Category Archives: Facebook

46 of the Best Facebook Page Timeline Cover Images

Facebook announced the new timeline page design for brand pages last week at the Facebook Marketing Conference. The new Facebook page design gives brand pages the same timeline layout as user profile pages, with a few additional tools to help them manage their brand on the site. One of the most valuable changes to the pages is the ability to create a powerful branded presence by smart use of the cover art used on the page. Here are 50 of my favorite brand pages and their cover images as of today. If you’re looking for inspiration when setting up the timeline view of your brand’s Facebook page, you’re sure to find a few ideas here.

I think you’ll agree that with the new timeline changes for brands, a powerful Facebook presence starts with great cover art. Sure, some companies might not have the money for professional photography, but there are some great examples below of small businesses who have creatively found art work that works in the space and does a great job of branding their business.

These page cover photo dimensions are 815px by 315px. Profile images are 180px by 180px. And remember — all business pages will be upgraded to timeline by March 31, 2012. So get your cover art ready, and take advantage of the new Facebook page layout.

46 of the Best Facebook Page Cover Images

surfrider

Surfrider’s Facebook Page connects with fans of the non-profit, and puts its audience and focus front and center.

starbucks facebook cover photo

Starbucks does a great job of showcasing the beans, the start of any great cup of coffee.

Barack Obama facebook cover photo

Barack Obama’s Facebook page is excellent and it starts with this photo, which quickly shows that Obama gets (and is) one of us.

nike facebook cover photo

Nike uses the cover art to promote their new product line – the Fuel band.

redbull facebook cover photo

Red Bull‘s cover photo perfectly captures the brand essence through its connection to extreme sports.

Coca-Cola tells the brand history with its Facebook timeline, and the cover photo creates the overriding brand experience for the page.

spiderman facebook cover photo

The Spider-Man franchise is back, and this cover art teases the upcoming reboot.

chevy volt facebook cover photo

The Chevy Volt showcases its primary USP with a great shot of the vehicle plugged in, in front of some nice greenery.

the bachelor facebook cover photo

I don’t watch The Bachelor, but you get the gist of it pretty quickly just through the cover photo and profile picture they use. They also update it week after week with key scenes. Nice touch.

captain morgan facebook cover photo

Captain Morgan brings the iconic pirate to life and cleverly matches the profile image with the bottle label to break the hard line between the cover art and the rest of the profile.

american express facebook cover photo

Membership has its privileges is communicated clearly with AMEX’s Facebook cover photo.

alamo drafthouse cinema facebook cover photo

If this cover photo doesn’t tell you what you’re in for, I don’t know what will. Plus, Kenny Powers? Win!

herbal essence facebook cover photo

Herbal Essences showcases its product line with their Facebook cover photo.

louis vitton facebook cover photo

Louis Vuitton uses the cover photo as an invitation. Remember, the Facebook terms of service prohibit brands from putting messages such as “Save 40% now” or “Like Us!” in the cover photo.

livestrong facebook cover photo

Livestrong has a fresh take on its iconic yellow band.

smirnoff facebook cover photo

Smirnoff drinkers make their own great nights” comes to life for their audience with their cover photo.

fanta facebook cover photo

Fanta has a game going right now and uses the cover photo area to promote it. They’ve lost some characters, and only Likes will bring them back.

modern family facebook cover photo

The characters of the hit TV show Modern Family are captured perfectly in this shot used for their Facebook cover photo.

chevy sonic facebook cover photo

Chevy’s Sonic performed the first kick-flip done by a car. If you didn’t know that, you’re not the target audience for the Sonic. Chevy does a great job capturing that awesome feat with their cover photo.

verizon facebook cover photo

Verizon goes the user generated route for its cover photo, showing off a picture snapped on one of its devices for its cover photo.

amy's ice creams

Amy’s Ice Creams does a great job showcasing their product and adding some brand whimsy while they’re at it.

brookfield homes facebook cover photoBrookfield Homes San Diego has a clear call to action and a visually interesting welcome for potential home buyers.

butterfinger facebook cover photoButterfinger lines up the profile image and cover photo to create a fun visual break with the hard borders of Facebook’s cover photo area.

the today show facebook cover photo

The Today Show is all about the personalities of the show — the Facebook cover photo is no different.

mcguire real estate facebook cover photo

McGuire Real Estate uses a stunning shot of downtown San Francisco to create a powerful Facebook presence for potential home shoppers.

 Ben & Jerry’s Facebook cover image is simple and right on brand with their other collaterals.

The Magnolia Bakery whets your appetite with the delicious confections they sell. You almost want to press your face up against the screen like when you were a kid walking by the window.

