Guest Post: Get Ahead of Competitors and Implement Strategies for Graph Search

team photo shoot, summer 2012This is a guest post by Sarah Reilly, VP of Sales at Blueye, a Facebook Preferred Marketing Developer.

Facebook recently held a hyped-up press event announcing their new product: Graph Search. In pure Facebook fashion, they made an emotionally charged video on how this product will revolutionize the way users search the Internet. It all led me to reflect – Facebook makes strides in product development that we might not immediately understand. But if marketers look back, they’ll often say, “oh, now I understand why Facebook launched that product.”

From a consumer standpoint, Graph Search tells a pretty compelling story. A key takeaway I noticed is that customers matter and loyalty is key. Why? Because customers will be talking about brands – and their sentiments will influence their friends’ purchasing behavior.

With that in mind, we’ve developed a few ways brands can get ahead of their competitors and leverage Graph Search.
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Extole raises $7.6M for social advocacy platform

extole_small_LogoFacebook Preferred Marketing Developer Extole today announced that it has raised an additional $7.6 million in funding.

Extole, which bills itself as a “social advocacy platform,” helps brands and agencies promote engagement across the web, email and social networks like Facebook through apps meant to drive word of mouth. Last year the company released new products and updated existing ones to integrate Facebook’s Open Graph publishing features, which increase virality and earned media. One client found that for every one person who entered the sweepstakes after seeing a promotional message from the brand, 3.6 additional people entered as a result of social recommendations.

Extole says it has seen significant growth in revenue, bookings and customer acquisition over the past year, including winning new clients like eHarmony, Spotify, Cache, Seventh Generation and HSN Improvements. T-Mobile, Shutterfly, Redbox, SkyMall and Seamless are among Extole’s other customers.

This latest funding comes from Extole’s previous investors Shasta Ventures, Norwest Venture Partners, Redpoint Ventures and Trident Capital, who participated in a $10-million Series C in February 2012. Extole has raised a total of $29.6 million since September 2010. Extole says the funding will be used for product and platform investments, as well as company growth.

Facebook’s frictionless sharing mistake

It has been a year since Facebook opened the gates for developers to create Open Graph applications with custom verbs and a new way for users to share their app activity through Timeline, Ticker and News Feed.

open graph

Since then, thousands of apps have integrated Open Graph and many have experienced significant growth in users and engagement. But hundreds of thousands of other apps don’t incorporate Open Graph, either because developers don’t know what is possible with it or because they doubt its value. Open Graph is core to what Facebook is trying to accomplish with News Feed, Timeline, search and ads, but it is not growing as quickly or being perceived as valuable as it could have been if Facebook hadn’t made a critical misstep: using the word “frictionless.”

At f8 in September 2011, CEO Mark Zuckerberg repeatedly referred to “frictionless experiences” as one of the key components of Open Graph apps. He also talked about the potential for “real-time serendipity” and “finding patterns,” but most people honed in on “frictionless,” and even today auto-sharing is what most people associate with Open Graph. The term has led users, developers, marketers and the media to fundamentally misunderstand what Open Graph apps are and why they should be built and used.
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Facebook allows ‘flexible sentences’ for Open Graph activity

Facebook today announced new “flexible sentences” options for apps that publish to Facebook using custom Open Graph verbs.

Developers can now better control the sentence structure for stories that users share from their apps. Not only can they edit the tenses of their custom verbs, they can add additional text to provide more information about the activity. Although it adds another layer of complexity to Open Graph, this change allows developers create more compelling stories for their apps, which could lead users to share more and lead more of their friends to discover the app. See the Songkick example below, which now has added context to make it clearer what it means to “track” and artist:

To help developers prioritize which story formats to adjust, Facebook’s sentence configuration tool will now note which stories are shared and viewed most frequently. The percentage of impressions a story format receives will be listed to the right. By clicking “Edit” next to the percentage, developers can add free-form text or property expressions. Developers can also remove objects from the sentence. Facebook pointed out an example for a hiking app, which would not want to share the story “Horatio hiked a hike on Social Hiking.” Instead, it could remove the object and change the app attribution to say “Horatio hiked using Social Hiking.”

Flexible sentences are available to developers starting today, though they only apply to custom actions. Apps that use Facebook’s built-in verbs like read, watch or listen cannot be customized this way. Developers who modify their existing actions to change their tense or sentence format will need to resubmit their actions for approval.

