before it--such as Facebook Questions, Offers, and Credits. But I believe that Paper gives us a glimpse into the not-so-far-off future.
So what's a brand to do in the meantime? Focus on creating valuable, engaging, multidimensional content.
What is your brand's unique point of view? How can you help the members of your target audience? How can you make them smile? Make them share? Make them remember you?
Paper signifies a potential shift in how that content will be distributed. But it doesn't change the fact that we all still need to make content that is incredible.