As of a few years ago, a conversation with a new friend would often end with a particular question: “Are you on Facebook?”
Nobody asks that question any more. At least not in the United States, where 83% of internet users are now on the service.
Facebook has managed to take ownership of the online social world, boasting over 800 million users and ranking as the number one social network in many countries. It’s not certain how long it will remain the dominant social network, but it seems unlikely that another platform will usurp it in the near term. Since Facebook will remain an important player in the space for years to come, we need to examine the direction the company is taking and anticipate new developments that could occur in the coming years.
Mobile Represents the Broadest Future Opportunity for Facebook
The IDC expects mobile internet access to surpass desktop access by 2015. Mobile must be a central focus for all online properties in the coming years and Facebook above all others has the potential to expand and improve their services by effectively leveraging this growing field.
400 million Facebook users access the site via smartphones, which is about half of their user base. The company has a strong incentive to encourage the other half to make the move to mobile access, since users engage with the platform twice as much when they use it via mobile device.
Facebook has even released a separate app to support their Messenger service, a move to claim the mobile instant message territory and effectively replace SMS as the mobile chat medium of choice.
Video sharing is also expected to increase, paralleling the explosion of photo sharing the site has seen over the past few years. Currently 6 billion photos are shared on Facebook each month and we expect to see that number grow
Mobile Facebook usage also creates opportunities for new types of social shopping features. For example, “Go Try It On” is a mobile app that allows users to get feedback from their friends on clothing combinations, whether before purchase or before leaving for the night. This is an example of the type of feature that a start-up will pioneer and Facebook will then integrate into its core offering, either by purchasing the company or mimicking it.
Location-based Services Will Also Be Key to Facebook’s Future
Location-based services (LBS) began as utilitarian methods of navigating and optimizing travel routes, but recent iterations have found success by facilitating spontaneity for their users by enabling meet-ups with friends and coupons that are searchable by location.
Facebook Places was created in late 2010 in the image of Foursquare and was then revamped during 2011 to integrate location information into other activities such as status updates and photo uploads. This is a good example of how location data is being more elegantly integrated into social platforms, giving other services more depth rather than attempting to make location the centerpiece of
Facebook has also integrated Places with their Deals couponing and discount platform. Users can check offers for nearby restaurants and redeem those deals through their phones.
Moxie’s report on location-based services, published last year, noted the “check-in fatigue” that has set in with users who have investigated the hype and discovered that often the experience demands too much effort for the benefits delivered. Users must navigate multiple screens, actions and decision points each time they check-in at a location, and even more if they are redeeming an offer.
The Socialization of Objects
The Internet of Things is an information technology buzzword used to describe a world of connected devices: tablets, refrigerators, bicycles, toothbrushes and more, that are capable of sending and/or receiving data to and from the Internet. Ultimately Facebook will be the place where people can not only check on and interact with their connected objects, but with those of their friends and colleagues.
Thingd, for example, is a company that is organizing the world’s objects. Many have called it “Facebook for things” and we expect the two to become heavily integrated by the time it enjoys mainstream adoption. Thingd is attempting to catalogue all commercially available goods with the goal of allowing developers to build services on top of the database that can serve consumers recommendations for similar to complementary objects, connect them to others with the same interests and let them buy or sell goods.
Imagine having everyone’s possessions thoroughly cataloged on Facebook. A person could consult their friend’s possessions for ideas before shopping, or conversely, check and make sure they don’t buy a piece of clothing or furniture another friend already owns. Users could sign into Facebook from their phones and check for items that complement what they already own while they are out shopping. Or tap into a friend’s information when looking for an appropriate birthday present.
Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way
Facebook will continue to evolve and push into new areas of online social interaction. Marketers should watch closely as they continue to explore mobile, location-based services, social games, social objects and more.
All of these technologies benefit from involvement with Facebook by meshing with its social graph, where all of its users have already defined their social relationships and shared information about themselves.
Marketers that get involved with these elements of Facebook early will reap the benefits of the extra attention and engagement new features get while they are still novel and impressive. As these features become commonplace to the user base, marketers that were involved early will have a more sophisticated understanding of them and be able to leverage them more effectively to achieve business objectives.
Greg Steen, 02.07.2012