Thursday, April 21, 2011

See Facebook's Spam Filter For Yourself

One trick that some social media professionals use to puff up the impact of their Facebook efforts is to equate the number of fans on their fan page with the number of people who are exposed to their wall posts.  The sleight of hand goes something like this: "We posted four status updates to our 50,000 fans--a reach of 200,000 impressions."

Of course, the number of fans who see a brand's wall post is likely far less than the number of people who have "liked" the brand.  Implying that every fan sees a wall post is no more accurate than implying every email subscriber receives and opens a message; this is because, just like email, Facebook communications have to pierce a spam filter firewall that protects Facebook users.

Facebook doesn't say it has a "spam filter;" instead, it has a "News Feed."  As noted in Facebook's Help section, the News Feed "is a constantly updating list of stories from people and Pages that you follow on Facebook." The center column of your Facebook home page isn't a pure stream of posts by friends and brands but a distilled view of the posts and shares you'll find most interesting.

How does Facebook know what's interesting to you? "The News Feed algorithm bases this on a few factors: how many friends are commenting on a certain piece of content, who posted the content, and what type of content it is."  Put another way, Facebook knows you don't sign on to the social network to find out what your underarm deodorant or favorite retailer is doing but to interact with the content your friends create and share.  Friends' content makes it through the filter; brands' content largely does not.

Here's how you can tell just how much brand content is being hidden from your eyes.  The following assumes you have friended a number of brands on Facebook, and if you haven't, why not start by friending USAA?  (In the event it isn't perfectly clear, let me disclose that I am an employee of USAA.)

First, sign into Facebook and check out the News Feed on the home page.  Review the posts made in the past eight hours and count how many of them come from the fan pages of brands.  Since the "Top News" feed isn't in strict chronological order, it is an inexact science to count the posts made in the past eight hours, but you need not be exact to recognize the point being made.

Tonight, I counted approximately 30 posts on my News Feed, not one of them from a brand. Does that means the brands I follow had an off day?  To find out what your favorite brands posted today:

  1. Step One:  Click "Most Recent" at the top right of your News Feed (see image below.)
  2. Step Two:  Click the tiny arrow that appears next to "Most Recent" and select "Pages."
  3. Step Three:  Count how many wall posts were made by brands in the past eight hours.  
Tonight I counted 52 brand posts made in the past eight hours, and not even one of them earned its way onto my News Feed.  I wouldn't have known a single one of them existed had I not specifically checked the Most Recent Pages feed.  (Give Facebook credit for playing by its own rules--as noted in the image below, despite the fact a Facebook wall post garnered 1,048 comments and 4,486 likes, it still did not make it through Facebook's filter and into my News Feed.)

What does this mean to you if you manage a brand page? First, posting to your wall is nowhere near the same thing as delivering a message to your fans. Second, your Facebook content strategy has to be focused not on what you want to tell your fans or even on content your fans will read; instead, if you want to pierce the Facebook spam filter, your content must get fans actively engaged.  If you get them reading but not commenting or sharing, your wall post will only be seen by those few people who visit your page before that post scrolls off the bottom.  (How often do you visit brand pages on Facebook, and how frequently do you navigate beyond the first page?)

The number of fans for your page is not the number of fans that will see your content. To maximize your wall posts' visibility, your content strategy has to create action and not just interest.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

-1 For Google +1: Another Google Social Misfire

I know it. You know it. There are people living in caves in remote deserts who know it. Google desperately wants a piece of the social pie. The winner of the Web 1.0 era continues to rock at 1.0 things (like search and advertising), but other than YouTube, Google hasn't been present in significant ways in the Web 2.0 world.

Someday, Google will be a major player in social discovery (watch the growth of the Android platform and keep in mind the idea of "serendipitous search" shared by Google Executive Chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt), but just like Wave, Google's "+1 button" is a step in the wrong direction.

There are many reasons the +1 button will not revolutionize the world. First, we already have widely adopted mechanisms for sharing Web content we like, such as Facebook "Likes," Tweets, and social bookmarking sites like Delicious. When we use these sharing tools, it makes our shares visible to many others, launches them into vibrant communities and creates dialog. What will clicking +1 do?  Less than that (at least into the foreseeable future). Given there are so many popular ways to share Web content that are already being used by the masses, there is no reason to believe Google's new button will be adopted by large numbers of people.

Secondly, until and unless +1 starts being embedded into sites across the Web, Google's +1 process is awkward and difficult. Consider how it would work: Users would see search results in Google's SERP (search engine results page), click something, navigate to a new page, enjoy the content, and then return to Google to click the +1 button next to those search results. How many of you would take the time to return to Google to click a +1 button?

Because that process is kludgey, the future of Google +1 depends not on people clicking buttons on Google's SERPs but on Google convincing site owners to embed +1 buttons throughout the Web. And why would they?  Google +1 will surely begin to appear in the list of options provided by sharing widgets like AddThis (although so far they aren't jumping on the bandwagon), but success for Google's new button absolutely requires it to be front and center, like Twitter and Facebook are on so many Web pages. For that to happen, Web site operators will need to see great benefits to outweigh the loss of screen real estate and cluttering their UI with yet another third-party logo. Unless and until Google can demonstrate mass adoption, web site owners are not likely to implement Google's new button.

Ultimately, my biggest concern is this: Does the +1 button create value for users in Google's fundamental offering--its search product?  After all, as Jeremiah Owyang points out to Google Watch, "Google solved the question of how to find info. Facebook solved the question of how we navigate the world. It's a different question."

The idea of socializing search is appealing to Google and others, but it is like "crossing the streams."  When I'm searching (as opposed to when I'm spending time with Facebook or Twitter), I want Google to surface information that is the most useful, not things other find "pretty cool" (as is stated in the very first sentence on Google's own +1 button page). And Google already has a way to know what you and I find most useful--our actual Web behaviors.

Put another way, what is the difference between the things you find useful and the things you think are "pretty cool"?  And which is more relevant to others when they are searching for specific information?  If someone wants or needs information on the Ford Mustang, Ford's own site is useful--it has specs, pictures and product features--but this movie scene of Steve McQueen chasing bad guys in his '68 Ford Mustang G.T.390 Fastback is cool. You are more likely to click the latter link now, but when searching for information on the Ford Mustang, you'll want the former link to be front and center on the SERP.

I vote -1 for Google's +1 button. It seems a distraction from Google's ultimate goal of serendipitous search. Then again, if I was a Google employee and 25% of my 2011 bonus depended upon the company's success in social media, I might be pretty desperate to deploy any and every social feature I could.

Google's +1 Button Video

Steve McQueen in Bullitt

Ghostbuster Crossing the Streams