facebook_logo_10.jpgFacebook is making quite a few changes to its advertising assets. We reported recently about changes to Facebook ads, now the company has rolled out both Facebook Timelines for brand pages and real-time analytics via Page Insights.

A Focus on Revenue

It seems that almost every time Facebook makes a change to its interface, users complain about how unfair it is that a company would change its free to use, completely optional service without personally consulting them (pause for sarcastic smirk). However, it’s unlikely that marketers will have the same response about the new features the social media giant is introducing.

The Page Insights enhancements, which are scheduled to become available to all page administrators over the next few weeks, will feature real-time statistics for:

  • People talking about this -- tracks the number of conversations about a page over the last seven days. The metric combines statistics such as page likes, posts, shares, comments, RSVPs, check-ins, mentions, poll activity and a few other items. Is currently updated daily.
  • Organic, paid and viral reach -- measures the number of unique views.
  • Engaged users -- represents the number of unique clicks on a post for the last 28 days.

The real-time data enhancement is the second major update Facebook has made to its page analytics in the last few months. In October, the company began offering a deeper analysis of page activity and several new statistics like people talking about this, friends of fans and total reach. These changes will be very welcome for marketers that now almost universally need to quantitatively measure the impact of their social media efforts to justify investment.

In addition to improved metrics, Facebook has also finally made its timeline feature available to brand pages. 
Page administrators can now opt-in to use the new feature or wait until it automatically goes live on March 30. Brands, like users, have a mixed reaction to the timeline-based interface. Marketers like the opportunity to get more creative via the cover photos, but some complain that it will hurt companies that don’t have a single well-defined brand identity or have difficulty consistently creating engaging social media content. I would argue that if an organization has those issues, their problems are much larger than the Facebook timeline. 

Another interesting problem, which doesn’t affect users, except Wolverine, vampires and other immortals, is that the timeline currently only allows dates back to January 1800. Some organizations, like the military and universities, have complained that this limits their ability to tell their complete story. While this is a valid point, I think that we can safely put this in the “nice to have/edge features” list.

Why All the Changes

Facebook’s latest enhancements are clearly an effort to strengthen its highly advertising driven revenue stream in advance of its upcoming US$ 5 billion IPO. Although the social media giant is clearly popular, popularity doesn’t drive stock prices (at least long term) -- profits do. Facebook is producing lots of conversation, but revenue growth is slowing. Google was able to introduce real time analytics before Facebook with its release of Google Analytics Real-Time in September, and researchers expect the search company to generate more advertising revenue than Facebook by next year.

I’m sure we will see a few other enhancements targeted at marketers before Facebook’s mammoth IPO moves forward. Changes like timeline offer marketers more opportunities to draw attention to their brand, but also eliminates options like landing pages, which many marketers used to drive engagement -- for free, which is clearly not the desired direction for Facebook advertising.