Facebook Lets Brands Measure Earned Media With “People Talking About This” Page Metric

On the eve of Advertising Week, Facebook last night announced that it will provide several new Page Insights metrics to marketers to help them gauge their reach on the social network. Along with total friends of fans and total weekly reach, “People Talking About This” will show the total number of stories published by Facebook users that mention a brand, including wall posts, comments, shares, and more. We’ve learned the new metrics will roll out on Wednesday.

The metrics will help brands measure their earned media on Facebook in addition to their paid ads and owned Page posts. While the Insights tab will only be visible to admins, a simple count of People Talking About This will be publicly available on a brand’s Page beneath their total Like count. This will give businesses some ability to benchmark themselves against competitors. Users can expect more purposefully viral marketing and ad campaigns on Facebook now that brands can accurately track their reach.

The annual Advertising Week sees industry leaders gather in New York to discuss the latest developments in advertising. Facebook has a big opportunity to build its business by increasing the general understanding of its marketing solutions. As we’ve discussed, more businesses might adopt Facebook Ads and other marketing products if they felt confident in how to use them. Facebook is expanding education and outreach efforts through business lobbies to solve this problem. It has also launched a new “expanded premium ad unit” to attract Ad Week attention.

Starting Wednesday, Pages will include an Insights tab in their navigation menu that is visible to admins only. It will show a graph of the Weekly Total Reach and quantity of People Talking About This with dots overlaid to show when the Page published updates. Above it will show these metrics and Friends of Fans numerically with percentage change for a time period. Below will be a list of a Page’s last 500 posts (or all published since mid-July) with reach, engagement, talking about this, and virality scores.

The public will see a “[#] are talking about this” figure above the Page’s Like count. Subtabs of the admin-only Insights Page tab app will breakdown a Page’s reach by Organic (Page posts), Paid (ads) and Viral (Page content reshared by users). This will allow marketers to determine if certain paid and owned efforts have been successful at encouraging viral sharing. Admins will also be able to see the Unique Users By Frequency which shows how many unique users visited a Page once, twice, and more.

Without these new metrics, it was tricky or impossible for a brand to determine its total reach and how frequently it was being posted about by Facebook users. They could see separate counts for post impressions and feedback, media consumption, Page views, wall posts, and mentions, but there was no way to eliminate duplicates or count all types of interactions to calculate total reach. Brands could watch their own Page wall or use third-party social media monitoring software to track public posts that mentioned them, but they couldn’t count private posts or activity stories generated by Likes and other actions to determine their volume of earned media.

Weekly Total Reach will add up all of the users who’ve been exposed to a brand’s owned, earned, and paid media, including those who’ve interacted with a Page’s content or seen its ads. This gives marketers a metric to compare to the reach of other mediums such as television or print. If marketers determine the cost to reach an audience on Facebook is lower than through tv commercials, the metric could help accelerate the shift of ad dollars from television to Facebook.

The Friends of Fans metric can help marketers assess the potential audience of a viral marketing campaign, the audience of Sponsored Stories, and how many users are primed to become fans because their friends already are. Studies by comScore cite that the top 100 brand Pages have 34 times as many friends of fans as fans, and the top 1000 Pages have 81 times more friends of fans. This audience segment may be valuable to brands, as Bing friends of fans conduct 27% more searches than the average searcher, and Starbucks friends of fans spend more and transact more frequently.

Facebook’s Native Social Media Monitoring Tool

People Talking About This will give brands an accurate, albeit basic assessment of how much word-of-mouth marketing they are inspiring. The metric will count the total number published stories when users take the following types of actions: [Update 1/10/2012 8:45 a.m. PT: The metric will count the unique number of users who take at least one of the following types of actions within a seven-day period:]

  • Liking a Page
  • Posting to a Page’s Wall,
  • Liking, commenting or sharing one of a Page status updates, photos, videos or other content
  • Answering a Question posted by a Page
  • RSVP-ing to an Event hosted by the Page
  • Mentioning your Page (Users must formally tag the Page, not just write its name in an update like with aggregated mention news feed stories)
  • Tagging a Page in a photo
  • Liking or sharing a check-in deal
  • Checking in at a Place
  • Writing a recommendation

The new Page Insights won’t reveal exactly what is being said about a brand though. Luckily, Facebook has made an API for the new metrics available, and several Page management companies including Context Optional, Wildfire, and Webtrends have already integrated it into their tools. Eventually, these or other companies could augment People Talking About This data with the actual text of public mentions of a brand, giving them an idea of the sentiment of the word of mouth.