A basic how-to for flexible sentences is available here.

Guardian takes Facebook integration to its own site, focuses on explicit sharing

The Guardian today announced that it will remove its social reader application from Facebook.com in favor of deeper Facebook integration on its own website that will give users more control over what they share.

Some are interpreting the news as a blow to Facebook and a way for the Guardian to take back control of its content after the social network made changes that limited the reach of news apps. However, based on plans laid out by the Guardian, the media outlet seems to be continuing to invest in the Facebook platform and is working to create a better user experience, not sidestep the social network. Facebook apps do not need to run on Facebook.com. The company allows developers to integrate social features across the web, on mobile and with any Internet-connected device.

The Guardian says starting Monday it will direct Facebook users who click on its links to guardian.co.uk rather than to apps.facebook.com/theguardian. The publisher will continue to use Facebook login on its website and has plans to add features that give users more ways to give feedback on articles, which will then be shared to Facebook if they desire. This is a move toward explicit sharing rather than the “frictionless sharing” associated with social reader applications.

Facebook and its partners discovered that users were not comfortable with having articles they read automatically shared with their friends. Users were often surprised and embarrassed to see their activity appear back on Facebook. The Guardian, like other developers, is now looking at ways for users to take lightweight actions that can be shared through Facebook’s Open Graph without them feeling as though their privacy has been violated. For example, the Guardian plans to introduce polls and other questions that users can answer and share if they’re logged in with Facebook.

“The key thing is that the user will be in control and if they’re not interested in sharing it will not impact on their experience of accessing our content on guardian.co.uk,” the company wrote on its blog.

These types of integrations allow users to share their feelings, which is ultimately more meaningful than saying a person “read an article.” It also makes sense for this activity to happen on the Guardian’s website rather than within a canvas app on Facebook.com, which isn’t optimized for mobile and has other limitations when it comes to design. The media outlet can also capitalize on its existing site traffic rather than working to drive users to a property on Facebook.

As we’ve written about previously, the misperception that Facebook apps are limited to those on Facebook.com contributes to skepticism about the company’s longterm potential. But the social network continues to benefit even if the Guardian takes its integration to its own site. Facebook is still collecting data that can be used for advertising and users are generating stories that will make News Feed more engaging for their friends. Over time, Facebook can implement additional ways to monetize third-party integrations, but first it needs to get developers and companies on board to try it. The Guardian’s continued experimentation with the platform — even if it’s off-site — should be seen as an endorsement of Facebook, not a rejection of it.

[Update 12/14/12 - The Washington Post also announced today that it would move its social reader application off Facebook to a standalone website that will support Facebook login, but also allow users to browse without logging in. The timing suggests the publishers were advised by Facebook to take this approach of moving their app off-Facebook and giving users more control over their experience.]

Facebook head of brand design calls out trends to watch in 2013

Facebook Head of Brand Design Paul Adams says mobile, small networks and aggregation of data are the three trends to watch in 2013.

Adams wrote about these trends on his blog, giving insight into what he’d like his team and other companies to think about when building on the Facebook platform.

Mobile

The first area Adams addresses is mobile — something a lot of people are talking about but perhaps aren’t fully understanding.

“Stop thinking about devices,” he says and instead focus on the concept of mobile meaning “access to any information anywhere in the world.”

This shift has so many implications for people and industries, but the one Adams points to is commerce. He believes mobile will help bring value back to physical stores, combining the type of personal interaction that used to only happen in small local stores with the scale of big box retail and the convenience of e-commerce.

Adams doesn’t point to any examples, but consider the Apple Store, which is known for its innovative retail experience. The store doesn’t use traditional cash register stands. Instead, employees walk around freely, carrying iPod Touch devices and credit card scanners. This can be more efficient and personal since customers don’t have to wait in line and there isn’t a barrier between them and a salesperson. But even this is a bit more about the device than the idea of information anywhere, which Adams is talking about.

When Facebook is brought into the equation, it’s easy to see how social information can make experiences in any space more personal. Mobile apps could help consumers easily see their friends’ interests and preferences that are relevant to where they are. At the Apple Store? Here’s a breakdown of which Apple devices your friends own and who to ask if the iPhone 5 is worth the upgrade from the 4S.

Small networks

Adams notes that several start-ups are working on products and services for small groups, which he sees as a “huge growth area,” for connecting either groups of close friends or strangers with similar interests.

