Facebook creates new ‘follow’ action to allow users to get updates about other users’ app activity directly in News Feed

Facebook now offers developers an easy way to allow users to follow other users’ activity within Open Graph applications, even if those users are not friends.

With the new built-in “follow” action, users will be able to get updates about other users’ app activity within the Facebook News Feed, rather than needing to visit the app to find out about it. For example, a person might follow a journalist within a social news app to see what they are reading or follow a celebrity chef within a food review app. Having these stories within News Feed could lead more users to see this activity and then visit the app or share it with friends.

Some apps like Pinterest and Quora have already been using their own Open Graph “follow” actions to share this type of activity back to Facebook, but now Facebook has made “follow” built-in, just as it has done with “read,” “watch,” “listen” and “like.” Built-in verbs can include additional benefits. In the case of “follow,” developers will get additional distribution through News Feed, Ticker, Timeline and notifications.

The action of following someone will generate a story in Ticker and in the recent activity box on Timeline. Users will also get a Facebook notification when they follow someone. These features promote re-engagement and viral growth, though it’s odd that users who are followed don’t receive a notification that someone followed them. Likely to drive even more re-engagement is the feature that will put any user’s app activity in News Feed. Many users visit Facebook several times a day, but they don’t always visit other services as frequently. Now users won’t have to think to visit another app or site on their own. They will see prompts in News Feed that will take them there.

We saw evidence of Facebook testing a new “follow” action earlier this week, and wondered whether it might have been related to a deeper Twitter integration. Now it seems what we saw was likely related to today’s announcement. However, this might be further reason for Twitter to build an Open Graph app and take advantage of Facebook’s viral mechanics to engage users who aren’t as active as others.

Facebook says it will no longer approve custom follow actions. Apps that currently use a custom follow action must migrate to use the built-in follow in the next 90 days. Technical documentation about the built-in “follow” action is available here.

Facebook roundup: stock up to $33, creative execs join Facebook council, Payvment offers 1-click ad buying and more

Facebook stock up 10 percent - Facebook shares closed at $33.05 today, up 10 percent from last Friday. Despite some bad news regarding a legal settlement that will allow users to remove their names from Sponsored Stories, optimism is growing for Facebook’s potential future to create an ad network. The company also announced subscription billing and a move away from its virtual currency Credits toward a broader payments platform that allows developers to sell items in a user’s local currency, i.e., dollars or euros.

Facebook forms creative council – Facebook announce its inaugural Facebook Creative Council, which convened in Cannes this week. Similar to the the Client Council announced last year, the Creative Council will help Facebook identify priorities for agency creatives. Members include Jeff Benjamin (JWT), Colleen DeCourcy (Socialistic), David Droga (Droga5), Rob Feakins (Publicis), Toshiya Fukuda (777), James Hilton (AKQA), Linus Karlsson (McCann), Amir Kassaei (DDB), Nick Law (R/GA), Mike Lazerow (Buddy Media), Tor Myhren (Grey), Rob Reilly (CPB), Mark Tutssel (Leo Burnett) and Mark Waites (Mother).

AmEx and Facebook team up for small business contest – American Express OPEN and Facebook launched its second annual “Big Break for Small Business” contest. Five small business owners will receive house calls from American Express OPEN and Facebook marketing specialists who help transform a business’ social media efforts. Winners will also receive $25,000 in cash to go toward the social strategies they learn. Every small business that enters the contest will get $50 in free Facebook advertising credits. American Express Cardmembers and merchants who enter will receive $100 in advertising on the site.

Users get easier opt-out from notifications - Facebook introduced a new way for users to opt out of notifications from apps, groups, or other sources that send them. People have always been able to opt out on the Notifications Settings page, but now users can opt out directly from the notifications drop down menu.

Facebook adds comment editing - Users can now edit their own comments at any point after they’ve been posted. Previously, Facebook users only had about 12 seconds to edit their comments without removing them. Now comments that have been edited include an “edit history” that anyone can view. This means users can fix typos or clarify a point, but a full record of edits is available so users can’t deny what they wrote before editing it.

