Facebook Home and Local Intent

Facebook turned a clever trick this week with the release of Facebook Home, which places an all-Facebook skin on top of the Android smartphone operating system. Supporters of the move highlighted that Facebook have released the essential equivalent of a “Facebook Phone” while piggybacking on Google’s software and their partners’ hardware.

If you live in a Facebook world, the user benefits are immediately obvious. As usual, I will not spend too much space on a per-feature description. If you need to get up to speed, Facebook themselves can give you a good overview.

Facebook Home has some useful new features, but its real purpose is to give Facebook a platform that will help them to monetize mobile. Home will support this goal in two ways:
  1. A homescreen presence will give Facebook the opportunity to drive greater geo-related activity, specifically check-ins.  This will give Facebook greater visibility into user behavior and provide yet another set of data points that can be leveraged for effective marketing.
  2.  The homescreen presence will also create a much larger canvas for serving ads. Combined with more specific geo-data, the opportunity enabled by Facebook Home is to serve big, attractive ads that are relevant in real time. Capitalizing on this opportunity will open the door to the Walk-in Economy for Facebook-- much like Google Offers and Google Now is doing for their competitor.

Google currently holds the pole position for what is
sure to be mobile's grand race:
Enabling monetization of the Walk-in Economy

I’ve described before that even a small percentage of America’s Walk-in Economy would be a crown jewel for any of the major consumer tech players. Facebook is under pressure to monetize its mobile presence, and these changes could be paving the road to get there. There are notable challenges to overcome, however.

1. Users will have to accept ads on their home screens.
I assume that one strategy at Facebook will be to fully subsidize phones in exchange for home screen ads. The precedents are there: broadcast radio and TV, for example. In order to drive that acceptance, however, Facebook's Home ads will have to achieve either Apple-like perfection in design OR Google-like perfection in utility.  Facebook is a remarkable team with many smart people, but these are high marks to hit. 

2. Facebook will have to fight an uphill battle to maintain active users of Home
Be on the lookout for impressive numbers regarding the quantity of downloads of Facebook Home. These numbers will be true, but the rubber will hit the road three months later when we attempt to learn the quantity of active users of Home. I predict a significant decline as users realize that their other favorite apps don’t function as desired in Home. Such apps might include book-readers, cab-hailers, diet-trackers, and more. If they cannot send notifications or set up “Home” widgets, Facebook Home might not go the distance.

3. Facebook will have to stay ahead in the “useful features” game
Home definitely has some great features. Those features will almost certainly be co-opted by Google and perhaps even Samsung (perhaps in the same way that Home seems to have been influenced by the Windows Phone home screen). As that happens, Facebook will have to continue to out innovate in the smartphone experience if this strategy is to pay off. While Home is a great outside-the-box concept, Facebook has not had a great track record so far in terms of smartphone app design. If they can turn that trend around, it will increase their likelihood of success.

Facebook Home has a different look, 
but clearly took some tips from Windows Phone

4. “People Ahead of Apps.” Legitimate Strategy?
Zuckerberg had that great tag line for the release of Home, but I challenge the concept that all smartphone users want people ahead of apps and data. In many scenarios, our friend networks are simply not robust enough to respond to our questions and needs. Overall, I still don’t think the case has been made for the utility of friend-sourced data. My proof is the weak performance of Facebook Ads (driven by the data in Facebook profiles) vs. Facebook Ad exchange, which is based on placing cookies from outside-Facebook browsing and then retargeting inside of Facebook.

Facebook Home: A Means to an End? 
Whether Facebook wins or loses with Home, it is clear that they now understand the need to prioritize mobile ahead of desktop. If they really want Home to stick, they need to bring Graph Search to the forefront and really get into the Intent Search game. In a worst-case scenario, Facebook Home will be remain a clever hack that supports lukewarm marketing opportunities to teenagers (until they abandon the social giant for the next big thing). 

The good news for Facebook, however, is that Home has bought them time. Occupation of such prime real estate in the Android ecosystem will help them collect new data that should, in time, help inform their next move. However they achieve it, that next move will be aimed at an optimized ad experience and monetization of the Walk-in Economy. Both efforts will rely on a next-gen Graph Search service and heavy use of geo data.

If Facebook get it right, users will accept the presence
of beautiful ads on their phones' home screens
Summary Thoughts for Agencies and Brands
In the next six months, expect the concept of "Graph Search Rank" to enter the lexicon of digital marketers. The best choice for hotels right now is to prepare for that change by "feeding the graph". There are two simple actions that hotels can take right now. Both are inexpensive calls to action and will have your hotel primed for a higher ranking as Graph Search gains a full head of steam at Facebook.
  1. We predict that the value of a Like will be increasing as Graph Search goes mainstream. Contrary to advice we have given in the past, the size of your Facebook fan-base may soon matter as much as the quality of it. Take actions now to acquire more Likes (capital "L", previously known as fans).
  2. Create simple marketing efforts designed to get guests to check-in to and rate your hotel via Facebook. As Facebook shifts its weight to mobile, it will give higher value to checkins and related geo-activities like, perhaps, venue ratings and reviews.
Combined, the above two actions are a simple but effective response to Facebook Home. As always, keep focused on best practices that apply across all platforms (including the ascendant Google+ platform), including user generated content and employee generated content. Such best practices will always serve the social networks, search engines, and your guests equally well.

By Aaron Zwas -- Director of Emerging Technologies at Digital Marketing Works