Big brands will still want to use sophisticated third-party social media monitoring software to track feedback on other social platforms such as Twitter as well as the content of Facebook mentions. Smaller brands that don’t need to know exactly what people are saying about them will now be able to get proof of the earned media potential of Facebook easily and for free.

All brands will be able to track how marketing and ad campaigns influence the volume of mentions of their Page and their reach, which is crucial to justifying increased spend on Facebook. Still, the company has not announced any plans to offer its own downstream conversion tracking system that would allow marketers to calculate return on investment on the Facebook spend. The site does allow marketers to attach third-party tracking tags to Sponsored Stories and Facebook Ads, though.

Viral Media Site BuzzFeed Launches Facebook App Edition to Gain Exposure

Today, viral media hub BuzzFeed is launches a Facebook app that aims to recreate the experience of discovering content on its website. Through the app, users can browse humorous images, interesting articles, and shocking videos, leave reactions using “LOL”, “Cute”, “Fail” and other buttons, and share BuzzFeed posts with friends via Facebook’s social plugins.

Along with yesterday’s release of the Wall Street Journal’s canvas app, the BuzzFeed app indicates a growing trend of publishers maximizing the exposure and referral traffic they gain from Facebook by creating standalone versions of their sites within the social network. BuzzFeed’s President Jon Steinberg tell us the company sees Facebook as “another type of news stand, and we want BuzzFeed to be available on every news feed stand people frequent.”

BuzzFeed was founded in 2006 by Jonah Peretti, who previously cofounded the Huffington Post. The New York City-based site populates itself by algorithmically determining what content is trending on the internet, taking user submissions, and publishing picks by its editors. It now reports 15 million monthly unique visitors, and offers mobile app versions.

The company generates revenue in an innovative way. Rather than showing traditional display ads, it allows advertisers to sponsor BuzzFeed posts that mention them or relate to their business. BuzzFeed then dynamically selects the post related to a sponsor that is receiving the most engagement and shows it on the home page and as a “Partner” post amongst lists of organic content. In this way, BuzzFeed doesn’t actually show ads, just more content its visitors might have wanted to see anyway. BuzzFeed also has a program called Extensions that advertises for sponsored content on Twitter, Facebook via the Ads API, and other open inventory around the internet.

The BuzzFeed site displays Facebook’s Like, Send, and Comments Box social plugins as well as sharing buttons for several other platforms. Steinberg tells us that “Facebook is one of our largest sources of referral traffic, accounting for millions of referral visits a month.” With Facebook users already reacting well to its content, BuzzFeed saw a big opportunity in creating a native version within the social network that made sharing with friends even more seamless.

The BuzzFeed Facebook app streamlines its website to create a more laidback experience. Rather than bombarding users with choices of which post to view or channel to browse, users are immediately presented with a single post. They can choose to leave feedback or share it, or simply move on to the next post. This addictive, StumbleUpon-style flow keeps users constantly discovering new content they might want to share instead of navigating around the site.

BuzzFeed drops barriers to usage by not showing the permissions request for a user’s data until it absolutely needs it. To drive app growth, when users who granted permissions click an “OMG” or “Win” button on a post, they’re shown one friend and prompted to send them the post including a link to the app.

Though users must return to the website to add their own posts, search posts, or see channels such as “Hot on Facebook”, the lightweight app works well for killing time while waiting for a friend to respond to a Chat message or more stories to be added to the news feed. If the BuzzFeed and Wall Street Journal apps succeed, expect more publishers to build native versions of their sites on Facebook.