Payvment adds one-click Facebook ad buying – E-commerce platform Payvment announced a new one-click Facebook ad buying service this week to give merchants a way to turn promotional Facebook posts into ads and target users based on their shopping patterns.

New Louisiana law requires sex offenders to list status on social sites – Louisiana sex offenders must now state their criminal status on Facebook and other social networking sites. The law, which is the first of its kind in the U.S., requires sex offenders to list the crime for which they were convicted, the jurisdiction of conviction, a description of their physical characteristics and residential address.

Study: 24 percent of top websites integrate Facebook - According to a study by Pingdom, 24.3 percent of the top 10,000 websites in the world include Facebook integration on their homepages, this includes Facebook login and Facebook plugins such as the Like button. A total of 49.3 percent of the top 10,000 sites include basic links to Facebook.

GE launches HealthyShare Facebook app - GE launched a new Facebook Timeline-enabled app called HealthyShare, a tool for people to share their health goals, track their progress and use friends as sources of motivation toward achieving those goals. The app, which was timed ahead of the Olympic Games, was developed in partnership with Facebook.



Facebook gives Like button functionality to third-party mobile and web app buttons

Facebook announced today that developers will be able to add a new Open Graph-enabled Like action to their apps so that users can easily share content back on Facebook.

Mobile and web app developers can now build custom buttons that function similarly to Facebook’s traditional Like button. For example, Instagram and Foursquare use hearts in their mobile apps. Now instead of those actions being seen within the app only, they can be published to Facebook without any additional steps. Further, when a user Likes their friend’s photo or story using the new Like action, the friend will receive a Facebook notification about it. This feature could help increase discovery and engagement of apps that integrate Open Graph.

Previously, mobile apps couldn’t integrate the Like button. The change also gives developers flexibility in their app design now that they don’t have to use Facebook’s standard Like button to achieve the same viral results. The only difference between the the new Like action and Facebook’s original social plugin is that users will have to authorize an app in order for custom buttons to publish to a user’s Facebook account. Developers should make it clear when users’ activity within apps will be posted to Facebook and only publish “Like” stories when users take an explicit action to Like something. Facebook notes that a user giving a movie a five-star rating does not qualify as a Like. Instead the app should use the “rated” action.

More information about implementing Open Graph Like actions is available from Facebook’s developer site here.

Facebook tries promoting games with notifications

Facebook appears to be testing a way to drive users to re-engage with games by sending them a new type of notification, we’ve discovered.

Some users are seeing notifications about their friends playing games. These notifications, which are different from requests, appear to come from Facebook, not the game itself. The notifications include the “Play now” call to action, which the social network uses in its sidebar modules, like the “Games You May Like” module seen below.

[Update 6/11/12 5:54 p.m. PT - Facebook confirms, "We are testing this feature as part of ongoing tests to help people discover and reengage with apps and games and drive meaningful traffic to developers."]

Facebook frequently tries new sidebar modules to promote games discovery, but we’ve never seen the company use notifications in this way. This placement could lead more users back into games than sidebar modules do because users receive a red notification icon at the top of all Facebook pages and will see a pop-up in the bottom left corner of the page if they happen to be on Facebook.com when the notification comes through.

Some users might be frustrated by notifications that are not actual games requests. This could backfire if users decide to hide all notifications from a game, thinking the notifications are from the developer rather than Facebook. However, the test is likely limited to a small proportion of users and the social network can gather information and consider the results before implementing the feature more widely. From what we’ve seen, users only receive notifications for games they’ve already played, but Facebook could be running other variations of the test.

In the past, Facebook has had to limit developer access to notifications to prevent spam. Between February 2010 and February 2011, developers could not send any notifications, and email was the only app-to-user communication channel. App requests sent by friends began to appear in the notification center again in December 2010. When Facebook enabled app-generated requests again in 2011, it did so without allowing the requests to generate notifications the same way as user-generated requests do.

Redesigned activity box, notification center give Facebook users in-line controls for privacy, app alerts

Over the past week, Facebook has been rolling out redesigns for the “recent activity” box on Timeline and the notification center at the top of the site. Besides visual changes, the features now include in-line controls for adjusting the privacy level of a recent action and choosing whether an app or group can send notifications.

