Technology is our friend: Is Facebook hurting the Fanpage product?
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September 21, 2011

Is Facebook hurting the Fanpage product?

Ever since the launch of Google+, Facebook keeps rolling out new features. The one with the biggest impact - in my eyes - is the new subscriptions feature. Facebook changed a DNA-like core mechanism: the synchronous relation between friends. You could only add someone to your friends (or let's say: you could only add someone's updates in your news feed), if the other person agreed and had your news in their stream, too. "Following" used to be the core mechanism of Twitter. You could subscribe to someone's updates without them having to read your stuff in return.
This new subscription feature, visible in two tiny little links on the left of your personal profile, has a huge impact.

Many call it the "new, public Facebook" or "the end of Facebook as we know it". With changing the very nature of the platform, there is a massive "internal" effect, too: Your news stream is very likely to get a lot more busy than it used to be (and to be honest, mine was busy enough before). Therefore, there are more features needed to control the signal-to-noise-ratio:

We have an improved list product (with automated lists, left) and we can subscribe to "all updates", "most updates" and "only important updates" of friends. We can use the lists to control the messages in our news stream.
To the right we have a new "activity stream" that includes likes, comments and anything else our friends do. This is absolutely necessary to get some control over the news feed. Additionally, we can now mark updates as a "top story", indicating we want to see more from this or that user.

All this, in my eyes, will eat Twitter alive, because "subscriptions" incorporate what used to be a core distinction for Twitter - but they don't have any noise control. Kevin Rose, founder of DIGG, has already close to 250,000 subscribers on Facebook. He published a "test" - and found out that his FB update led to more traffic than the Tweet that was sent out to 1,2 mn followers on Twitter.

This means that Twitter's traditional stronghold, celebrity accounts, will get under severe pressure. It fits into this perspective that now, also a new feature, you can comment, like and share updates from Facebook fan pages without being a fan. You can even post on their sites (if enabled). All this substitutes features that used to be Twitter's area.

But killing Twitter may not come without cost: A news stream that is way busier than before, and the fact that marking a "top story" works for friends but not for fan pages, will probably make it a lot more difficult for a fan page to be seen in a user's stream. Subscriptions, non-mutual following, used to be "fanpage exclusive" on Facebook. So the updates from a fan page had to face competition from your friends to be seen in your news feed. Now, they will face competition from your friends AND all your subscriptions. There isn't more screen real estate, so obviously this will hurt the communication efforts of companies running a fan page. If additional features come in (there are rumors of music streaming and a lot more), the value of a facebook fan might decrease, because a much lower percentage of your fans will be able to see your updates.

We learnt that using management tools can cost you a lot of visibility and interactions. Now with subscriptions, I am pretty sure this will accelerate a trend that fan pages that are not managed well will lose even more impact. On a short term basis, this might be a good move by Facebook since fan page owners are most likely the biggest group of advertisers on Facebook and may go out to get new fans with ads, but on the long run i am not quite sure if this really helps the platform. Facebook used to be a marketer's dream so far (the right mixture between real conversations and mass communication), and this led to user value as well. I am not sure if the companies are ready (yet) to handle all these changes in a way that they keep deriving value out of their Facebook activities. In the end, they must become even more personal; the content has to become even more relevant; they have to be able to really get into dialogues (since non-fans can now post, too, and your fanpage may become the center of your digital customer service). Weakening the fan page product may be the price to pay if you're out to kill Twitter, but I am not sure if it is worth it nor if the timing is right.