What if Facebook offered brands a persona?
Technology is a glittering lure, but there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash. If they have a sentimental bond with the product.
With the introduction of the timeline, Facebook shows that it’s not an engineering company. It’s not even a social network. It’s the carousel the fictional Donald Francis Draper brilliantly pitches in the famous ‘Mad Men’ episode.
Facebook understands social sciences. Facebook understands human behavior.
As humans interact with brands —whether one finds it a positive or negative evolution, will Facebook take that spectacular step for them too?
A sentimental bond.
Facebook Pages always felt constrained to me. They never offered the same quality of engagement that a personal profile would give —and for good reason: Brands are not people.
Pages are half-hearted. While they obviously provide a potent platform to engage with users on Facebook, they were never given the display of an identity. And I don’t even think Pages are the true force of Facebook for brands (more on that below).
Brands have personas. Brands have a past, a present and a future. At its essence, branding is about storytelling. The Timeline experience was made for them.
I decided to undertake an exercise. An exercise of style, sure, but more like an exercise in branding experience.
From top to bottom:
- The Billboard. The cover image feature for personal profiles —here’s my customization— shouts “branding” since I’ve seen it . Perfect for the latest product —still not the iPhone at the time of this writing.
- The History. From Apple’s foundation, to 1997′s coming back of Steve Jobs, to today. Brands have a past, a present and a future.
- The Fans. You, me and all the Apple fanboys.
- The Application box and its Selector. Here a feature of Apple’s main areas of interest —as shown on its website.
- The Storytelling. Quite evidently, the stories. No more falling from a cliff —as in the current news feed, but in chronological order.
- The Product Display. A featured story, here images of the iPad line. A Facebook version of the point of sale display.
The glittering lure.
The exercise was worth it. First and foremost, it cemented my belief that Pages would need a slightly different set of tools.
Giving Pages the ability to add third-party applications, even as welcome pages, has been well used —if not overused— by brands. Now, if I truly think about it, most of those are actually annoying from a user point of view —and the user experience is the focus of Facebook.
Remember when we were able to add applications on our profiles, through ‘boxes’? Exactly. I wouldn’t be surprised if Facebook decided to simply disallow the possibility of using specific code on Pages. It would piss some brands off and certainly leave some developers in disarray, but Facebook has always had a kind of “Take no prisoner” approach to its UX changes that I truly admire. I call it focus.
A deeper bond.
The focus is now on the activity streams. The signals given and received by users. With the extension of the vocabulary of signals beyond Like (Listen, Watch or Want come to mind), brands should be focused on signaling applications. Not custom welcomes on their static Pages, but applications that talk and engage with their customers. Living applications. Evolving applications. Applications that communicate and signal seamlessly with people —the Washington Post social reader being an example of this evolution.
The power is in the ecosystem. In the organic discussions. Much less in the more static Pages.
Think about it, a user can signal the music he’s listening to via Spotify, a brand could signal the start of a live stream by pinging all its Fans, like for that iPhone event next week.
In my above rendition though, I went for a tamer Application box. A display of customized elements. It wouldn’t disturb brands as much, especially the smaller ones, but I’m not sure such an experience would be satisfactory in the long run.
Another very evident element of the move towards a Timeline for brands would be the surfacing of the past. Like for all of us who suddenly re-discover past updates and pictures, brands would have to take a serious look at their Facebook past.
What would Nestle do? Would it keep the controversial statements when it got hit by comments about its environmental record —a ‘campaign’ launched by Greenpeace?
This leads me to one last important difference in this imaginary Page: I have left out the possibility of showing “Everyone” as a default view. It never made complete sense for me to leave it as is anyway, unless the Page goal was to be a discussion forum. I wouldn’t think Facebook would shut this completely though —again, its focus is on the user.
Around and around.
This was only a pure exercise. A brainstorming session with myself —feel free to flame me. I have no knowledge of Facebook willing to move towards a Timeline model for Pages. I even expect them to come up with something much more disruptive than what I’ve designed here.
My point was and remains that a deeper bond with brands is possible on Facebook. Facebook understands human behavior. Like that Greek named Teddy.
Technology is a glittering lure, but there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash. If they have a sentimental bond with the product. My first job I was in-house at a fur company. This old pro copy writer. A Greek named Teddy. And Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is “new.” It creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion. But he also talked about a deeper bond with a product. Nostalgia. It’s delicate but potent. …
Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It let’s us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know are loved.
—Don Draper, in ‘Mad Men’, ‘The Wheel’, season 1, episode 13 (2007).