Milyoni’s Facebook Credits for Video Rentals App Ups Virality With Live Commenting and Scene Sharing

Facebook ecommerce developer Milyoni has added new sharing features to its Social Theater app that lets Pages rent videos to users for Facebook Credits. Social Theater, which powers rentals for Warner Bros’ The Dark Knight and the ACL music festival, now allows users to leave timed comments, share specific scenes, chat live with other viewers, Like brands mentioned in the film, and send discounts on rentals to friends. These improvements can now be seen on the Page for film The Big Lebowski, will enhance the Social Theater user experience, and could help instances of the app spread virally across Facebook, increasing sales for content owners.

Milyoni got the attention of the ecommerce and media worlds when Warner Bros first announced it would rent films from its Facebook Page using Social Theater, and would allow users to pay with Facebook Credits. While it opened a new revenue stream to video content owners, we criticized the app for lacking many of the social feature it added this week. Without these, Social Theater wasn’t taking full advantage of Facebook’s communication channels and built-in audience, hampering sales.

The ecommerce developer has since raised $3 million in Series A funding and partnered with Page management company Vitrue to help brands drive direct return on investment on their social media efforts. It’s also been tapped to power on-Facebook rentals of concerts as well as more Warner Bros films including Inception and Harry Potter. Now it is debuting Social Theater 2.0 with rentals of cult hit The Big Lebowski from the film’s Facebook Page.

Once users opt to rent the film they’re shown a landing page with Like and Send buttons for sharing the app with friends, and a Like Box so they can become a fan of the film’s Page. Users then confirm that they’ll pay 30 Facebook Credits, or $3, for 48 hours of unlimited viewing of the film. They’re giving the option to post a link to the walls of friends that lets them get a $1 discount on renting the film.

While watching the film without going into full-screen mode, they see timed comments — text tied to a certain moment in the film —  written by other viewers scroll across the screen. They can add their own comments that are also published to Facebook, though this syndication could be made more explicit to the user.

At certain moments in the film users are are shown prompts to share scenes or popular quotes from to the film to the news feed. This content can be consumed for free by friends right from the news feed, and entices them to click through and rent the film themselves. Users also prompts to Like the Pages related to the film or of brands mentioned in the film, so users get a chance to Like the Page of the film’s main character “The Dude”, and when he asks for a drink of Kahlua, users have the option to Like the alcohol brand.

On the backend, Milyoni has implemented an efficient self-serve admin system that for deployment of the app in less than 24 hours. Admins can also customize pricing, promotion, and app layout.

Social Theater 2.0 is much more engaging and viral than the first version Milyoni launched with The Dark Knight. It gives users a unique, social viewing experience in which they can easily share compelling content and discounts on rentals with friends, and subscribe to updates about the film and related Pages. These elements should allow content owners who license Social Theater to secure more rentals, and help Milyoni turn one-time renters into repeat sales across deployments of its app.

Facebook Opens Viral Growth Channel for Pages, Delivering Invites to Like as Notifications

Facebook now allows Page administrators to send their friends invites to Like their Page that appear as notifications, opening a new viral channel that could assist Page growth. Because these invites generate Facebook and email notifications, they are much more noticeable and could have a higher conversion rate than the Page suggestions admins could previously send that appeared in the “Recommended Pages” sidebar module that would occasionally appear. However, accepting an invite requires users to click through to a Page.

Admins of new Pages looking to establish an initial fan base should use the new “Invite Friends” link that appears on their Page. Adding a large number of admins that can all use the feature on their own friends could be an effective growth strategy for smaller Pages.

Before we look at specific ways that admins might use this feature, here’s a quick review of how the feature has changed over the years. In 2009, both admins and users could send Page suggestions that appeared in the Requests panel on the home page. In January 2011, Facebook stopped allowing users to send Page suggestions, restricting a core viral growth channel for Pages. Admins could still send suggestions, but users had to send wall posts or messages that required more effort.

