Yesterday, Facebook unveiled a slew of new changes that will be coming soon to the free social networking service used by everyone with an internet connection. These changes represent perhaps the most profound remaking of Facebook since it opened itself up to the outside world, becoming something more than a place for college kids to socialize online.
Lifehacker has a pretty good list of all the changes, but the two areas that I think are going to have the most impact for the non-profit space, where I work, are The Timeline and Social App integration. Below are my initial thoughts on both.
Writing in TechCrunch, Joe Green, Founder and President of Causes summed up the transition to Timeline and what it might mean for non-profits really well, at least as it relates to fundraising through Causes:
The current profile benefits applications that have frequent usage, such as games, but offers no way to show how deeply someone cares about something…
This new version of profile, if it works correctly, should achieve a balance between displaying things you have done recently and representing a comprehensive view of who you are. Key to this will be understanding which actions you really care about, even if they happen infrequently, and which frequent actions you care less about. Facebook seems to be intending to do this algorithmically, but I bet they will end up incorporating a big dose of direct user curation, as they are now doing with friend lists. Being able to ‘star’ a story is a good start, but it will need to be able to happen more in the flow of posting.
Certainly, the prospects of non-profits raising money through Causes goes up when the service has a permanent spot on the user’s Timeline and has better integration into the social stream. However, I think we all need to ask ourselves, “How often do Facebook users actually look at other user’s profile page?” The answer, of course, is, “not very often.” Right now, users typically only view a profile page when they decide to become friends with a new user or like a new brand.
While The Timeline is certainly a huge improvement in displaying a user’s profile, will it be compelling enough for people to spend more time on profile pages? I have my doubts. People use Facebook to know what’s happening right now, historical curation is fun but it’s not going to be a huge draw.
More interesting to me is how non-profits will set up their timelines and what it will mean for companies like Buddy Media, which has built a business on creating Facebook tabs for brands in order to boost user engagement. With the new timeline, non-profits will be able to create beautiful Facebook pages themselves and install apps directly to their timeline to boost engagement. Suddenly, a custom-built tab doesn’t seem quite as necessary. However, custom built apps for non-profits (and brands in general) to place in their timeline do seem increasingly necessary. If I were a developer at Convio I’d be building a donation app for Facebook right now.
The Timeline will give non-profits (and all brands, really) the opportunity to use Facebook more as a destination site, rather than just a platform to push messages. This will come through custom widgets, more meaningful photo integration and flexibility for clever people to figure out how to showcase their fans and user generated content on The Timeline.
This is a hard one to wrap your head around, but what it basically means is the ability to seamlessly share what you’re doing online and give your friends the opportunity to do it along with you. This will be built into applications — if you’re listening to music, it will be shared in your stream instantly and others will be given the opportunity to listen to it as well (presumably “with” you). It will also be built into web content — if you’re reading TechCrunch, others will be notified of that in the Ticker window. You will be able to turn this function on and off, but once its turned on sharing will be automatic.
For non-profits this means that donations, petitions and other actions can now be instantly shared across Facebook with the hope that others will join in, in real time. Just as you can now listen to music “with” your friends, you will now be able to take action “with” them as well. A well-run campaign built around this functionality could be huge for a non-profit.
It also has implications for building engagement in fun and non-traditional ways. Non-profits should be thinking about partnering with one of the dozen or so music services that will allow for instant sharing to host listening parties for their Facebook fans. Bring in a celebrity DJ, allow fans to listen to some good tunes and chat about why they support their cause. A similar model could work with documentary premiers or other online video.
The possibilities around experiencing rich content with your fans are vast, and more importantly fun.