The new activity box includes larger images and text, as well as an additional app icon. When users hover over their own activity stories, they see the current privacy setting of the action and have the option to change its visibility to “only me.” These settings are important to give users the confidence that they control what they share using Open Graph applications. If Facebook makes it too difficult or confusing how to manage privacy settings for certain actions, users could begin to avoid these apps all together.

The larger size of photos and text in the activity box gives apps further exposure on Timeline, which could lead to discovery among friends and promote re-engagement with existing users. This is the second time the social network has increased the size the recent activity section of Timeline since it launched. The design fits Facebook’s current trend of increasing the size of images across the site and its mobile apps. See below for a comparison.

The redesigned notification center also has in-line controls so users can easily indicate when they want to stop receiving notifications from an application, group, event or comment thread. See a sample app notification in an image to the right from TechCrunch. Visually, the notifications drop-down now looks inspired its mobile counterpart, with rounder edges and the notification icon lighting up in white. See below for a comparison.

New activity box

Previous activity box

Original activity box

New notifications center

Previous notifications center

Mobile notifications center

Facebook Releases Chat Client for Windows

Facebook now offers a desktop chat application for Windows. Like the company’s standalone mobile app, it is called Facebook Messenger, but the Windows client includes notifications and Ticker to drive users back to the site.

Ticker, a lightweight version of News Feed, has included Sponsored Stories since November. A Facebook spokesperson has confirmed Ticker in the Windows application will function as it does on Facebook.com. Though whether these ads are shown on the website or a desktop client could have different effects on clickthrough rates. As Facebook reviews adoption and engagement of the new app, it will also have to consider ad performance.

The social network is continuing to make its messages product available wherever users might want it. By developing a means of communication that works across devices, Facebook can become the default service people choose to contact each other.

In November 2010, the company began to integrate Facebook messages, chat, SMS and email in such a way that all the conversation between two people, regardless of medium, shows in a single thread. For instance, one user can send a message from the mobile Messenger app that will reach another user who is using chat on Facebook.com. That person can reply from there and the other user can later access the message from the web or mobile inbox. The new desktop client adds another element to this ecosystem.

Messenger for Windows is in a trial period for a small group of people, according to the Help Center where the download link is available.

Facebook Deepens Windows App Integrations With Skype-to-Facebook, Messenger Client

Facebook is deepening its integration with Windows through a new Skype-to-Facebook feature and a Messenger client for Windows 7 that allows users to access the Ticker, Chat and Notifications.

The Skype-to-Facebook functionality, found in the Skype 5.4 Beta for Mac and Skype 5.7 Beta for Windows released last week, allows users to make Skype calls to one another without leaving Facebook. In order to use the feature, users must link their Skype and Facebook accounts and then launch calls from a video call button that appears after selecting a Facebook friend. Facebook first introduced Skype integrations this year, several months before Microsoft acquired Skype in October.

Facebook’s Messenger client for Windows 7 is a bit more involved, enabling users to access three core real-time features of the Facebook platform directly from their desktops. TechCrunch has confirmed that the client is currently in limited beta on the platform and is wholly developed by Facebook — not as part of a new partnership with Microsoft. Facebook has been experimenting with different ways to package Chat in native apps in the past year, including launching a standalone mobile group chat app for iOS, Android and BlackBerry in August.

It may be worth noting that these features move Facebook further into territory that Google has expanded into in recent years as well, while Google is still trying to get Google+ growing to larger scale.

Featured Facebook Campaigns: Bonobos, Nitto Tires, Zazzle and Visiteurope.com

Facebook contests used everything from discounts to cars to photos this week in our featured campaigns. We spoke to the VP of Marketing for Bonobos, looked at Nitto Tires’ car design sweepstakes, Zazzle’s giveaway and visiteurope.com’s photo entry contest.

You can see the full week’s coverage in the Facebook Marketing Bible, which also includes detailed breakdowns of over 100 other featured campaigns by top-performing brands and businesses on Facebook.

Bonobos’ 50 for 50 Facebook Campaign

Goal: Page Growth, Product Purchase, Network Exposure, Brand Loyalty

Core Mechanic: A Facebook campaign that gives users a higher discount on Bonobos merchandise as more users Like the Page.

