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Facebook gets into action(s)!

facebook_like_buttonFor the last few years, the ‘like’ button has been ubiquitous. As much as Google Circles wanted it to be replaced with +1, the ‘like’ had made its mark in the psyche of social networking users. Now, Facebook is not merely happy with knowing what we like. It wants to move to action verbs. The social networking behemoth wants to know what we do. And will we fall for it? We already have. Despite our cries and protests against invasion of privacy. Thousands of users enjoy sharing what they ‘listen’ to every single day, with Spotify. Here’s how it works, if a Facebook user approves the Spotify app, all the music listened to on Spotify gets updated in the user’s stream. Basically, anything that a user does on the internet can now be integrated into the Timeline. And Spotify is just one the hundreds of app that will be available over the next few months. Facebookers will be to share on their Timeline, what they listen to, eat, watch, read and more, as they do it.

Actions make social networking on the site far more multidimensional than it has ever been. The roll-out of Timeline has created a whole lot of buzz for the Facebook brand. By integrating actions in the Timeline, a user’s entire life could be on the site. We can interact far more than we have ever done with Facebook now. Or, for that matter, far more than we have ever done on the Web. We can share everything – from the movie we’re watching on Netflix to the bid we just placed on ebay. While it adds to the user experience, actions also makes for far more business sense than likes or filled-up public profiles. Sure, understanding what users like and enjoy, helps advertisers target specific demographics to the T, but knowing what users are doing does double the work for advertisers. Users turn into little brand ambassadors of Spotify or Netflix, every time the action is updated on their Timline. Movies, music, products and services get user-driven exposure. Actions are user-based semantic data that’s never been available to advertisers before. They can now define relations between people, business, content, places and a whole lot more. When actions was introduced at Facebook’s F8 developer conference, Mark Zuckerberg said, “We’re helping to define a new language for how people connect. When we started, the vocabulary was limited” to simple, inexpressive ‘Likes‘.

Let’s take a brief look at how brands are making the most of what actions let them do. If social networking is about showing or sharing your unique, personal interests, then now there’s a lot more you can do, and inadvertently promote on the site. Take for instance, Fab.com’s app. Fab shoppers can now share their purchases on their own Facebook Timelines. Don’t want to share everything you buy? Simply filter. Sharing is also incentivized, as Fab offers $10 worth of credits for the first five months. An example of another app is Airbnb, which is the Couch surfing of the app world. Essentially, Airbnb lets people looking for temporary accommodation while on travels (or ‘couch surf’), find users who have accommodation to spare. And then actions lets you show off where you have crashed. Even those offering accommodation can share how generous they have been through actions. But shopping and traveling are occasional actions, the Timeline can get awfully crowded with apps like Foodspotting, which lets users share what they are eating, when and where. This action app is a great way of promoting local restaurants, brands of certain type of food, or a certain lifestyle. Does it make business sense? You bet!

Over the last few years, Facebook has tried to get you to share as much as possible publicly. ‘Public’ being the keyword here, because this also lets advertisers access as much of your information as possible. Transitioning to Timeline and introducing actions means a huge scale-up to how much people can share. In fact, there’s no limit to what can be shared now. When Mark Zuckerberg had unveiled his law of sharing sometime ago, which predicted that ‘the amount of stuff you shared today is double the amount of stuff you shared a year ago and the stuff that you will share a year from now will be double the amount you’ve shared today’. Many skeptics scoffed at the very thought of it. How much time will people spend on Facebook each day, they questioned. But they didn’t factor in the new ways of sharing that Facebook is creating. What the social networking site intends to do with actions is get users to share everything they do on the web, on Facebook.

The site hopes that including information from a range of sources will offer users and advertisers a well-rounded profile to target ads. Besides it allows users become brand ambassadors of various products. The inclusion of media, lifestyle and other apps will also help Facebook make the “world a more connected place.” More interestingly, Timeline and actions will spur the evolution of thousands of apps from all over the world. In fact, at the F8 developer conference, that was the message to programmers. Go all out and show us what you’ve got. Carl Sjogreen who oversees the inclusion of Facebook apps has been clarifying routinely on the site and in communication to developers, as to what the social networking site will approve. “Although we may not have applications for everything today, we expect in the future we will,” Sjogreen has said last year. Clearly, Facebook intends to serve as tool beyond the search engine. It intends to be a discovery engine, which will help users discover a whole world of interests and activities.

The Timeline change has been driven by business motives, obviously. Facebook’s IPO is also in full swing. Obviously, marketers need a lot more than just likes to optimize their efforts to sell on Facebook. In many ways, actions is the Holy Grail of online marketing. It’s an almost unprecedented way to engage with clients. Users expressing affinity for brands was a step towards brand-engagement on the web. With actions, users will stream (in a sense), what they’re engaging with at the moment. A minor-big question now being asked is, will conversion to Timeline be mandatory. Will there be shift from the gentle nudge to get users to share as much as they can, to a mandatory change? As of now, shifting to Timeline is a user’s choice. Last month, Facebook released Open Graph applications, which are action-based apps created by outside developers. One can imagine the sheer rush of developers hoping to get some action on the social networking action pie. Experts say that Timeline and action go hand-in-hand, and there really is a danger that Facebook’s profits will be dented, if it gives users the option to stick to the old interests/like-centric profiles. Now, with the company’s IPO in full-swing and by being answerable to stock and stakeholders, Facebook has to maximize profits. Opting out of Timeline? May not be an option for long. And will the Web become a “frictionless” world like Facebook wants it to be? Maybe. Just maybe.

 

Preetam Kaushik

Preetam Kaushik is a Tech Journalist covering all things Business, Technology and Social Media. He is a web 2.0 consultant and columnist educating businesses, individuals and professionals by providing insightful coverage on various business and technology issues around the globe. Preetam is Daily Deal Media contributor specializing in Social Media, Facebook, Google, New Ventures, E-Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Fashion and Entertainment Business. Connect: @kaushikpreetam
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