By April, Facebook had phased out the Requests panel completely, and started delivering admin-sent Page invites indirectly by occasionally surfacing them in a Recommended Pages sidebar module that would appear in the right sidebar of the site as recipients moved around the site. Users could also answer and manage their Page invites in the rarely visited Page discovery browser.

Using Invites for Page Growth

Now Facebook has switched back to direct delivery of Page invites. Admins now see an “Invite Friends” link in the right-hand admin panel when viewing their own Page. When clicked, admins see a multi-friend selector that allows them to search for friends or sort them by Recent Interactions, network, Group, or friend list. Admins can then select friends and send a batch of invites. There doesn’t appear to be a limit to how many invites can be sent at once. If there is a limit, it is higher than 20, which was once the simultaneous application invite cap.

Selected friends receive these invites as notifications on Facebook that display the name and photo of the friend who sent the invite. Users also receive email notifications of invites if their account notifications settings permit. Users aren’t presented an option to instantly Like the Page, but instead must click through to the Page where they can decide whether to Like it. This conversion process takes more effort on the part of the recipient, which might offset the boost to conversion offered by the higher visibility of direct invites.

Our initial test of the invite system quickly showed a high conversion rate. This is likely because users see the invites as soon as they log on, and the inclusion of the sender’s photo makes the recipient feel that they’ve received a trusted recommendation.

There’s a chance that if admin-sent Page invites delivered through notifications show a high conversion rate but aren’t abused, Facebook could open the viral channel to use by non-admins. However, Facebook has to balance free, viral fan acquisition channels with its paid Page advertising services so that Page owners feel like they’re getting a high return on their Facebook marketing investment. Too much virality pollutes the user experience, but too little can make marketing on the site seem to expensive.

By providing this enhanced viral channel for invites that can help new Pages establish a fan base for free, Facebook can hook admins on using the site for their business. It can then look to sell admins advertising to continue growing their Page once they’ve exhausted the potential for securing Likes from their own friend network.

Update: Facebook is also delivering Page invites through the Recommended Pages sidebar module and the Page Browser’s invite manager in addition to the notifications channel. This means that even if a user initially ignores an invite, it may be shown to them later as they browse Facebook. It will also be available in the invite manager until they accept or delete it.

[Thanks to Eti Suruzon for the tip]

More strategies for gaining fans can be found in the Facebook Marketing Bible, Inside Network’s comprehensive guide to marketing on Facebook.

Facebook Users Want Professional Networking: BranchOut Nears a Million New Users Within a Week

After six months of testing different gamification and viral mechanics, professional social networking Facebook app BranchOut seems to have found the right design. It grew its monthly active user count from 275,543 to 817,367 in a week, according to our AppData tracking service, with its daily active user count also rapidly growing to 163,578 today. Growth exploded as soon as the company pulled its arguably spammy question battles feature from its home page and replaced it with relevant job listings.

The unusually big spurt for a professional networking app, which the company says has come without any marketing growth, indicates that Facebook users want professional social networking. They just apparently hadn’t been given a tool that met their needs. This bodes well for other Facebook recruiting tools including Identified and Work4 Labs.

We spoke with BranchOut founder Rick Marini about how focusing on the core value additions — job listings and helping users get job referrals — brought his app more virality than any affectedly viral mechanic.

BranchOut launched in August 2010 as a simple app that showed users where their friends worked and allowed them to connect with friends to see employment of second-degree contacts. Traffic peaked at 68,000 DAU but quickly flattened to around 15,000.

The company has since experimented with new features designed to get users to post to friends’ walls and draw them to the site. The main one had been ‘battles’ that asked “Who is most likely to get to work early and leave late?” then posted the response to the walls of friends. But the professionally-oriented value proposition got lost and the app bottomed at roughly 5,000 DAU. We were surprised to hear in May that despite the low traction, BranchOut had secured a $18 million second round of funding from Redpoint Ventures, Accel Partners, Norwest Venture Partners, and Floodgate, on top of a previous $6 million first round. At that point, the company still hadn’t answered a long-standing question among developers, which was whether people wanted to go beyond social networking with their real-life friends on the site.