Facebook reinvented its groups product in 2010, after Adams, who worked at Google at the time, critiqued how the social network put users’ friends in one big bucket rather than supporting the distinct social circles that occur offline. Adams joined Facebook two months later.

This November, Facebook introduced a way for third-party apps to create and manage groups for users. The API was largely pitched as a way for game developers to help players connect around clans, alliances, guilds or other game communities, but non-game apps could ultimately find use in it as well. For instance, an app like Goodreads might want to allow users to form groups around their book clubs. Fitness apps like Endomondo might do the same for running clubs or teams training together. Fantasy sports apps would also seem to have a good use case.

Aggregation of data

Adams predicts, “We’ll see a shift away from individual tiny stories as the focus of what is being published and consumed and towards powerful aggregated experiences that tell a bigger picture.”

In the first year of Open Graph applications there have been a lot of one-off News Feed stories that tell what is happening now or what has just happened. Adams says to think beyond that and share richer stories about trends over time.

“Don’t think about what song I listened to, think about my favorite music this week, this year,” he says. “Don’t think about yesterday’s three-mile run, think about my marathon training.”

Open Graph apps include monthly and yearly summaries that developers can customize to tell these types of stories on a user’s Timeline. In addition to supporting Timeline summaries, Facebook generates aggregate News Feed stories based on trends it picks up on in Open Graph activity. A common example is “[a number] of your friends listened to [an artist] on Spotify.”

When developers create a more detailed map for their actions and objects, Facebook can return additional stories like “[a number] of your friends listened to songs from [a particular year] on Spotify.” What Adams is suggesting goes beyond an aggregation of similar activity among friends, but a way to express what many individual actions say about a person as a whole.

Read Adams’ post here.

Facebook mobile platform gains ground with 200K apps now connected

Facebook today announced that nearly 200,000 iPhone and Android apps connect with Facebook and 45 percent of the top grossing iOS apps integrate the social network’s SDK, shining light on how the company’s mobile strength goes beyond its own apps.

At our Inside Social Apps conference in New York this week, there was a lot of discussion about which platforms to build on. For many developers, it’s still a common question about whether to build for Facebook or for mobile. Although Facebook does offer a vertical platform where apps can be used within the Facebook.com canvas, what’s often not discussed is how Facebook can be integrated horizontally across any other platform.

“We hear a lot, ‘Should I build a Facebook app or an iOS app, an Android app?’” Facebook’s Director of Platform Partnerships David Fisch said Monday during a fireside chat with Inside Network Managing Editor AJ Glasser. “Facebook is complementary to all of these. Since we’ve started, we’ve talked about how it’s a social layer. It started with web and now moved to mobile. Because there are so many different devices and you want to connect people across them, by definition, Facebook has to be part of all of them.”

An iOS app can be a Facebook app. A mobile website can be a Facebook app. A console game can be a Facebook app. Your car, your shoes, your credit card or your toothbrush can be Facebook apps.

The misperception that Facebook apps are limited to those on Facebook.com contributes to skepticism about the company’s longterm potential, especially on mobile. The market hears that users and developers are turning to “mobile games” over “Facebook games” and starts to count Facebook out. The reality is that nine of the 10 top grossing iOS apps connect with Facebook. The majority of the top Open Graph applications — those using Facebook’s latest sharing features — are open web and mobile integrations. In fact, six of the top 10 apps with the most monthly active users connecting with Facebook aren’t canvas apps. They range from websites to mobile apps to desktop software.

Facebook has been talking about being a “social layer” since 2008, and yet it’s still largely regarded as a single channel for developers. What does Facebook have to do to prove its horizontal platform is worth talking about for every mobile app, website or web-connected device?
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Kinvey helps mobile developers integrate Open Graph into native apps

Backend as a service company Kinvey today introduced support for Facebook Open Graph so that native mobile apps can more easily integrate custom verbs and publishing to the social network.

Because applications have to serve data into Open Graph through web endpoints, native iOS and Android apps haven’t been able to build the same types of experiences or enjoy the same opportunities for distribution and discovery as web apps, unless they have the resources to build a web backend. Kinvey strives to be an affordable solution for developers so that Open Graph isn’t limited to apps that began on the web like Spotify or heavily funded companies like RunKeeper or Instagram.

