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Many marketers are still wrapping their heads around recent changes to Facebook pages and their effect on the way brands can interact with their users across the platform.
It‘s unsurprising that some were caught off guard by the announcement that Facebook will also be making a larger change in March, finally moving away from FBML coding in favour of a return to iframes.
While the announcement isn’t a complete surprise - rumours have been circulating since 2010 - the ramifications could ultimately be much larger for Facebook and e-commerce in general.
What does this mean for brands?
FBML was initially utilised in order to create a uniform look within Facebook and allow more seamless integration, but a return to iframes will now enable brands to create a far richer, more immersive experience for users within the network, while also using recent changes to engage proactively with potential customers.
While there are still some limitations in place, this may be of particular interest to small-to-medium size companies and multichannel players who do not yet have an extensive, established web presence.
The ability to utilise open graph data directly within pages, as well as improved niche targeting means Facebook may finally become a viable alternative to an externally hosted site.
Many companies already rely heavily on social interaction to drive revenue, and the continued rise of F-commerce has shown that businesses are happy to conduct transactions directly on their pages.
As mentioned, there are a few limitations:
Facebook will still specify page sizes and host them within it’s familiar blue and white borders, and by retaining the message wall it’s clear that the world’s largest social network has not lost sight of what made it so popular in the first place.
In addition, brands considering a fuller presence on the network will need to think about organisational changes and ownership.
Speaking as a page manager whose own coding skills barely extend beyond ‘Duck Hunt for ZX Spectrum’, I’m happy to have an experienced tech team to fall back on, and many managers may find that they will need to improve their own coding or hand extended control directly to more experienced programmers.
While this isn’t a problem per se, it’s worth considering whether or not this will affect your ability to roll out campaigns quickly and tweak details as they progress, especially if you are working with a larger client.
Likewise, this will have a considerable effect on businesses that utilise an external agency to manage their Facebook presence.
It's unlikely that these changes will result in a wholesale stampede just yet. The vast majority of brands will quite rightly be highly sceptical of handing full control over to Facebook.
The network has made it clear that ‘Our house, our rules’ will still apply, and it’s always been perilous to put all your brand eggs in an externally hosted basket, especially as Facebook has struggled with reliability issues when making larger changes, primarily due to the sheer amount of data and millions of external commands the network handles on a daily basis.
Facebook page optimisation
On the plus side, the changes mean that brands can now carry out far more effective and unobtrusive multivariate testing on their pages, will be more easily able to optimise directly for mobile, and will doubtless see heavy growth in the nascent field of FPO (That’s Facebook Page Optimisation to you) as brands fight to appear in Facebook’s internal search as well as on external search engines.
Combined with the uniformity Facebook provides, this again may allow smaller businesses to compete on a more even field with larger competitors.
Overall, I see these changes as a good thing for both brands and customers. Pages will become more usable and feature-heavy, with more seamless commercial transactions embedded directly, while brands will retain access to the long-tail communication and tracking that “like” enables.
Facebook itself meanwhile stands to benefit enormously.
Increased commercial potential combined with a massive and highly engaged audience mean that F-commerce is about to take a giant leap forward, and will certainly make the site a viable alternative to product-specific micro sites, if not major portals.