10 first reactions to Facebook Paper

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Facebook Paper for iPhone and iPod hit the iOS App Store this week and if you haven’t downloaded it, you should. It’s actually pretty great. So much so that it inspired me to pull together ten first impressions of what it means for digital marketers.

1. Facebook is a mobile company.

If there were any remaining questions about Facebook’s mobile chops after the Q4 earnings call, then Paper cements Facebook’s status as an elite mobile company. They know their future is mobile and this app shows they’re able to not only create a fun and elegant user experience, but as you’ll see below, illustrates that they can be very forward thinking about how mobile will impact their business going forward.

In juxtaposition to their miserable first mobile attempts, Paper fixes everything. Every detail is considered; world-class professionals have crafted this app.

The “unboxing” experience (if an app can be unboxed) is easy and helpful — no logging-in because iPhone already has my credentials; the intro video is sweet; the gestures are easy to understand and get the hang of; and the app’s personality (she’s sweet) suggests things as she discovers you might need help.

2. Facebook is a learning company.

There was no hype, no private invitations or press event, just a blog post and then a few days later a fully-formed app that was available to the masses. This launch approach has been much more cautious than in the past and seems to suggest that a more test and learn approach has settled-in. This isn’t the Lean Start-Up approach of launching an MVP — there’s nothing minimal about Paper.

3. Facebook is a fast-follower (sorta).

For many companies, especially as they go public and get big, their openness to risk and therefore innovation, decreases. While Paper was developed by an internal skunk works team called Creative Labs, it’s clear much of this app was inspired (nice way to put it) by Flipboard. I don’t blame them, Flipboard had a profound effect on me the first time I logged in to Facebook and Twitter as well. The reimagining of Facebook as a newspaper fits quite well, especially as they move away from text updates and toward even more visual posts.

Until now I’ve thought of Twitter as a master fast-follower, now it looks like Facebook may be making progress here too.

4. To be truly useful, I need more control.

The “sections,” another idea plucked from Flipboard, are impressive on day one and I’m fine exploring what they’ve pulled together. But soon I’m going to want to make my own sections, both from websites I find as well as from people I already have connections with. Custom sections can’t come soon enough.

It’s still very much a browsing experience, but maybe that’s OK. When I can create my own sections like I create lists on Twitter, then Paper, and more specifically Facebook, will actually be useful and not just fun. 

5. Instagram needs a facelift.

I know Paper is all about news and aggregating popular content from across the social graph, but this experience works because of photography. Paper is primed for better Instagram integration, and makes me realize how badly Instagram needs a makeover. Instagram photos posted to Facebook appear like any other photo, but in Paper they’re coming through more like link posts than the cool tilt to scroll photo posts.

The Instagram app instantly feels ancient, and not in a classics/Egypt/Iliad sort of way. Instagram needs to break out of its low-res, square photo format and give us the immersive mobile photo and video experience we now crave. Pretty please.

6. Facebook is cool (sorta).

With the irrational fear of those cool teenagers (I know some teenagers, they’re not that cool) leaving Facebook for cooler pastures like Snapchat, the navel-gazing pundits were ready to give up on “your mom’s social network”. But hold on peoples, coolness is just an app away. While I don’t think Paper fundamentally changes the way people think about Facebook, it will change the way millions of people experience Facebook and that can only help the brand. If the Creative Lab can strike gold more than once, then I think we’re in for a long fun ride of giant rich tech companies being flexible enough to create cool things.

And people seem to love it so far. Lots of reviews on the app store, overwhelmingly positive, great press… Operation Hearts & Minds is off to good start.

7. When the ads come…

Facebook has shared that Paper will not have ads but they haven’t ruled it out. If Paper becomes the de facto Facebook app on iOS (and eventually Android, Windows Phone, etc.) then the ads will surely follow. My prediction is that ads will begin appearing in the next six months. Here’s why,

Paper blurs the line between friend’s content and other stuff we might like. Within minutes we are expected to explore well beyond our News Feeds. The concept of opting-in to content to fill your news feed is gone. We’re encouraged to explore what’s popular now and what the experts at Facebook have decided to share. This “conditioning” will vastly help Facebook deliver ads without pushback, and if marketers adapt well, with even more effectiveness. The idea of opt-in communications on Facebook is slowly going away for good as organic reach dwindles. A like is merely a signal, no longer a contract and our openness to exploring brand content from a wide variety of places expands. As long as users quickly get beyond the provided sections and are able to curate their own content, then Facebook will go from being fun to actually useful.

8. Facebook advertising just got harder, but don’t worry.

With organic reach going away and even more competition from content in “sections”, marketers that are able to reach key audiences will have to provide more than a photo, quick poll or contest. The post-click experience bar has now been raised. From the social mobile context of Paper, your brand’s post-click landing experience better be great on mobile or the impact to your brand will be staggering. If I go from Paper into a non-social mobile experience, I’m going to get cranky, and with a public comment field at my fingertips, literally, you’re not going to like what I’ll share.

Not to worry: Facebook thought about marketers from the start. The Verge shared that the 40 launch partners seem to have some subtle branding elements on their posts — National Geographic posts have yellow borders and use their fonts – for example. The more posts look branded, the potentially less they look like ads. As with everything social, as long as brands keep pushing value into my feed, I’m more likely to click and as Paper gains momentum and use time grows, we will become more and more open to brand content in our feeds, organic and paid.

Paper will be a treasure trove of new data and connections for Facebook. Expect to see premium (read expensive) ads in top sections, and possibly some pretty interesting content sponsorship opportunities. This will go well beyond trending topics and Facebook will, theoretically, be able to know more about your preferences and — even better for marketers — have more control over what you see and from whom.

9. Paper will quickly become the primary Facebook app.

I’ve used it for about 45 minutes today and I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the old app. You learn the gestures in minutes; it’s really easy to skim and find and explore; and it is quick and joyful.  At this moment, it’s the top featured app on the app store and it has more than 2,500 reviews – and 4.5 out of 5 stars. Let’s see if the enthusiasm wanes over the next weeks and months or if the momentum continues to build. I expect we’ll hear some multi-million numbers in the next few days.

10. What’s next?

If Paper signals a (real) multiple app strategy – and I’m not sure it does, yet – then what else are the Creative Lab folks working on? A shopping app would be obvious, but far more difficult. Hard goods are tangible and come in different sizes and shapes, and there is inventory and checkout and fulfillment to worry about. All solvable challenges, but ecommerce is just a VERY different beast. But I won’t be surprised if Storefront by Facebook (I made that up) isn’t being explored as we speak.

What else do you think could be “Papered” that you would be excited about? Instagram and shopping are easy, what could they do that would really change the game?

Marko Muellner has been a digital marketer for over 18 years, with deep experience in cross-channel, integrated, and multi-touch marketing strategy, creative development, and account management. He has spent his time learning how digital and social media marketing is applied in non-profits, international digital agencies, .com start-ups, global sportswear and beer companies, and at a top-tier web analytics and optimization company. This experience has brought him to the stage as a featured speaker at the Luxury Interactive Conference. His social media and digital marketing expertise have been featured in Luxury Daily, the SmartBlog on Social Media, Mobile Marketer, InsideSocialCommerce, and ClickZ. He can be reached at @markozm.

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