As social networks have evolved, so have the ways in which people share, consume, and discover information. The consumer has now become a brand's most influential stakeholder, wielding the ability to influence friends and peers significantly more than advertisers. This shift in power has caused a corresponding transformation in social networks and how brands use them to engage with and market to consumers. Facebook's Open Graph, for example, is a formidable force that is changing the way brands and consumers interact.
First, a little bit about Facebook's Open Graph: It is an extension of Facebook's platform that maps people's online connections and relationships. It began with the "like" as a way for users to express an action tied to a Facebook object. Users could "like" photos, posts, and brand pages. In 2010, an early version of Open Graph supported the inclusion of third-party websites and pages that people "liked" throughout the web. Today, Open Graph has extended beyond the one-dimensional "like" to include actions and objects created by third-party applications.
Brands can now create Open Graph applications to interact with consumers both on and off of Facebook to create stories, which are then broadcast across Facebook, thus driving awareness and word of mouth. These earned media messages spread not from business to consumer, but from consumer to consumer or friend to friend.
This article presents five ways that Facebook's Open Graph will affect your marketing this year.
Marketers will move beyond the "like"
Let's face it: Marketers have spent a lot of time and money amassing "likes," whether they have run specific programs and paid for "likes" or grown them organically. However, most companies still struggle with the real value behind these initiatives because the "like" doesn't translate directly to measureable ROI.
With Facebook's Open Graph, brands can now create relationships and interactions with consumers that are contextually relevant. For example, a wine distributor can enable users to "recommend" or "taste" a wine; a fashion brand can allow users to "want" a pair of shoes or "own" a dress. Brands can take it a step further with interactions like "got burned by" a hot sauce or "shred on" a snowboard to connect with consumers in their own brand language.
Open Graph enables brands to interact with consumers across all touch points (website, e-commerce storefront, and more) to create these contextually relevant stories, which are then broadcast via Facebook to the consumer's Timeline, as well as their friends' news feeds and tickers. All of these stories create powerful, relevant earned media that enables brands to drive awareness and word of mouth.
Savvy brands will develop a strategy to leverage Open Graph actions aligned with their brand, products, and services. They will use Open Graph applications to create opportunities for contextually relevant engagement and sharing with consumers, both on and off of Facebook.
Brands will shift focus to dialogues and consumer Timelines
In conjunction with Open Graph, Facebook introduced the Timeline. The brand Timeline is focused on telling the brand's story by providing marketers with an opportunity to engage consumers with photos, videos, contests, and more. The brand Timeline provides less of an opportunity for brands to control the consumer experience than the old Facebook brand page, thus making it less of a marketing tool versus a consumer engagement forum. Furthermore, comScore research shows that brand pages reach only 16 percent of fans each week on average.
Consumer Timelines, on the other hand, are now incredibly valuable to marketers because they are where the majority of consumer interaction takes place. With Open Graph, consumer stories about a brand are now broadcast front-and-center on the consumer Timelines, as well as in the news feeds and tickers of their friends. In addition, brands can create a persistent connection with the consumers' Timelines by creating an aggregation or "brand billboard" that tells the ongoing story of that relationship.
While the brand Timeline is an important tool for consumer engagement, brands need to develop strategies to claim real estate on the consumer Timeline. A program to foster consumer stories through Open Graph is a critical element of these strategies.
Open Graph will provide unprecedented insight into consumer demographics
When it comes to data and insights, no marketing tools available today can hold a candle to what is available through Facebook's Open Graph. At a marketer's fingertips is data including program performance, consumer demographics, and social reach.
Marketers can understand who is sharing stories about their brands, products, and services. They can also understand reach (impressions), engagement (clicks), and conversions across the news feed, ticker, and Timeline. Marketers can also see the aggregate demographics of friends that engage with stories, which enable them to optimize campaigns. For example, a brand could see that females in a certain demographic were dramatically outperforming other demographics and reallocate ad budget accordingly.
The deep insights into social reach and consumer demographics through Facebook's Open Graph will enable brands to optimize marketing campaigns both on and off of Facebook.
Sponsored Stories will replace Facebook Ads
There has been a ton of skepticism in the market about advertising on Facebook. If everything goes as Facebook predicts, Open Graph and the increasing adoption of Sponsored Stories will change all of that.
To start with, Sponsored Stories are significantly more relevant than most advertising because friends are endorsing brands and providing social context. According to a study by Facebook and Nielsen, recall of messages increased by 50 percent with social context when compared to an update without social context.
At the same time, targeting of Sponsored Stories is unparalleled. According to Facebook, its targeting reaches audiences with 90-95 percent accuracy, compared to an industry average of 35 percent.
The results are significantly higher than Facebook Ads. According to TBG Digital, Sponsored Stories saw a 46 percent higher CTR and a 20 percent lower CPC than Facebook Ads.
Further highlighting their importance, Sponsored Stories are the only Facebook ad unit available on mobile. Data from studies by Facebook API providers shows that mobile Sponsored Stories are getting 1.93 times the CTR and 2.65 times the eCPM of Sponsored Stories on the web.
If Sponsored Stories play out according to Facebook's plan, with unparalleled relevance and targeting and higher CTR and conversions, more and more brands will switch their Facebook ad dollars to Sponsored Stories. And, as marketers start to see the improved results from Sponsored Stories, more ad dollars will be allocated to Facebook.
Open Graph will facilitate the convergence of owned, earned, and paid media
The convergence of owned, earned, and paid media is top of mind for marketers today. How do you leverage owned media channels to drive more earned media? And how can you use earned media to drive more effective paid media? Facebook's Open Graph and Sponsored Stories bring it all together.
With Open Graph, brands can engage consumers across all owned media touch points (website, blogs, social networks, and more) and foster creation of earned media (stories). This earned media is then broadcast across Facebook to amplify awareness organically. Brands can further amplify the reach of these earned media stories by purchasing highly effective paid media (Sponsored Stories) -- or, in Facebook's words, spread word of mouth at scale.
With Facebook, brands will be able to implement strategies to test the impact of the convergence of media types. Brands will be able to foster earned media (in the form of consumer stories) to fuel more effective paid media (Sponsored Stories).
With the second half of 2012 in full swing, brands need to be thinking about how they can incorporate Facebook's Open Graph into their current marketing initiatives and plans for 2013. Long gone are the days of "flat" marketing. Consumers and the content they create need to be incorporated into marketing strategies to create integrated, dimensional programs that leverage all media types. Marketing can now be more targeted, more relevant, and ultimately, more effective.
Brad Klaus is CEO of Extole.
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