Facebook announced Facebook Home last week, and today it launched on a handful of Android devices.
We’ve been saying it for years now, but this latest move from Facebook should leave no uncertainty: mobile is the most important battleground for brands and social media.
Ecosystem within an ecosystem?
Home places Facebook front and center on your phone. Messaging, SMS and even phone calls (on some devices) are routed through Facebook’s experience. I fully expect that Twitter and Google will fire back with competing installable Home-like experiences that will place priority on their services.
What we’re seeing is the beginning of a smaller battle within the Android ecosystem: installable skins designed to favor of one social media platform over the other.
No advertising plans…yet.
Facebook had nothing to announce regarding advertising in Home. Ads are definitely coming, but for now Facebook is likely focused on getting users to install Home and watching user behaviors to improve the experience.
Consider Instagram—after a year of Facebook ownership, there have been a few tweaks, both good and bad, but no mention of an advertising platform…yet.
Get your mobile “Home” in order.
What can brands do today? Take a look at your social content plan. Are you using vivid images that make an impact in a mobile stream? Are your messages clear and memorable? Do your links and videos work on mobile phones? These are the bare essentials. When Home and its inevitable competitors are opened up to brands, content that is designed for mobile will shine.
Even though brands can’t come into Home yet, the message is loud and clear—your social media strategy should already be putting mobile consumers first.
Recently, I spent time talking to “Jeff.” I’ve met Jeff before. He’s a pretty normal mid-20s guy in the Bay Area. He works, he eats, he vacations, etc. This time, the subject turned to Facebook. He told me he deleted his account about a year ago.
While not unique, his reasons for deleting his Facebook account revealed something interesting: it wasn’t to escape a jealous ex, or an inability to control his Farmville addiction. It was that he wasn’t getting anything out of it. There were too many babies, sunsets, vacations and other things he didn’t care about. It was too hard to sift through the constant noise for something of real value.
Warning signs like this are all around us, revealing that all is not right with our constant state of sending, receiving and considering texts, tweets, email, likes and posts. Among the warning signs are Facebook dropouts like Jeff, the Digital Sabbath movement, Sherry Turkle’s acclaimed take on having less real connection, and The Atlantic’s, “Is Facebook making us more lonely?”
If you think about the raw numbers—like the estimated 147 emails received each day and 40 texts per day (even higher for 18-29 year olds)—plus all the liking and commenting (2.7 billion per day total), it’s not surprising that playing the digital game is causing some strain.
It all points to “connection fatigue,” a condition that comes from an overload of channels and devices, and along comes an unspoken expectation of constant updates. The result is an exhausting state of multitasking where we have to be asked multiple times what we want on our sandwich because we’re too busy texting, and where it’s proper etiquette to preemptively say someone’s name in a meeting so they know to stop multitasking and be ready to respond.
Right now, most people don’t seem to mind the lack of focus caused by this phenomenon, but thought leaders are beginning to recognize and warn that there are costs to being plugged in. It’s almost as if early adopters are signaling the backlash just as they point us to the latest and greatest trends and gadgets.
The most avid digital enthusiasts will continue to illuminate the new and use their knowledge of it as social currency. But as marketers, we’d be well advised to stay in tune with the needs of average users and those who choose to unplug occasionally.
Creating a less hurried pace of information.
What can brands do to accommodate those with connection fatigue? Better yet, how can they help people like Jeff disconnect?
The first issue is alleviating the fear of missing out. On a basic level, the response might be a content strategy that introduces weekly recaps and “in-case-you-missed-its.” But it also extends to limiting time-sensitive/act-now opportunities and using channels that emphasize visual browsing (think Pinterest) and curated content (think Storify). But could it even be advocating a “vacation setting” for people to summarize brand outreach during the specific time period they’re going to be away from the digital world?
To extend the idea further, how can brands actually help people disconnect? Can we set benevolent barriers that prevent people from accessing their accounts for certain periods of time? Perhaps deliver prompts to take a break if you send too many emails or texts? Or reminders to slow down if your calendar is too full?
There are a ton of possibilities, but supporting people like Jeff in their desire to step away is a new opportunity for developing branded utility that keeps connection fatigue at bay.
I recently had the chance to speak with a remarkable entrepreneur who described herself as “half a BRIC” because she’s a Chinese woman who grew up in Brazil. She spent her professional career at global P&G, Pepsi and Western Union positions before moving into business for herself.
We had a fascinating discussion about global marketing and economic trends. Of the many things she said that stuck with me was that the head of a major retail corporation in China recently described America as “retail’s graveyard.” It’s a stark reminder that although we work hard for modest gains in consumer spending, the center of gravity has shifted.
The future of retail.
But while the spending power may have shifted to shores beyond ours, we are still quite an inventive bunch, aren’t we? I recently attended a presentation of PSFK Salon’s “The Future of Retail” 2012 report—which is recommended viewing for marketers, agencies and entrepreneurs.
The report showcases some remarkable ways brands and start-ups are responding to shoppers’ demands, which are ever-increasing in terms of expectations and sophistication. And the ways in which the shopping experience is being transformed are remarkable; from social shopping to crowd-sourcing customer support, from virtual outlets to AR showrooms.
Needless to say, the confluence of mobile and social was evident in almost every single example presented. The ways people are using technology and data to provide richer and more relevant shopping experiences are incredible. After seeing example after example of brilliant ecommerce sites and tech-enabled retail services, it was almost dizzying to then think about all the stuff that I’ve been toying with of late, like Fab.com, NakedWines, and BirchBox.
What really works?
Thankfully, they served wine at the event, so after a settling glass of Sauvignon Blanc, I simmered down. And then the oddest thing happened. I almost can’t believe I went there, given I am typically on a soapbox to keep the target audience at the core of it all, but my big question was, “OK, I get how all these innovations are cool and are working for shoppers, but what are they doing for retail?” I understand and advocate the value of initiatives that do things we agencies encourage clients to do: find ways to empower and reward the consumer (e.g., social shopping), create brand preference (e.g., service apps that connect directly to a favorite salesperson), and even reduce operational costs (e.g., crowd-sourcing customer service).
Those present, myself included, were genuinely impressed by the technical, strategic and creative ingenuity we saw. But if I think about the “America is retail’s graveyard” perception—and given that we’re literally talking about retail—what innovations are truly impacting sales? I asked the question, but didn’t get an answer that spoke to sales data or trends.
And the question is...
If these efforts are largely pointing to investment plays, that’s fine and actually quite encouraging. Also, I understand that many of these initiatives are still in their nascency, so it could simply be too early to tell. And I will always advocate for the consumer, so kudos for making them king. But I did feel as if I had two heads when I asked the question about sales. Perhaps it was crass to essentially ask a question that, unveiled, is essentially, “So, is any of this actually making money?” It’s just that in an environment where deals and discounts have become commoditized, and luxury ever more affordable and accessible, retail in this country continues to hurt badly. It’s clear the model needs to change so everyone can benefit.
What worried me was not that we didn’t have an answer to my question about the impact of these innovations on sales, but that we didn’t seem to have asked the question at the beginning, before setting off in creating these remarkable services. If I were a retailer, I’m not sure I’d buy that.