Facebook Actions Can Turn Life Into A Game

by Dennis Yu on Oct 28, 2011

By now you’ve noticed major changes to user profiles and apps on Facebook — and some new terms:

  • timelines
  • auto-published actions

But what hasn’t been discussed is the implications to your business and why Facebook tied these two together the way they did.

While the new profile timeline, scheduled to be rolled out gradually over the next two months, is certainly sexy, the key to it is the emphasis on actions your friends have taken.

Let’s take a closer look at these actions and help figure out the future of how brands will interact with them on Facebook.

Actions On The Facebook Timeline

The “read, watch, listen” applications conveniently allow consumers to keep up with what their friends are doing, what’s key is that a few brands have created new OpenGraph apps focused on actions.

Facebook built some actions in. “I read this article” for instance. And Facebook worked with brands to build some example apps off of Facebook.com, using the OpenGraph. So you can “listen” to songs on Spotify and “watch” TV shows on Hulu.

Actions Shared With Friends

Note that the friend activity is shown before the content, since anything read by your friends is now TWICE as interesting to you.

Do you see now the linkage between the new profile (called timelines) and the corresponding app opportunity for brands?

Actions Will Increasingly Fill The Newsfeed

Actions are going to be a big part of the future of the newsfeed. If you are still in the marketing mindset of broadcasting content at users, you’re going to get slaughtered.

I did a quick analysis of 1,000 stories across 10 friends to quantify the impact. 2% of the items on their wall were actions.  In my own news feed, 42% of the last 100 items were actions. Keep in mind, this is a small sample size, most of my friends are early adopters, and there are only a few of these new apps even available right now.

Do this: Count the number of actions vs posts in the last 100 stories across 10 friends—What percentage are actions? And what percentage are from apps? An increasing number, for sure. Further, this number should increase once Facebook rolls out the timeline to everyone and once marketers start building auto-publishing apps in earnest.

With so many apps auto-publishing into the stream, Facebook has to be more selective in deciding what to show in a user’s news feed.  And that means more items in the News Feed will get drowned out— especially things like brand status messages that aren’t engaging or any type of one-way activity that doesn’t generate engagement.

That includes your non-engaging ads, too.  Users have only so much attention, so it’s a signal to noise issue. EdgeRank and GraphRank are the two algorithms, as discussed earlier, that govern this selection.

What Should Your Business Do?

Select a set of verbs to describe actions your customers take when interacting with your brand. Resist the temptation to use “shop” or “buy”, since these are infrequent, non-engaging, bottom of funnel activities. Consider ones that enhance a user’s reputation among their friends AND that would be okay with them for you to auto-publish.

If you’re a media brand, then the “read, watch, listen” motto of the latest FB applies perfectly. Your job is simple. Carrie listened to a song, Ian is watching a movie, Jason and 10 of his friends read this article.

If you are an online product or service, it’s a bit harder. Chevelle is designing a poster, David is flying to Chicago, Andrew saved money on taxes.

If you are a CPG or retail brand, you have to tap into your user’s ego and emotions. LeRoy is unleashing awesomeness. Jonathan nominated Julie. Heather baked cookies (real or virtual).

Social Sentences

Facebook describes the mechanics of social sentences (subject, verb, object) here. Go read it. And no, you can’t use profane verbs, but perhaps can get away with borderline language if you’re promoting a new horror flick. And yes, you can use multiple verbs in multiple tenses.

But underlying all this is the strategy of activating the word of mouth effect by having your users market for you. What is it about your brand that causes people to want to share it? How does your brand enhance your customer’s reputation, make them more stylish, appear more intelligent, and so forth? Turn THAT into a set of verbs.

SEO is About Nouns, Facebook is About Verbs

In search engines, you optimize for nouns– digital cameras, Jewish singles in Portland, lowest mortgage rates. But Facebook, being increasingly about engagement, is about the emotion embedded in sharing– the linkage that connects any two objects together.

It provides context.

Jeff Bezos said that advertising is the price you pay for having a crappy product. And now Facebook has made it so that word of mouth marketers can use organic and paid methods to grow.

Just like Google has built into Google Analytics mechanisms to gently push ads, Facebook is doing the same with the latest insights that now show paid metrics.  You can pay your way there to get engagement (sponsored stories) if you don’t have it naturally, or you can use ads lightly to spark the organic and viral components.

How Far Does The Rabbit Hole Go?

Whether users take action through ad-driven or organic means, it’s engagement nonetheless and still counts towards EdgeRank.  We know a comment is worth more than a like, while a post is worth more than a comment. Users move down the engagement funnel from complete strangers to loyal net-promoters.

These new verb-based apps that auto-publish what you’re doing, perhaps auto-broadcasting your location in the process, will really take off when RFID, NFC, and other location-based apps come into play.

A year ago, Coca Cola set up a park for teenagers that automatically checked them into locations, publishing to Facebook. Described here, they had 35,000 check-ins a day, despite having only 650 kids.

Now your life is a becoming a video game– you can farm virtual strawberries as easily as shopping for actual ones, earning points and leveling up in the process. Forget about the American Express Black card. Enter the Citibank Plutonium card, which gives you one point each time you walk by a participating vendor, 5 points if you spam your friends with something positive about the vendor, and even more points if you actually buy something.

You’re just 17 points away from unlocking the Sword of Valor to proudly display on your timeline profile– would you click a couple extra times to get there sooner? What if you could earn 10 extra Facebook credits for doing so in the next 30 minutes?

I’ve always believed life to be a terribly designed video game, where the rules are not clear. But if Facebook can expand the social graph to encompass all your friends and what they’re doing, plus add in game dynamics into the real world– then your brand is but one merchant in the not so Open Graph Protocol.  Game over, man.

Image Source: Shutterstock.com

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Post Author

Dennis Yu is the Chief Architect / CTO of Portage.co. He is an internationally recognized lecturer in Facebook marketing, having been featured in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, LA Times, National Public Radio, TechCrunch, Fox News, and CBS...

  • http://www.facebook.com/ianorford Ian Orford

    Pretty mind blowing stuff David. Leaves me quite at a loss for words! Very well written and

    insightful

  • http://www.facebook.com/ianorford Ian Orford

    Maybe I should have called you by you correct name? Sorry Dennis!

  • John Shearer

    Thanks Dennis..great read…sorry “I am reading Dennis Yu”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ianorford Ian Orford

    Me to John, see my second post?

  • http://www.BlitzMetrics.com Dennis Yu

    Ian, no worries. And do let me know if I can help you in any way. Just leave a question here or on facebook.com/blitzmetrics (for metrics) and facebook.com/blitzlocal (for local stuff).