Timeline, Search, and IPO: a Facebook Status Update

April 2, 2012 • Blog, Uncategorized • Views: 432

Digital marketing, and especially social marketing, is a rapidly evolving space. Facebook especially is known to move fast, and recently we’ve seen a few big Facebook developments. The forced-rollout of Facebook Timeline for brand page, an upcoming IPO, and rumors of an upcoming Facebook search engine are all issues that social marketers need to be aware of.

Timeline for Brands

While Timeline for users is still rolling out, Facebook set a firm deadline for brands on Timeline. At the end of March, all fan pages were forced to adopt the new look. Now in early April, many brands are racing to understand and optimizing for the style.

What’s the upshot for brands and Timeline? It’s mixed bag, with some obvious benefits, as well as some pain points. On the positive side, the much larger cover photo is a great branding opportunity, allowing businesses to make a bold, visual impression on fan page visitors.

The actual Timeline system itself – that allows organizations to fill in a chronological corporate history – is another great feature that allows brands to communicate their histories. That said, this history won’t fill itself in – brands will have to devote the necessary resources to build a robust timeline, or risk having a thin historical presence.

On the flip side, there are definitely some issues with Timeline that are hurting social marketers. The most obvious issue is the loss of custom landing pages. Many brands used these custom pages to drive social conversions – and while fan pages will still have custom pages, the default landing page will now always be the main Timeline view.

There’s also the non-technical issue of user relations. Facebook users can sometimes be resistant to change, and some users may not understand that Timeline is a Facebook change, not a brand change. There’s already been some examples of this – when Lifeline updated their Timeline page, some elderly users, “were so angry and vocal that [The Admin] had to ban them.”

When it comes to social engagement, a new study by SimplyMeasured seems to show some positive results. A study of 14 early adopters found that Timeline produced generally positive results from a social marketing and engagement perspective.

Ultimately, brands have no choice but to use Timeline. Social marketers will now be responsible for optimizing content to meet the new format, as well as updating Facebook brand pages to take advantage of Timeline’s new features and formats.

Facebook and Search

Facebook may finally be making a more aggressive push into search, according to a recent Bloomberg report. Shortly after announcing plans to raise $5 billion for Facebook’s upcoming IPO, Mark Zuckerberg posted a photo to his profile featuring what appeared to be a larger, updated search box.

While this alone isn’t a lot to go on, it’s also rumored that Lars Rasmussen, a high-profile former Google engineer, is leading a team of about two dozen engineers on the search improvement project. Rasmussen was the engineer behind Google Wave, an ambitious social communication project that was Google ultimately shut down.

Any news about Facebook and search is bound to bring up the issue of Google and competitiveness. It’s especially interesting that Facebook would start talking about search just as Google begins to push harder into social with Google+.

That said, it seems unlikely that Facebook will try to challenge Google in pure web search. Facebook doesn’t employ many traditional search engineers, and Google probably has too much of a head start for Facebook to really compete effectively in core web search.

There’s also the Bing issue – Facebook currently partners with Microsoft to provide general web search results, and that relationship would seem to prevent Facebook from developing its own web search engine. The bigger-picture of Bing seems to also put a damper on any of Facebook’s web-search ambitions. Microsoft’s been losing billions on Bing, without seeing any very significant gains in market share against Google. Attacking that market would be a risky, probably pointless move for Facebook.

Aside from just improving user experience, the big reason for Facebook to improve search is the potential revenue from keyword-targeted ads. While Facebook’s ad business is going strong, and seems poised for some interesting improvements, search-based targeted will always offer more precise targeting than display.

How big is the search advertising opportunity? According to comScore, there were 336 million Facebook searches in February. If Facebook was able to implement some solid improvements, and the monthly volume rose to something like 500 million, FB search could yield hundreds of millions in new revenue.

Search on Facebook has some interesting issues. On the one hand, having search keyword data combined with demographics information could generate some super-precise targeting options that even Google can’t match. On the flip side, if you think about what sort of queries usually happen on Facebook, it’s probably mostly “people search” and navigational queries. It isn’t clear that there’s a ton of monetization potential for a huge, long-tail volume of names.

The Facebook IPO

The final major Facebook issue to cover is the long-awaited IPO. In what might be largest, most anticipated IPO in tech history, Facebook is expected to go public in May. The social networking giant has already stopped the trading of shares on secondary markets, and the general feeling is that they’ve stopped private trading to allow the market to settle pre-IPO.

While the exact IPO date is still unknown, some of the basic IPO details have been out for a while. The company filed on February 1st, seeking to raise $5 billion. In terms of valuation, Facebook seems to be hovering around $100 billion, with one of the final secondary market sales putting FB at $104 billion.

Some other pre-IPO statistics worth knowing: in 2011, Facebook had $3.71 billion in revenues, and exactly $1 billion in profits. For reference, Google’s 2011 revenues were almost exactly 10 times larger – sitting at $37.9 billion.

Overall, the Facebook IPO isn’t a directly actionable marketing move. However, it definitely speaks to the current tech environment. The success or failure of Facebook over the next few years is likely to be the bellwether for the social media space in general. If the “social media bubble” is ever going to burst, Facebook will likely be the company to burst it. Whatever happens, marketers should be watching closely – not just for the short-term necessities, but the long-term direction of digital media.

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