Value Begets Virality

The answer is that it was BranchOut’s design, not user interest, that was the problem. At the time of the funding we recommended that BranchOut scrap the gimmicks and instead make the app truly valuable to users. BranchOut has done just that. Now, the company is planning a competitor to LinkedIn’s premium applicant search product Recruiter, filling out its database ahead of what Marini says is a launch planned for early August.

“We took your advice, pulled battles off the dashboard, and [now] we’re trying to focus on core product add value to user by showing them jobs they might like or companies they’re connected to” said Marini. “We’re not spending any money on marketing, before or now. There was already demand there, and now have proof this is something people want to do on Facebook. If it can grow at this rate, our data will become quite interesting to both users and our enterprise clients.”

Along with displaying local job listings instead of battles, BranchOut simplified its messaging around encouraging users to invite friends. It replaced the weak “Recommended Friends & Colleagues” headline with the call to action “Expand Your Network”. Marini tells us that now 70% of new users are coming from these invites, instead of the less relevant battle questions.

BranchOut’s success may indicate the opportunity is bigger than previously thought. Work4 Labs might see more users clicking through to the job listing tab applications it licenses to the Pages of big companies. The fledging Facebook-based professional network Identified might be able to gain traction by following BranchOut’s suit, dropping its own battles product, and making recommended companies and its inviter more prominent.

Scaling, Challenging LinkedIn’s Enterprise Product

Currently the company is racing to scale in order to meet demand. “You don’t typically build in for such growth. So far we’ve held up pretty well. Our servers were down [Wednesday] for just an hour. With this kind of pressure that isn’t too bad.

Next, the company will prepare for the August 1st release of its premium enterprise recruiting search tool. Because it brings in employment and location data from Facebook, which users update frequently, it could challenge or at least complement LinkedIn’s premium service, which costs around $7,000 a year. Suddenly, $24 million in funding doesn’t sound so bubbly.

New Facebook Places Features Could Give Local Business Pages a Viral Boost, Help Complete Listings

Facebook is trying to promote local business as well as complete the data of their listings with two new features on Places Pages: Recommend This Place and Community Edits.

The Recommend This Place sidebar module on the Pages of local businesses lets users write a short recommendations which are published to the news feed and shown on the Page to friends. Meanwhile, Cities now display a native tab called Community Edits that asks users to fill information such as address and category of popular Places in that city. These new features open an important new viral channel for local businesses and franchises, and allow Facebook to crowdsource improvements to its Places database.

For background, Facebook introduced Places and check-ins in August 2010, originally sourcing its local business database from Localeze. Changes to Localeze profiles are not necessarily synced with Places, though, leaving listings of new and evolving business out of date. After some scrapped attempts at allowing merges of Places and Pages for the same location, Facebook appears to have settled on adding Places functionality in the form of check-ins and maps to Pages listing a street address.

Recommend This Place

The site recently changed the Suggest to Friends feature for Pages so that only a Page’s admins could use it, and so the recommendations would appear in a sidebar module instead of the more prominent Requests channel. While fighting Page spam, it may have reduced the virality of Pages. But now with the launch of Recommend This Place, Pages with Places functionality have been given powerful new viral channel.

Appearing in the top right corner of Pages with a street address to users who live nearby, the module reads “Help your friends discover great places to visit by recommending [Page Name]” above a text field. Users can write a short recommendation, set its new feed visibility privacy setting, and submit it. The recommendation is then published to the news feed and displayed to friends browsing that Page in a “Recommendations From Friends” module in the right sidebar.

Recommend This Place will draw users to the Pages their friends prefer, and give users a social recommendation to Like the Page once they’re there. If Pages push their fans to complete the recommendations via Page updates and their info section, they could get viral exposure and grow their Like count for free.