Open Graph allows users to share their app activity in a structured way that appears in News Feed, Ticker and Timeline. These stories often lead to re-engagement and new downloads. Open Graph also gives developers more options for creating compelling Sponsored Stories.

We’ve seen a number of companies emerge to take over parts of the app development process and provide them as services to scores of developers. For instance, Extole’s Social Expressions product helps businesses integrate Open Graph into their websites. On the mobile side, there are companies like Kinvey, Parse and Stackmob, which help developers store and organize their data.

Kinvey says it is the first to offer Open Graph support for native mobile apps, though TechCrunch notes that Applicasa has been doing this for game developers. By simplifying the process of building on Facebook’s platform, these services help drive adoption of Open Graph and enable a new class of social mobile applications to emerge.

Facebook wants Open Graph language to ‘feel natural,’ represent actual behavior

Facebook’s Chris Maliwat advised marketers and developers to build Open Graph apps that help people share “authentic” stories using “natural language.”

Speaking at the Extole Social Advocacy Summit last week, Maliwat, who leads strategic partner development among the commerce vertical, explained that with Open Graph, marketers and developers can take the actions that people do on and offline and make them “structured and sponsorable.”

This is core to the growth of the Facebook platform. Ultimately, Facebook wants every person, place and thing to be represented on its graph, and it wants those objects to be connected the same way they are in the physical world. People listen to songs, read articles, want products, play games, buy gifts.

“If it rings true and it’s authentic, that’s when you see the most engagement,” Maliwat said. Campaigns that try to be overly branded or clever often don’t do as well because they try to get users to take unnatural actions or make statements they wouldn’t otherwise make. “We want Open Graph actions and objects to feel like natural language.”

Maliwat suggested that the company would continue to expand the Open Graph infrastructure to better reflect offline behavior and connections. At f8 last year, Facebook made it possible for developers to add their own custom verbs to the Open Graph. At the same time, it began offering “built-in” actions: read, watch, listen. What this means is all apps where users watch videos use the built-in watch action, and activity from those apps has semantic meaning and can be aggregated. Follow and Like are other built-in actions. More so than custom actions, built-in actions help Facebook understand the relationship between objects so that it can properly organize them in News Feed, Timeline aggregations and eventually search.

“In the future, what you’ll see us doing more is translating natural language into the graph, into graph actions,” Maliwat said. “You’ll see more built-in actions that feel natural.”

The more Facebook can encourage developers to build apps that represent actions people take off-Facebook, the more valuable the social graph will be. Remember, CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently suggested that Facebook search would be about answering users’ questions, not just returning results for a string of keywords.

Maliwat didn’t offer any examples of future built-in actions, but Facebook has shown interest in “want” recently. We found the social network testing a Want button plugin for third-party websites earlier this year, and just this month, the company began testing a feature for fans to click “want” on products they see in “collections” posts. “Own” and “buy” might be other important built-in verbs for Facebook to have, but for now developers can create their own custom versions of these actions.

Having built-in actions is also important for reducing fragmentation. For instance, the company recently began requiring all custom actions that express affinity to be associated with the built-in Like verb. This way Facebook’s system knows that “love,” “favorite,” “smileyface,” “yum” and others are all variants of “like.” Something similar might be needed for travel apps, which have different ways for users to express that they’ve been to different places. You can “travel” to a location, “check in” there, “pin” a place on your travel map or “update” your passport. If Facebook created a built-in “visit,” “travel” or “go” action, these custom verbs could all be associated with the built-in action and have the same semantic meaning in Facebook’s graph.

Another reason for Facebook to continue to add built-in actions is to establish standards and best practices. For example, in May, Facebook set rules about how long an app has to wait before publishing watch and read actions. This was meant to reign in social news and video apps that some users began to see as spammy and manipulative. Similarly, Facebook removed the option for apps to automatically publish custom actions that represent a user’s consumption activity, such as browsing a catalogue or looking up a recipe. Auto-sharing is still allowed for built-in actions, read, watch and listen. Custom verbs can be created, but users have to manually click a button or take an explicit action before their activity can be posted back to Facebook.

Marketers and developers who have created their own actions or are thinking about building new Open Graph apps should consider what type of stories they’re asking users to share and how that fits into or conflicts with Facebook’s vision for the platform.

Putting Into Practice: Facebook Open Graph

This is a guest post from Jon Eccles, product manager of social integration at Thismoment, an enterprise platform for digital experience marketing. The platform has tools for integrating Open Graph and deploying other campaigns on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more.

