Monday, 19 March 2012

Its okay Mitt, Corporations might be people (according to Facebook)

So, its been a few weeks since the reveal of the new Facebook Timelines for brand pages and as the forced migration date looms closer (March 30th), how brands can use this format and what it means has started to become more clear. From the New York Times, to Coca-Cola, Red Bull, Volvo (client) and the US Army, the possibilities to highlight the heritage of companies within social has shown through in the new format. The New York Times highlights shots of the news room at milestones in the company's career, while Coca-Cola has sourced amazing stories and heritage items about the brand.

Coca-Cola's page highlights milestones through the eyes of the consumer...

But aside from highlighting brand heritage in a prominent way, the new formats got me thinking about what this means for how Facebook views brand engagement on the network. In a way, Facebook is shepherding brands towards behaving in an increasingly human way, shifting the emphasis of a company's fan page from a replication of their website to a living, breathing presence, similar aesthetically and content-wise to users.

This approach reminded me of a quote from the American Republican Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, who stated, rather infamously, that "corporations were indeed people".  While Mitt meant to justify his defense of taxing corporations (politics aside), the sentiment is rather similar to what the new brand pages hope to deliver.Facebook has given the tools for brands/corporations to go out and act even more human than before, in both behaviour and presence.

This raises several questions that go back to the heart of social media and brands. Primarily, how do brands use social media to become more human in their interaction and do consumers really want it? The shift from Facebook's old fan formats hasn't only increased the focus on heritage for brands, it has minimized functionality such as tabs. While tabs have increased in resolution from 516 to 810px in width, the tab bar on the side of the old profile (where multiple apps/tabs could be highlighted) has been replaced by a few tab links below a page's cover art. 'Like-gating' (requiring liking a page before interaction with a tab) and landing tabs have also been depreciated, meaning that brands are slowly being forced to drive interaction in the same way users are and less through more traditional incentivization activity (i.e. like this page to get access to contests, etc.). KPI tracking in insights has changed, with a shift towards "conversational" metrics over basic 'likes' and audience growth data, making pure fan acquisition campaigns harder to track. This minimization of this 'direct response' model of driving engagement is further shown in Facebook's standards around brand 'cover pages', with any manner of 'call to action' involving likes, contests or prizes being restricted.

Taking away the prominence of the 'like us to get this' incentive means that brands must find a deeper solution to the question of "why consumers want to interact with a brand in social?". Route incentive campaigns must be replaced by innovative ways of providing value for interaction. Brand's must either provide more novel incentives (such as the case with Volkwagen's "Big Up the Up" campaign) and/or foster trust and engagement through conversation and service (something most brands are already doing in various degrees). If brands are to behave in more human ways on Facebook, they have to stop being the guy at the party purely giving things away and more the artful and genuine conversationalist.

Unlocking the value in a more human Facebook brand presence means overcoming the cynicism Romney's comments were met with about the humanity in companies. The best answer to this challenge isn't to solely focus on standard incentive based campaigns, but leveraging history and trust. Such trust is at the history of branding as a concept, harkening back to the days where the first brand marks symbolized safety and quality. Highlighting trust and heritage is at the heart of branding and the heart of social. While campaigns to grow audiences, drive pure awareness and make noise will always have a place, Facebook's shift symbolizes the need for brands to move beyond this one dimension of activity. While Mitt's quote might never be fully agreed with, the more we can highlight the humanity of a company as marketers, the greater the success we will experience with the new social tools given to us.