Facebook has morphed from a social network to a sales-marketing-branding extravaganza.

Between Facebook’s Instant Articles and new integrations like live streaming and branded content, the social networking giant is creating myriad new avenues for marketers who want to connect and engage with some 1.04 billion global users. That’s one in three global internet users, according to Internet Live Stats.

“People get their news from social media more than anywhere else today, and Facebook is the biggest platform where everything is happening,” said Amy Edel-Vaughn, content strategist and developer at the EGC Group, a Melville, N.Y.-based advertising agency. 

So let's examine some of the current offerings, and the potential upside they offer to marketers.

Messenger Bots

What Is It?

You can start with Messenger, whose notification ding is now probably more ubiquitous for smartphone users than actual phone calls.

At its Facebook Developers Conference at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco last month, Facebook launched its Messenger Platform (Beta) with bots. Facebook deploys its bots to provide Messenger users with automated subscription content like weather and traffic updates in addition to customized communications like receipts, shipping notifications and live automated messages.

Why Marketers Should Care

This opens another door for marketers, according to Edel-Vaughn, who said, “When a message pops up, it’s nice and handy and you just respond. I personally use it all the time. Facebook’s seeing a huge uptick in use of it across the board and through demographics. It’s kind of a natural fit to have more options there.”

Facebook shifts the tone of human interaction from “comments to conversations,” said Peter Friedman, former vice president and general manager of Apple's Internet Services division and now the CEO of San Jose, Calif.-based LiveWorld, a social media marketing provider.

Facebook, he said, is “shifting the tectonic plates in advertising and marketing” through the Messenger enhancements. 

“If you’re a social media marketer you better be paying attention — Facebook has killed pushing product content through organic with the algorithm changes, and tightened up in paid, too,” Friedman said. “For the third year in a row, they’ve elevated conversational engagement. The game is changing, and that’s an opportunity for marketers.” 

Snehal Shinde, chief operating officer and co-founder of Mezi, an artifical-intelligence based shopping app based in Sunnyvale, Calif., cautioned that despite the enhancements in the Facebook’s Messenger app, brands will still be challenged to find a few flagship apps. 

“The initial apps are basic and don't necessarily illustrate the power of AI or leverage the fact that they're on a conversational platform,” Shinde said. “Facebook has taken the right step by launching the Messenger platform and we look forward to working on this platform very soon.”

Facebook declined CMSWire's requests for comment.

The bots operating in Messenger are not Facebook bots, Shinde said, but rather bots written by businesses. Since the bots are fully automated, choice is significantly limited, Shinde said. (Mezi is developing a bot for Facebook).

Instant Articles

What Is It?

Facebook’s Instant Articles allows Facebook to natively host other publishers’ content in the app News Feed. Facebook debuted the feature a little less than a year ago. Major MarTech vendors have jumped on board. Last month, Adobe announced that it's working with Facebook to support Instant Articles in Adobe Analytics. 

Why Marketers Should Care

cappy popp

Cappy Popp, principal and co-founder of Thought Labs, a digital marketing agency in Boston, told CMSWire mobile content marketers benefit from performance through Instant Articles: it loads faster than other content. 

Being mobile-friendly is a good thing

Because Instant Articles are written using HTML5 along with some custom tags, publishers can natively render and autoplay video, maps and more within the News Feed, “offering a level of dynamic engagement never possible before.” 

Facebook is already partnering with WordPress to make articles posted through it instant-article-ready. Publishers can their own analytics platforms to track content performance. 

But can you top SEO? Popp cautioned that referral traffic is usually only a fraction of the traffic publishers get from search engines and as a result of smart SEO strategies. 

“Hosting your content on Facebook instead of your own site,” he warned, “may result in your giving up direct traffic to your site in favor of higher referral traffic. Since referral traffic is lower than direct for most websites I'm not sure that's a great trade-off.”

Facebook also requires upfront investment by brands through coding and manual publishing.

Also be mindful, Popp said, of Facebook’s track record with new features. When users revolt after their News Feeds become overwhelmed, Facebook penalizes content that uses these features citing degraded user experience. 

He also cited the unified Facebook Pixel for retargeting as another interesting new tech to watch.

Branded Content

What Is It?

Facebook defines its branded content as content that features a third party product, brand or sponsor. It is typically posted by media companies, celebrities or other influencers. Verified pages can share branded content on Facebook as long as they follow its updated branded content policy and ads policy and use the branded content tool to tag marketers in their posts. 

Why Marketers Should Care

amy edel-vaughn

Social media marketers always want to develop influencer networks and put them to work for brands on social, Edel-Vaughn said. 

“But disclosure has always been an issue,” she said. “How do you phrase it in your posts? We manage some affiliate relationships for clients and are always careful to add ‘opinion expressed by a paid consultant’ or language of that nature. The legal departments of brands have always been conscious of this issue. Facebook’s step in advancing its policy is really helpful in making it clear these relationships can thrive on the platform, but still within proper parameters.”

Branded content can help brands generate page likes, Popp said.

“Besides this the biggest benefit is probably that branded posts give the recipient analytics exactly like they'd get on their own page posts even though the content doesn't run in their feed, a nice way to track influencer marketing efforts,” Popp added. “Recipients can also boost or promote this content using the ads interface.”

It isn't perfect. Popp cited complaints because both parties get access to the analytics and also there's some confusion about Facebook's approval process for this content. 

“There's a lot of subtlety involved,” Popp said. “I'm firmly in the wait-and-see category until Facebook addresses these issues."

Live Video 

What Is It?

Facebook Live allows users to share a moment instantly through streaming. 

Why Marketers Should Care

Erna Alfred Liousas

Erna Alfred Liousas, Forrester Research analyst, noted that Facebook reported that users share and create three times more video on Facebook than they did a year ago, according to the most recent Facebook earnings call

“If marketers can pair events with Live's spontaneous nature, they can potentially create a larger impact that pulls an audience right into the event,” Liousas said. “Live's spontaneous nature brings a ‘real’ aspect to the topic. This capability should be used by marketers in a way that brings out the best of an informal environment. Marketers should think carefully and balance both the people and material they showcase in this way.” 

Popp said marketers should naturally only broadcast when they have a strong connection. Promote the live feed ahead of time, and don't expect people to drop what they're doing to watch you simply because you've got some time to kill. 

Treat live streaming like a webcast or webinar for which you've planned, he said. Note that live streaming only works on Android or iOS devices.

“Make sure you have a clear call-to-action or purpose for the broadcast, stick to a tight timeline, watch your transitions and clearly signal an end to the broadcast,” he said. “Maintain clear eye contact with the camera. Most importantly give viewers a clear call-to-action that tells them what action(s) you expect them to take following your stream. Live streaming has changed the face of online engagement and digital marketing forever and it's here to stay.”

Ultimately, “smart marketers” look at Facebook as part of a cross-channel marketing strategy, said Rob Begg, vice president of product marketing of social products at Salesforce

“Customers are doing their thing on email, on Facebook and on the web,” he added. “The marketers that are most successful are the ones coordinating them all together.”

Title image "Facebook" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by chriscorneschi