Social Plugins and the Open Graph
On April 21, 2010 Facebook held its third annual developers’ conference, the f8, in San Francisco, where they announced their new services designed to make the Web a more social place.
Specifically, Social Plugins and the Open Graph Protocol are designed to bridge the gap between Facebook users and web publishers. By enabling users and publishers to share and publish content together, Facebook’s new tools are expected to emulate a web-wide social search engine with improved behavioral targeting and a focus on personalized user experience.
The Open Graph Protocol enables any website to be registered as a unique object in the social graph. By implementing markup tags specific to the Open Graph protocol, websites will perform with all the functionalities of a traditional Facebook page. If a Facebook user ‘Likes’ a page enabled by the open graph, the site will be linked from the user’s profile. The publisher then has the ability to publish information on the users’ News Feed, access the administration interface, and profit from inclusion in Facebook search and analytic tools.
Social plug-ins enable third-party sites to include Facebook services, e.g. Facebook’s Like button, Facepile, Recommendations, etc., in their site. Plug-ins are hosted by Facebook, which means that users can interact with third party sites as long as they are logged into Facebook, even if they haven’t registered with the site itself. Plug-ins are designed to help users share interests with other visitors and friends on Facebook. By clicking on a Like button, users create new connections, allowing sites to keep them updated on brand, company or campaign news.
There are currently eight available Facebook plug-ins:
The ‘Like’ Button
- The Like button enables users to make connections with third party publishers and share this content with their friends on Facebook. The content within the Like Button is hosted entirely by Facebook. If your site visitor is not logged into Facebook, he/she will only see the number of people that like that piece of content or brand:
- If the user is logged into Facebook, the button is furthered personalized to include the user’s friends who also ‘liked’ the site (example from Facebook's official blog):
- Sites that feature the Like Button can push the information users liked on their site back on to Facebook. For example, if a user likes a band of Pandora or a movie on IMDB.com that information will appear on the user’s Facebook profile under the music or movie section.
- The Like Box is designed for Facebook Page owners who are interested in gaining Likes from their traditional website. The like box enables visitors to your site to become fans of your Facebook page with one click of the “like” box. It also enables them to see how many fans you currently have, as well as which of their friends are also fans of your Facebook page. The like box is an easy way to build Facebook fans from your website and/or blog.
- Here is an example of the Facebook Like box from Search Engine Land ’s homepage:
- The Activity Feed informs users of their friends’ activities on a website. If a user is logged into Facebook and visits CNN.com, for example, they will instantly see the topics and specific articles their friends are commenting on, and recommending via the Activity Feed.
- The Recommendations plug-in delivers users with personalized recommendations, by highlighting the objects and articles their friends commented on. If there is not enough social information to generate recommendations within a user’s community, sites instantly register the most ‘liked’ items in real time.
- For example, if a user is logged into Facebook and visits the NHL.com website, the site will highlight the items that were most commonly commented or shared via Facebook:
A few other social plugins available through the Facebook Developer site :
- The Facepile plug-in shows the profile pictures of a user’s friends, who have already signed up on a website. If a user signs into Facebook and visits an external site, they can see if anyone within their social network has signed up for the site or if they have commented on any features.
- The Live Stream plug-in enables users visiting a site or application to share their activity and thoughts in real time. Websites can run the Live Stream plug-in in tandem with concerts, speeches, sporting events, TV shows, presentations or webinars.
Login With Faces
- The Login with Faces plug-in allows users to see the profile pictures of their friends who have already signed up for a site- in addition to a login button.
- The Comment plug-in allows users to comment on a site’s content in real time, whether it’s on an article, a website or a photo. Users can then take this information and publish it directly on Facebook.
Impact on Marketers
By automating the online relationship between consumers and businesses, Facebook has generated countless new opportunities for online marketers. The promise of an open graphed web means that for the first time since the advent of Facebook in 2004, marketers will be able to tap into the wealth of Facebook’s 400 million self-identifying users. While the possible benefits of Facebook’s Open Graph are exciting, the responsibilities of becoming a member of this new ecology are important to note:
- Facebook plugins represent another source of user-generated content to manage. As with other forms of social media, marketers are responsible for representing their brands well within online conversations. Whether a disgruntled consumer complaining on a forum or an industry scandal has been exposed, people expect brands to respond with a comment or solution. Before Facebook’s Open Graph, consumers had to proactively seek discussions. With the automated convenience of Facebook’s new services, however, we can expect user- generated content to increase and for a more dynamic user conversation to evolve. This could prove challenging for some marketers, as they attempt to juggle Facebook’s new personalized user-generated content with traditional forms of social media.
- Plugins will help marketers increase their understanding of and engagement with consumers. These plugins make it easier for users to find content on the internet, based on their interests and the interests of their social network. Once on a site, owners can help users navigate and explore content, by highlighting known interests or activities. Insight into Facebook users’ information will enable marketers to deliver more personalized recommendations and update their followers more frequently.
- The lines between a brand’s owned assets – Facebook pages, websites, blogs, etc. --- are becoming increasingly more blurred. Managing the content across these sites will become a bigger priority. By implementing these plugins, marketers will be driving traffic between and across each of their sites more explicitly. Users will expect a consistent and relevant experience across each of the brand’s sites.
- Users will expect a more tailored experience. The introduction of Facebook plug-ins represents the latest step in a growing shift from broad user-generated content, to a narrow, personalized web viewing experience. User-generated content has traditionally consisted of the reviews, comments, or content from largely unknown web surfers. Facebook plugins now enable marketers to highlight the preferences of each user’s own social network. Users can not only see how many 5-star ratings a restaurant or new movie received, but how many of their own friends (and which ones) liked it. Facebook users can now augment or replace “the wisdom of crowds” with “the wisdom of their crowd”.
- Marketers should consider adding the like box to the top level-pages of your site. This gives your visitors an opportunity to show affinity to the brand. By clicking the like button on your homepage, they will automatically become fans of the brand for your Facebook page and receive status updates.
- Also consider adding the like button to deeper pages of your site for specific content or products. When a visitor likes or recommends a sub-page on your site, this will appear as a text-only status update on your customer’s Facebook wall. The update is quick. But the value is that if someone views that web page, they will see all their friends that also like that product or content.
- Become familiar with the paid media options on Facebook. Even before these new social plug-ins, Facebook already had a broad set of behavioral targeting data based on their users’ profiles and activities within Facebook. By launching the Open Graph, Facebook now has an even more granular and timely understanding of each of its 400 million members. Although it's not clear how Facebook intends to use this data for behavioral targeting, Facebook is uniquely positioned to segment and target its audience based on any number of factors and serve display ads based on user demographics, indicated preferences, and the “likes” of each individual’s network of friends.
Facebook is taking some bold steps to become the hub of most everyone’s web surfing experience. This concept of the social web is nothing new. But Facebook has the size (400mm users and growing) and scale (connecting millions of sites together through the open graph) to produce an immensely powerful database of people and preferences. This means a more efficient and relevant web surfing experience for consumers and a treasure trove of targeting data for advertisers. It also means the “official” marketing message becomes increasingly less relevant. The opportunity for marketers is to figure out how best to engage their customers with relevant content and motivate them to “like” it, customize it, and share it with their friends.
Brands that choose not to implement the Facebook social plugins may be seen as being out of touch with their customers. And at the end of the day, the Facebook Like Box and Like Button are about customers connecting with the brand and publicly declaring their affinity. Marketers who have spent the past 10 years responding to angry comments and negative reviews across the web should rejoice in the fact that Facebook hasn’t implemented the “dislike” button…yet.