Facebook Open Graph is a framework that connects anything and everything in any way you want; but with this power, comes responsibility.

Marketers must remember that people go to Facebook to interact with their friends, not to be bombarded with marketing campaigns. While brand marketers spend time and marketing dollars to raise awareness for their brands by posting to Facebook, they often overlook the fact that social is about the conversation.

Enter Open Graph action publishing, which allows users to post their activities and react to their friends’ actions. The popularity of Open Graph can’t be disputed — in July 2012, Mark Zuckerberg said that 1 billion pieces of content are shared via Open Graph every day. Since Open Graph was launched, companies like Spotify have seen tremendous growth, in part, due to the fact that users can share all of the actions that they take on their Timeline and friends’ Ticker and News Feed.

What makes Open Graph especially interesting from a marketing perspective is that it allows people to connect to friends through your brand. This article will take a look at the pain points associated with social word of mouth marketing and provide information on how you can leverage Open Graph to create compelling conversations around your brand.

Marketers are well aware of the pain points of social word of mouth marketing:

  • Users don’t share enough
  • What’s being shared isn’t interesting enough to entice high engagement rates
  • It’s hard to tell how sharing affects KPIs

Facebook Open Graph: Where to Get Started

Here are some ways to use Open Graph publishing to overcome these pain points: Think about your actions/objects/aggregations “Liking” anything, including a brand, on Facebook may demonstrate interest from an end user, but it fails to describe the engagement in any meaningful way. The revelation behind Open Graph stems from its flexibility. What’s more likely to pique the curiosity of your friends? The fact that you “Like a movie”, or that you “rated Raiders of the Lost Ark 4.5 stars.” By allowing any set of verbs (“watch”, “rate”, “kickpunch”, etc.) to be paired with any objects (movies, photos, kittens, submarines), you can curate how a user’s activity with your brand is published to their Timeline and the rest of Facebook. As these actions are published, the user is not bothered with interstitial dialogs or call-to-action share buttons. The story is the engagement.

The number one rule behind the effective use of Open Graph: actions and objects should improve user experience. To do this, focus on actions that imply what a user is enjoying, consuming, or plans to engage with further and associate strong imagery with your content to make users want to share more.

Build frontend and backend tools for publishing, analytics

Employ aggregation to tell Facebook about patterns that should be surfaced amongst users’ activity. Properties and frequency of activity can be used to surface stories about your friends. For example, if a bunch of friends watched a movie by the same director on NetFlix, this is more interesting, more telling about the users, and a better call to action than one person watching a movie.

Submit your Open Graph actions for approvals

The verbs cannot be abusive or malicious. “Kill” is not an approved verb if it were connecting to another user, but context matters with the behavior of your application in Open Graph. “Kill” in a volleyball app, may be ok. Currently, submitting for approval is a manual process.

Research a template, out-of-the-box tool

By leveraging a tool that will enable you to integrate Open Graph into your web presence without any extra effort, you will be able to focus in on defining creative actions/objects and leave the heavy lifting to your technology platform.

Since the announcement of Facebook Open Graph one year ago, marketers have been searching for ways to enable Facebook’s nearly one billion users to seamlessly share their brand experiences, but the technical complexity involved has been cost and time prohibitive. Large-scale brands have taken advantage of out-of-the box tools to help run extremely successful and innovative Open Graph campaigns.

For example, we worked with a well-known retailer on a “Back to School” video contest, which encouraged teens to share their plans for the upcoming school season through a video. Entrants could authorize their submissions with Facebook via the Open Graph Prompt Tray which increased the virality of the contest by enabling people to easily get involved with the brand experience and share it with friends. Users could also browse through submissions and vote for their favorite entries. As this example illustrates, with careful planning and execution, marketers have the potential to exponentially increase their brand’s reach, and also boost the virality of the content and its engagements.

Jonathan Eccles was born and raised in the bay area. He spent his childhood watching the tech bubble rise and burst before attending Stanford University for interdisciplinary bachelor’s and graduate degrees that combined music, computer science, electrical engineering, and physics. Seeing many of his friends move on to top positions at Facebook and other small (at the time) start-ups, Jonathan opted instead to pursue music for four years as a composer/performer and audio technology product manager, but soon after joined his colleagues in the tech world by becoming Thismoment’s Facebook Technical Lead. 
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