Community Edits

In March Facebook began showing a small link on Places allowing users to “Suggest Edits”, or fill out missing data fields and submit them for approval. Now Facebook is looking to ensure that the most frequently checked in to locations provide useful information and are properly categorized. To do this, it has added a Community Edits tab the the left navigation menu of Pages for cities.

When clicked, the tab displays incomplete listing for five Places that receive a lot of check-ins in that city, and a header explains that “The Community Edits tab lets you share your knowledge about places in [city] and makes Facebook Places more useful. Add details about places, report duplicates, and more”. Users can then complete empty data fields such as ‘website’ and choose the proper category from a typeahead.

If users need help finding the data, a “Find on Bing” link beneath each entry brings up a Bing Maps search for the location, which sometimes includes the missing zip code or street address. It appears that Facebook’s maps deal with Bing does not cover automatically importing this data, so the social network is using this tab to task users with the chore. Unceremoniously, users are simply presented a new set of Places listings to complete when they finish a first, with no ‘thank you’ or ‘edits received’ message to inspire further assistance.

Users who explore the Community Edits tab and feel a deep loyalty to their city or to Facebook may be willing to perform data entry on their behalf. However, the feature doesn’t offer a clear reward such as authorship for a user’s contribution, nor does it properly applaud them. Facebook could improve the design and messaging of the feature to increase the potential volume of user generated edits the tab could drive.

Free Virality For Now

Recommend This Place and Community Edits may be a sign that Facebook knows helping small businesses get their Pages off the ground is in its own interest. As it did with games developers, offering early free viral exposure for Places could make return on investment cheap enough to lure businesses to market on the social network. Then by weening them off free virality, it could earn money switching them onto Facebook Ads to grow their fan base.

Strategies for using Facebook Places to market your business can be found in the Facebook Marketing Blible.

Facebook Makes Badoo Change Its Viral Mechanics, Leading to a 75% Drop in DAU

Developers don’t have to explicitly violate Facebook’s policy to feel the wrath of the site’s enforcement team, as we’re reminded in a dramatic case today.

Last month we covered how social quiz app Badoo had gained 2 million daily active users in a few weeks using aggressive viral tactics such as placing roadblock in the user experience for users who weren’t sharing their quiz answers to the walls of friends. Then suddenly, the app lost 75% of its DAU. It’s now been revealed that Facebook requested the developer make significant changes to the app, triggering the decline.

The situation is an example of the subtlety of Facebook’s enforcement strategy. If a developer pollutes the site’s user experience even without violating a specific policy, Facebook won’t hesitate to threaten it with an audit and potential removal if it doesn’t comply with requests for changes. While this enforcement method is subjective and coercive, preserving trust in the Platform by coming down on abusive apps is in the best interest of the developer and user communities.

Badoo‘s social dating and friend finding site boasts 112 million registered users, which it monetizes through the freemium model where users pay for increased visibility and the ability to message strangers. To feed the top of the funnel it needs to draw in as many new users as possible. Its Facebook app was designed to do just that. Rather that focus on content, Badoo recently stripped away much of the functionality for new users except for its viral mechanics.

Users answer questions written in large font about their friends, but might not notice the tiny pre-checked box indicating their answers will be posted to that friend’s wall. If users uncheck this box, they see a pop-up roadblock with suggestive language asking whether they want to “Let friends know!” or “Keep them ignorant”. These two tricks combined to drive explosive growth of the app, which drew our eye, and Facebook’s ire.

Between April 13th and 15th, Badoo dropped from 4.1 million to 1.2 million DAU. Lloyd Price, director of marketing for London-based Badoo told the Financial Times that “After working with Facebook last week, we made requested changes to our application which has resulted in an initial drop in daily active users.” The app is now beginning to stabilize at just under 2 million DAU.

