Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Don't Build Your House on the Sand

More and more client engagements are including “we need a Facebook App” as a starting point. It is not difficult to understand why clients are asking. With over 500 million registered users and with every digital strategist and social media guru telling them they need to be active on Facebook, it is a natural assumption that a Facebook application would be a good “next step” for most brands.

However, there is a problem that has been growing in scope over the last year that in my opinion casts doubt on the wisdom of Facebook applications for most brands. The Facebook Platform is not a stable enough foundation to try and build your brand’s digital/social reputation on. A quick survey of developers that work on Facebook applications will provide you with countless tales of frustration due to changes in the platform and lack of proper documentation. Facebook applications have had to be totally re-written based on new API methods and “rules” about what can and cannot be done on brand pages and within custom tabs only to discover that the new rules are returning to the old rules in a few weeks.

Brands have rightly moved to Facebook to try and better engage with their consumers. Recent research has shown that consumers want to engage with their favorite brands on social networks like Facebook and that the ones that do are more predisposed to make brand purchases. However, your consumers’ perceptions are influenced by every single interaction they have with your brand. Providing robust interactive functionality on your Facebook page is an excellent way to enhance their perceptions, when it works. The problem being encountered more and more often however is that a change in the Facebook API could at any moment break your rich interactive brand experience, and, your consumers do not care that it was Facebook that broke it. They also do not care that it is because your developers will have trouble finding adequate documentation as to exactly what has changed and how to work with the new platform that there is a good chance that it will remain broken for a while. They just care that it doesn’t work.

So, you have to be on Facebook. You want to engage your consumers and provide them with rich brand experiences. But building on the Facebook platform is like building your house on the sand. What should you do?

My recommendation is that you concentrate on what works, build on what is stable and what you can control, and use Facebook for what it is best at: conversation, feedback and traffic flow. Your brand’s rich interactive experiences should take place on properties you own and control. Your brand web site is a good place to start. There is also a place for product or promotion specific micro sites. If you want to develop an application that provides useful and rich functionality to your consumers, build it as a web application. Follow the rules for good web application development and make sure it works well across all browsers and platforms including mobile (or build a mobile specific version if necessary). Then drive traffic to your web application from your Facebook page. Use Facebook as an advertising platform that attracts users to your web application. If you feel the need, provide limited, simple interaction on the Facebook page (for example collect a little data using simple form elements) but then pass the interaction off to a site under your control for the “heavy lifting” and rich presentation. This is the best way to ensure that your application remains stable and continues to function as expected for your consumers.

Social networks rise and fall. Platforms shift and change. Build your brand’s reputation on the rocks of what you can control instead of someone else’s sand pile.

1 comment:

  1. Some good points here David, however the biggest issue which you haven't included is that Facebook owns all the data that goes on in Facebook.

    That is the single biggest reason why brands will keep creating their own social network site(s) - off of Facebook.