HSG Accounting is a great example of what you can do without a professional photography or incredible images. Find a great-looking shot on iStockPhoto or similar and crop it in an interesting way to create compelling cover art.

Assassin’s Creed uses a stunning shot from actual gameplay — nice.

People leaves no doubt to its value proposition. Want celebrity news? Read People. Simple.

Jive Time Records showcases their awesome selection of vinyl. A place that any High Fidelity fan could get lost in for hours.

ColdPlay‘s image is all about them and portrays them in the way that their fans expect and appreciate.

Tiffany is all about diamonds and little blue boxes. So is their cover photo.

Tide uses the cover art to introduce a new product to the Tide line.


Nespresso uses an alluring image with satin sheets that speak to the brand promise of a smooth, sensual coffee drink.

SportsCenter gives you a look behind the cameras, putting you in the director’s chair — right on the set.

Doug Bend is another great example of a small business without professional photography find artwork that speaks to their business and brand.

Canlis does a great job showcasing their property. That inviting image is just calling visitors to come and join them for a meal.

The Vow‘s page puts Channing Tatum front and center in a shot filled with dramatic tension.

Old Spice stays true to the branding of it’s campaigns. Explosions and tigers, oh my!

The New York Times gives you a look inside at the people who make the country’s most esteemed newspaper.

Burberry puts the latest runway look front and center with something right out of your favorite fashion or lifestyle magazine.

Toyota connects with the emotional side of owning a car. It’s not about the car, it’s about the lifestyle, the freedom of the open road with your best friend.

Verrado, a community outside of Phoenix, sets the scene with a tree-lined lane that has hometown written all over it.

Sports Clips

SportClips not only puts it’s USP front and center, it shows it in action, too.

The beauty of the Centerpoint on Mill development in Phoenix is captured in a perfect evening shot, showcasing the work and the possibilities of the development.

 

Disclosure: I’ve worked with Brookfield, Verrado and Centerpoint on their social marketing strategy.

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Facebook Ups Its Ad Game

Facebook is clearly focused on revenue ahead of its IPO. The massive social network has been hard at work innovating on it’s platform – it’s ad platform. Over the last few weeks there have been a slew of changes rolled out to advertisers with announcements of more right around the horizon. Is this a coincidence? No way. Facebook needs to ramp up its revenue capability as it enters the public market. Investors will demand fast growth for the multiple they’re going to pay, and Facebook is laying the foundation to grab as many ad dollars as possible with these new changes.

New Ad Units

Leaked Facebook documents show new Facebook ad units coming and old units sunsetting as Facebook attempts to find the ad units that drive more engagement (clicks) to pay off better for advertisers who are looking for measurable results. The new social units are actually already live on the site if you’re in the developer preview. I’ve grabbed one from my Facebook feed below.

These new ads, say Facebook, are poised to drive more clicks and actually work better than standard ads. I’m inclined to believe them. I’ve run a ton of Facebook ad experiments and I can tell you, in no uncertain terms, that the social ads work better. But that’s another post.

More Ads, More Places

Facebook has been thinking more about how it can leverage the most popular parts of its platform to drive more impressions for it’s ads. When it launched the new version of the photo viewer, it reworked the layout and bumped up the visibility of the ad units. You can see between the previous version and the new one how much visual priority has been given to the ads now, and yes, there’s even an extra ad unit in there for good measure.

That extra ad unit may not seem like a big deal, but when you take into account that 200 million photos are added to Facebook every day (6B/month) and that those photos are viewed on an average of some multiple of that, you’ve just added a ton of new inventory (and CPMs) from your platform to sell and monetize. It’s a big change.

Old Photo Viewer

Facebook's previous photo viewer

New Photo Viewer with Two Ad Spots

Facebook new photo viewer

We should not be surprised to see this ad creep continue to show up all across the platform.

Facebook Mobile Ads

With more than 400 million of it’s ~850 million users accessing Facebook via mobile, and with no current monetization opportunities to capture that audience, it’s a no-brainer that Facebook will unveil mobile ads at some point soon. You just can’t have that type of traffic to a site that you can’t monetize. I’m sure that’s the busiest team in the entire company.

Facebook also acquired a mobile payments company recently. And if they can strike a payments deal where they take a cut, it could be lucrative for them, and a model they’re very familiar with already (see Facebook credits.)

More Tools for Advertisers

In addition to the extra ads and new ad units, Facebook will continue to innovate to make the ad professional’s life easier and their campaigns more successful. Facebook’s treasure trove of data on users is becoming easier to tap and target with recent changes to the ad editor which has become much better at making suggestions for interests as you type. Users of the Facebook Power Editor can now mix and match broad based categories and precise interests, which let you target say small business owners who like search marketing (like the AimClear guys did.)