The app made the required notice about publishing to a friend’s wall quite inconspicuous, and added friction to the experience of refusing publication, but neither of these tactics are against the rules. Badoo didn’t have to make the changes, but it did instead of risking closer scrutiny of its compliance, which could have lead to an outright shut down. Facebook has disabled spammy quiz apps in the past, such as when it temporarily shut down Phrases worldwide, leading to swift 3 million DAU drop after it was reinstated outside the US. Badoo must have reasoned that going dark for a few days would have hurt it worse than the changes.

Facebook is sending the message to developers, “This is our Platform. Innovate and experiment, but don’t mess with the users.” Some developers previously told us they felt that Badoo was breaking policies, although Facebook told us at the time that it wasn’t. This new enforcement might confuse developers, but it might also encourage some to focus more on following the spirit of the platform rather than the letter of its policies.

Facebook Updates Comments Box Plugin With Comment Exporting and Larger News Feed Stories

Facebook today released several updates to the newest version of its Comments Box social plugin for third party websites that will increase the referral traffic it drives, and give sites API control so they can export, analyze, and re-order comments. The plugin can now publish a full news feed story with an image when users post comments, and users can log in using their Hotmail account.

These distribution, flexibility, and access updates significantly increase the plugin’s appeal, and should lead to more installs on top of the 50,000 websites that have already integrated it.

Facebook originally launched the Comments Box social plugin in February of 2009, but released the greatly enhanced current version on March 1st, 2011 that included comment ranking by relevancy, the option to login with a Yahoo! account, enhanced moderation tools and the option for users to syndicate their comments to their own Facebook walls.

Login with an AOL account was soon added, and it was discovered that the plugin included live code for Twitter and Google logins despite those not being user-facing options. Despite early adoption by websites such as TechCrunch and our own, many publishers had reservations since they couldn’t export and archive comments, and users couldn’t login anonymously.

New Features

The new updates should convince some more of these hold outs. The Graph API can now be used to search and export comments. Facebook says this will allow websites to “highlight the most interesting comments, perform analysis on the comment stream, reward top commenters, search through existing comments, and use comments to improve SEO on their site.” The exporting feature is crucial for sites who want to reserve the right to switch away from Facebook’s plugin without losing comments made within it.

When users opt in to Facebook syndication of their comments, the resulting news feed story will include an image and description of the site. This means the story will appear much larger and more compelling in the feed, driving more referral traffic to sites hosting the plugin. This traffic boost is lucrative enough to outweigh other concerns or the effort to migrate to the Comments Box.

Other updates include the addition of Hotmail as a login provider, which will open up commenting through the plugin to more of those without a Facebook account. A new dark color scheme will make the plugin fit better aesthetically with darker sites. Permalinks, accessed through a comment’s timestamp, will let users share their comments through email or other social media sites like Twitter, and also make moderation simpler.

There are still some deficiencies, but these are in-part tied to the nature of an authenticated identity comment plugin. For instance, moderators can not edit user comments, which can be useful for when someone makes a good point but that is peppered with objectionable language. However, the ability to edit someone’s comments, which are sync’d to their profile, coud raise security and authenticity issues.

Sites using the original version of the plugin can easily update by adding ‘migrated=1′ to their site’s <fb:comments> tag. All old versions will be forcibly migrated on April 29th, re-ordering existing comments using the new relevancy ranking. Sites using custom CSS may need to make some tweaks as since that customization option is no longer supported.

Gaining Traction

Even before these updates, the Comments Box plugin appears to gaining traction. Facebook tells us that amongst the 50,000 properties that have integrated the plugin are music sites Vevo and Grooveshark, video distributors Funny Or Die and Metacafe, image hosts Photobucket and Imageshack, games by WildTangent and Y3, reviews site Hotels.com, and news sites the San Jose Mercury News and the LA Times.

By moving to facilitate data portability and manipulation, Facebook has lowered the risk of experimenting with the plugin, allowing websites to see for themselves whether the plugin increases the volume and civility of their comments and drives referral traffic as Facebook claims.