Method: Bonobos bills itself as a web-driven men’s apparel brand and e-tailer, that uses heavy Facebook integration. We spoke to the company’s VP of Marketing Richard Mumby, who told us that Facebook ads and its Page were responsible for 50% of the company’s new customers.

This particular campaign, like most of the company’s campaigns, was developed in-house and takes a concept we’ve seen primarily with charities — pegging monetary amounts to the number of Likes a Page receives — and changes it up for retail. Essentially this campaign will provide users with 50% off purchases up to $500 on October 3 from the Bonobos website if the Page reaches 50,000 Likes by September 30. The campaign started at 23% to represent the 23,000 Facebook Likes it had. Mumby said the Facebook ads originally paired with the campaign became irrelevant because the virality of the campaign was taking care of itself. Currently the Page stands at 46,100 Likes.

Bonobos views Facebook as a way to engage customers with the brand, taking customers on a journey using the language and products that are already familiar to them. Facebook helps Bonobos bring the brand to life, as the tone the company uses to engage customers is “the way guys talk,” and then make the transition from knowing the brand to becoming a customer.

“The language we use and the syntax, the style of talking and engagement, is very much guy-to-guy, and so Facebook works very well for us,” he told us. “What we understand is that the more people that become a part of our Facebook community, the easier it will be for us to grow our business.”

Impact: The 50 for 50 campaign began on Sept. 12 and runs until Sept. 30 and already the campaign has already grown the Page to over 46,000 Likes. PageData highlights that in the days after the campaign launched the Page’s growth grew steeply.

How are top brands in the industry designing their Facebook marketing campaigns? See the Facebook Marketing Bible for detailed breakdowns of hundreds of Featured Campaigns by top-performing brands and businesses on Facebook.

Facebook Tests Changing User Account Settings to Send Summary Email Notifications

Facebook just posted to its official Page that is testing new summary emails for users “who are very active on Facebook and receive lots of email notifications”. Rather than sending individual emails, the notifications will be compiled into occasional digests. Those in the test will have their account settings automatically changed to turn off most of their email notifications, which might surprise and annoy some users, though they’ll be able turn them all back on by unchecking the new “Email Frequency” account setting.

Summary emails could help reduce inbox clutter for Facebook power users — ones the site wants to keep happy because their actions drive reengagement for less active users. However, forcibly changing account settings could upset some users even if it they eventually find the summaries valuable.

Facebook defaults to sending users individual email notifications for over 70 different actions on the site. If users are admins of Pages, join noisy Groups, are frequently invited to Events, or play games, these notifications can quickly overrun their inboxes and lead them to ignore rather than read the alerts.

While users will still see red counters on the site’s top navigation bar when they return, getting them to actually click through email notifications is important to the site maintaining its high daily active user count. Often the actions users take in response to notifications, such as replying to posts on their wall, generate notifications for other users and create a loop that helps Facebook attain its massive engagement rates.

Solving the problem of excessive email notification frequency therefore seems somewhat obvious, but Facebook’s solution may be too aggressive. Though the end result of a cleaner inbox may benefit users, some may object on principle to having their account settings changed without their permissions.

Facebook should certainly look to address the issue, but its opt out test may do more harm than good. It should consider emailing those receiving too many email notifications with the choice to opt in to email summaries, or using a sidebar prompt to promote the feature. The perception that Facebook can change a user’s privacy or account settings at will already pushes potential users away from the service, and this change won’t help.

Update 9/20/2011: To inform users who’ve had their notifications settings changed, Facebook is sending the email below. By explicitly alerting users to the change, Facebook may be able to reduce the risk of backlash.

Facebook Roundup: Stock, Vietnam, Oregon Data Center, Adaptly, Questions, Pixable, Cars and More

Weekly Facebook Developer Blog Update – This week’s Platform Update to the Facebook Developers Blog announced that developers can now upload videos using the Graph API, and can batch upload binary data, including photos. It also reminded developers not to use fake accounts as admins of their apps, or their apps could be disabled. Developers should use real accounts to create apps, and Graph API-based designated test accounts for testing.

