Lots of changes have been taking place on Facebook's Platform since the f8 developer conference, not the least of which was last week's rollout of Places, Facebook's version of location-based social network check-in services like Foursquare and Gowalla.
Over the past couple of days I have done a good deal of research in an effort to better understand these changes and their implications for business. In this post I report my findings.
Changes to Facebook Pages (fan pages)
Fan Pages are definitely feeling the heat from changes, two of which go into effect today:
- Page widths narrowing to 520 pixels
- Removal of Boxes, both the tab and boxes themselves
If you'd like to know more about these, read my post in The Social Retailer blog at Practical Ecommerce.
Other changes planned for rollout later this year include:
Cessation of new app development based on FBML (Facebook Markup Language, which is their form of HTML). That may mean little to you and me, but for 3rd-party application developers it's critical. And, since many of us use 3rd-party apps like those that come from Involver, Wildfire, FanAppz, NorthSocial and others, it affects us as well. Instead of FBML, app developers will be forced to start using iframe technology, which Pages don't currently support, but will.
Existing fan page apps such as staticFBML, which has been the backbone of custom fan page development, will continue to be supported, Facebook says. But, for how long. I wouldn't be surprised if FBML-based apps are squeezed out altogether over time.
Facebook Places and Pages
"Places allows you to easily "check in" where you are and share the friends you're with in real time from your mobile device. After you check in, your update will appear on the Place's page, your friends' News Feed and also your Facebook wall. You'll also be able to see if any of your friends are at your current location, and you can browse the updates of your friends who are checked in at locations nearby."
My interest is the effect it has on business and its correlation with Facebook fan pages, which millions of businesses use. To address that issue, I turn to fan page app developer Involver, which has a blog post that explains things in great detail.
The post first addresses the reason for narrowing fan page widths to 520 pixels.
"Facebook will keep the left sidebar of a page visible no matter what tab on the Facebook Page is selected. This new, persistent space, will likely be the placement for many of Facebook’s new features launching in the next several months. The first feature to get placement in this sidebar is Facebook Places, if you decide to merge your Places Page and your Facebook Page."
It goes on to explain the signficance of Places for business and its correlation with the fan page.
- The check-in is sent to that user’s friends through the newsfeed, creating a powerful implicit recommendation for that place.
- That user is listed as having checked in on that Places Page in the left hand column of the page, creating valuable social proof for users who find your place on Facebook.
The post then explains how businesses can manage Places and Pages, the most significant piece of information being that business owners can merge their listing in Places with their page.
Rather than borrowing more of the post's content than Fair Use allows, let me encourage you to read it for yourself. It's the best explanation to date. Mashable also has a post on using Places for business.
What Does This All Mean, Really?
To quote a Facebook friend, it means that, conceptually speaking, Facebook controls both the "vertical and the horizontal." His quote is a testament to the growing ubiquity Facebook has in its quest to become the operating system of the social web.
Practically speaking, if you own a local business, you need to claim it. Facebook explains how to go about doing that here. (Even better, here's a post from Appbistro that walks you through the process…and another one, from InsideFacebook..)
Currently, you have to use Touch.Facebook.com or the Facebook iPhone app to do so, as the procedure has yet to be hard-wired into Facebook.com itself. Once you claim your listing, it will be available on the website, but the only way to find it is via search. Obviously, Facebook is going to have to make this feature more prominent.
When your business listing is claimed, it becomes a Page of its own, but not a fan page. Instead, it becomes a Community Page (which is a topic for another post). According to Involver's blog post mentioned above, you can merge it with your fan page.
Does This Lessen the Importance of Fan Pages?
AllFacebook.com is reporting that Places has slowed Page growth. However, I am prone to believe that using both in tandem provides a two-pronged approach for business development, especially given the fact that two can be merged.
Neither do I believe that it makes fan pages of lesser importance. It just means they share the limelight with Places. Ultimately, for a local small business, both are good things.
In fact, let's look at the Facebook business arsenal. You now have Pages, Places, Ads, and to a lesser extent, Events available to you. Not bad for a site that allegedly started out as a way for college nerds to meet women!
If you need help sorting this all out, contact me. It's what I do. And, I can assist you in building a comprehensive strategy for using social media to get more customers that incorporates the use of Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social channels.