Buddy Media Report on Facebook Page Posts: Shorter Is Better, but Avoid URL Shorteners

Page management company Buddy Media has released a study based on 200 of its clients illustrating best practices for Facebook Pages looking to increase their fan base’s engagement — the volume of Likes and comments their posts receive. Key findings include: posts of 80 characters or less receive 27% more engagement, posts on Thursdays see the most engagement across industries, and posts including a full-length URL bring in three times as much engagement as posts using URL shorteners such as bit.ly.

The report also includes insights about which hours of the day have the most engagement, which weekdays have the highest engagement rates for different industries such as retail or media, and what call-to-action keywords receive the most engagement. Strategies for Effective Facebook Wall Posts: A Statistical Review can help admins of any sized Page to increase the loyalty, brand affinity, and click through rates of their fans.

Buddy Media is one of the largest Page management companies, hosting over 600 clients including seven of the top ten global advertisers, more than 150 employees, and $38.3 million in funding. This past year, the company improved multi-Page and team-based management through its system, and released a training program for its tools called Buddy Media University.

The findings of this study were culled from Page posts made between January 30th and February 12th 2011 by 200 Buddy Media clients industries including  finance, food and beverage, media, retail, automotive, sports, and travel.

One finding that contradicts common sense is that engagement is highest at 4am, 7am, and 11pm, but that brands post the most during business hours. By posting early in the morning, late in the evening, or in the middle of the night, brands can take advantage of these odd usage trends.

While in aggregate, Thursday was the best day to post, there is a great deal of variance within different industries. For Pages of media publishers, engagement soars on Saturdays and Sundays, but plummets on Mondays. Instead of competing with the swell of media updates on Monday, media Pages will see higher engagement if they post on the weekends when users are primed to consume content.

When asking questions of fans, updates including the words “where”, “when” or “would” have much higher engagement than updates including “why” or “what”. This may be because the latter words may be perceived as challenging or intrusive, and users aren’t willing to take the time to respond. Posts including a question mark at the end had 15% higher engagement.

Information about what weekdays have the highest engagement rates for industries including food and beverages, and entertainment, or what keywords lead to the most participation in contests can be found in the full report, which can be downloaded in exchange for an email address. Such high quality data should generate interest from brands looking for a Page management company that can help implement these strategies for them, drawing more clients to Buddy Media.

Flickr Expands Facebook Sharing Capabilities, Settles Into Photo Syndication

Flickr has revamped its social media sharing features, increase the prominence of share buttons and allowing more content types to be distributed. The changes come as a sign that Flickr has accepted its role as the number two photo site behind Facebook, and is ready to focus on helping users syndicate their photos to other destinations.

Once the world’s largest photo sharing site, Flickr was usurped by Facebook and its viral friend tagging. The site became more of a tool for professional and semi-professional photographers since it allowed high resolution uploads, but Facebook added its own high-res option in September 2010.

In January 2011, Flickr’s parent site Yahoo! began allowing new users to register and login using their Facebook credentials, and Flickr soon followed suit. While certainly a useful option, it was also signal that Yahoo and Flickr had conceded to Facebook and needed to re-concentrate on their strengths.

The enhanced Facebook sharing options point to photo syndication as that strength. Facebook doesn’t offer any syndication options but some of its users operate blogs and other social media presences that users want their photos on too. Flickr can serve this syndication need, letting users upload and distribute rather than trying to be a photo-viewing destination.

The tiny gray “Share” button in the top corner of photo pages have been replaced by a much larger, more colorful sharing panel that displays the Facebook icon. With one click, users can launch the Facebook share composer and publish to the news feeds of friends.

The social media sharing panel, which also supports email, Twitter, and Tumblr, now also appears on photostreams, sets and groups, making it easy to share a collection of photos. Users who aren’t signed in can now access the sharing panel, and private photos are allowed to be shared.

With improving sharing, Flickr may actually be able to draw new signups from Facebook, who can easily join thanks to it accepting OpenID. Similar to MySpace before it, Flickr has moved to differentiate itself from Facebook rather than compete directly. While not the most glamorous strategy, it is one that will keep Flickr relevant into the future.

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