Facebook Unblocked in Vietnam? – Vietnam’s telecom company, FPT, signed a partnership with Facebook this week wherein the company will help promote and sell ads, as well as consulting developing Vietnamese apps for Facebook. The news was reported in PC World Vietnam, which hints that Facebook may be unblocked in that country soon.

Facebook Considers Censorship – Responding to questions about how Facebook sees working in countries that restrict free speech, aspokesperson told The Wall Street Journal that ”Maybe we will block content in some countries, but not others. We are occasionally held in uncomfortable positions because now we’re allowing too much, maybe, free speech in countries that haven’t experienced it before.” Facebook, like Google and other tech companies, do censor some information in specific interests (Nazi propaganda in Germany being an easy example, or hate speech), but have so far resisted widespread censorship of users over political or cultural issues.

Uganda Set to Block Facebook – Facebook is increasingly a target for blocking among governments, regardless of how it handles its service — the free-wheeling nature of the communication medium is what some fear. The government of Uganda is set to order ISPs there to block Twitter and Facebook in the face of widespread protests in the face of high food and fuel prices.

Facebook Increases Lobbying Spending in DC — Although not by much. Spending is up to $230,00 in the first quarter of this year from $41,000 a year before. Other companies and organizations spend many millions of dollars per quarter.

A Look Inside Facebook’s Oregon Data Center - Data Center Knowledge went on a tour of the servers at Facebook’s Prineville, Oregon datacenter and included photos and a video. Robert Scoble also went on the tour an includes more information and photos, such as that Facebook’s datacenter is the most efficient in the world. [Image via Facebook]

Winklevoss Twins Are Back in Court, Again – Although last week we reported that the Winklevoss twins had lost their latest challenge in an ongoing series of lawsuits against Facebook, they’re back. This time, the twins and another UConnect co-founder Divya Narendra, claim that Facebook hid instant messages that could have aided their cause during the course of their lawsuit (the newly-produced emails from a separate case against founder Mark Zuckerberg, from Paul Ceglia).

One User’s Question Goes Viral With 4M Votes – A random Facebook user, Heather Marie Hollingsworth, recently posted a question to her friends that ended up getting 4.11 million votes. AllThingsD reports that the virality designed into Facebook’s Questions product was likely responsible, as Hollingsworth simply asked her network whether they wanted to stay on her friends list as she began to clean it out.

Facebook Glitch Resets Email Notifications – Facebook reported it fixed a glitch that affected the amount of emails users receive from the social network, which users adjust in their account settings. All told users may receive email notifications for up to 73 different actions, such as being tagged in a photo.

Latest Android for Facebook Released – Facebook for Android v1.5.3 was released this week; the latest version allows users to tag friends in status updates, bug fixes and a friend finding feature.

FormSpring Names Former RockYou Executive as COO - Ro Choy, a former business executive at the social developer, is now the chief operating officer of the question and answer site that makes heavy use of Facebook features.

Compete: Financial Services Ok on Facebook – Compete studied the state of financial services firms on Facebook and found that State Farm, Capital One, Progressive beat out iTunes and Ford.

Pixable Raises $3.6M – Pixable, which created the Photofeed app that helps people discover their friends’ photos, raised $3.6 million this week in a second round funding.

Adaptly Raises $2.7M – Adaptly raised $2.7 million this week in seed and Series A funding from investors that included First Round Capital, Charles River Ventures and a group of angels. The money is set to help Adaptly continue to help advertisers spread their message across social networks, not simply Facebook.

Which Green Cars Capture the Most Chatter? – Social media analytics company Infegy ran an analysis of which “green” vehicles captured the most social chatter. Their analysis found that the Chevy Volt, then Audi A3 Diesel and Ford Fusion Hybrid were the top three midsize cars, whereas compacts were the Toyota Prius, Mini E Electric and the Nissan Leaf.

American Express Holds Small Business Contest – American Express Open and Facebook are partnering to hold a contest for small business owners to get a “small business makeover” at Facebook’s headquarters. The contest will award 5 business owners an all-expense paid trip to Palo Alto, California for a two-day, one-on-one business makeover, along with $20,000 to revamp their business’ social media strategy.

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