With Facebook’s major changes set to roll out this week, little thought has been given to answering how Timeline and the revamped Open Graph will affect our interaction with rest of the web, and how websites stand to benefit. I believe that weaving Facebook even deeper into websites is going to yield a positive experience for consumers and sites alike. Here’s why.
One of the notable features of the enhanced Open Graph is contextual sharing. For users, the benefit is obvious — it enables much more than just “liking” a piece of content. Now, a user can share that he or she “read” Catching Fire or that he or she “listened to” Nirvana. “Liking” an article, video or photo has thus far limited users, forcing them to show tacit approval (within the context of one-click reactions) for something that they may not necessarily find desirable.
With contextual sharing, users will no longer be boxed-in by expressing one emotional reaction. For marketers, this offers major benefits for on-site engagement and syndication.
One of the other share features that Facebook unveiled is “frictionless sharing,” which allows sites to share any content a user reads or interacts with directly to his Facebook Ticker. It’s important to point out that the user must authorize the site to turn on this sharing functionality much in the same way that sites have already needed to allow users to explicitly authenticate. However, by enabling sharing and placing objects on a user’s Timeline, Facebook is undertaking an enormous and important process: documenting web activity.
While some end-users may cringe at the thought of their entire digital lives being “Facebooked,” this approach to broadcasting web activity appeals to its younger, most active user-base — a group that seems to care about “show and tell” even more than it does about privacy. Teens and young adults grew up with Facebook, and the transition from one- or two-click sharing to no-click sharing won’t be as uncomfortable.
The Business Upside: Data and Traffic
Getting users to interact with Facebook’s updated features for websites is an advantage in itself, but there are other, more concrete ways the revamped Facebook features will help businesses. As the user experience becomes more personal and engaging, Facebook’s functionality on websites will ultimately provide those sites with an even deeper look into whom their visitors are. This marriage of social data and on-site activity can be applied for a number of ROI-driven activities, such as hyper-specific ad targeting, content and product recommendations, and driving inventory decisions.
Just as importantly, the frictionless sharing features could be a huge boon for sites as measured by the oldest and most valuable metric on the Internet: referral traffic. By allowing auto-sharing for nearly any activity on a site, users will be able to push even more content to the News Feed, Ticker and Timeline, generating more exposure and click backs to sites.
Discovery: Now a Two-Way Street
For years, the web was about search — that is, people using search engines to find specific things online. Now, the web is shifting toward discovery — users are increasingly letting content find them via social networks. This trend actually started a few years ago with a number of sites seeing social networks drive more referral traffic than search engines. With Facebook’s new features, I think we’ll see this trend turn into a basic tenet of web optimization, as sites will soon be able to learn so much more about their users and offer targeted, shareable content that brings in more referral traffic.
Today, businesses spend millions of dollars optimizing for Google searches, trying to get found. But as social becomes a larger traffic driver, and as Facebook and other social networks continue to enable content discovery, those businesses will need to offer interactive, sharable content in order to stay relevant. Those businesses that understand how Facebook is enabling bilateral relationships between sites and users will get found, gain traffic and increase on-site engagement. Those businesses relying on search — and ignoring Facebook’s bold innovations — may soon stop getting found at all.