When Will the Ads Be Too Much?

The big question of course is when is enough, enough? An ad that shows you a funeral parlor when Facebook knows you’ve just lost a relative is going to be far too creepy and turn off a bunch of users. I’m sure there’s some healthy debate going on between ad sales and the product teams about where, when and how to best leverage the platform and drive revenue. Those debates have likely picked up since the S-1 filing.

One thing is for sure, unlike Twitter, Facebook has fully embraced it’s destiny as an ad serving platform. We won’t be paying a subscription any time soon, but we will be seeing more and more ads. The big question is when will it be too much? Will it be the ads that chase the users away? Or will we be perfectly content being served ads for merchandise of our favorite teams and tools that are built for professionals like us?

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Facebook Store Failures? Blame the Retailers, Not Facebook.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Bloomberg reporter Ashley Lutz filed a seemingly damming story about the failure of Facebook as a commerce platform by highlighting retailers who have closed their Facebook stores after a lack of success. Unfortunately the article fails to address the most important question, which is: did the stores fail because they’re on Facebook, or did they fail because they were bad stores? Lutz’s juicy, link bait title and high profile retailers make for compelling reading, but by only focusing on the platform, she completely ignores the role of the execution of the stores as a factor in their lack of success. And this is a big miss.

Facebook Stores are Where eCommerce Stores Were in 1997

If you’ve studied or used Facebook stores as they exist today, you know one thing for certain: they’re not very good. The experience isn’t unlike trying to shop on the original Amazon or eToys. It’s mostly clunky, and lacks the polish and refinement of today’s ecommerce sites. Worse, most Facebook stores represent nothing more than catalog pages from existing ecommerce sites shoe-horned into the Facebook chrome.  They are completely substandard around many best ecommerce practices including navigation, calls-to-action, ability to get product details and images, speed – the list goes on.

Many of these retailers, including GameStop, JC Penny and others, in their rush to get on the F-commerce train, launched stores that were doomed because the user experience was sub-par. The expectation that people would put up with a poor shopping experience simply because they were in the cozy confines of Facebook is where the real failure is – and not with Facebook.

In addition to a poor user-friendly shopping experience, few, if any of these sites took advantage of the benefits of being on Facebook. Many stores failed to integrate personalized recommendations, information about friend’s preferences and previous purchases, and any number of other social proof elements available on Facebook that could’ve helped these stores succeed.

These stores are truly the v1 efforts of F-commerce, and so we should not be surprised that they’ve failed. The failure of early Facebook stores doesn’t mean Facebook is a poor commerce platform, just like the failure of the first ecommerce stores proved that the Web was a bad platform for shopping.

Facebook Calls for New Ways of Shopping

Just like we’ve seen in 15 years of ecommerce, there’s a lot to learn and figure out about commerce in any new context, and old methods aren’t going to necessarily translate to a new medium. We should expect the same in a Web-to-Facebook transition, too. And until retailers get beyond the convention of ecommerce ported to Facebook, they’ll continue to fail. Their fine-tuned ecommerce paradigm will continue to falter in Facebook, which is a completely different medium. Just because Facebook lives on the Web does not mean that shopping on Facebook is the same as shopping on the Web.

Facebook Shares Responsibility in the Failures

For as much as I’ve blamed the failures of these stores on the retailers, Facebook must assume some responsibility for these failures. The Facebook chrome is unforgiving and difficult to work with for applications like shopping carts and store catalogs. There are few tools or special functionality built into the Facebook platform or API that make shopping on the site more valuable or enjoyable than shopping elsewhere.

Imagine, for instance, having the ability to shop with a friend on a Facebook store as easily as you can listen to a song with your friend on Facebook using Spotify. This is just one of many, easy-to-conceive ways that Facebook could make shopping easier on the site – not to mention the troves of data for recommendations, the social connections to leverage for social proof, etc. etc. The possibilities are limitless – and for their diversity all have one thing in common – none have been done well (if at all).

Until Facebook makes changes to make shopping easier and more interesting, retailers will continue to treat the platform as nothing more than a curiosity, and one that doesn’t have the same potential as the Web. When Facebook decides to focus on the online-shopping experience, and subsequently delivers tools to retailers that really leverage the platform is when we can expect more success.

Let Zynga At It

If there’s a company that understands the Facebook platform and how to best leverage it for commerce, it’s Zynga. The company already accounts for 12% of Facebook’s revenue, driven by virtual gifts and credits purchased for it’s host of viral games. There isn’t any reason that Zynga couldn’t turn it’s sights on creating a social ecommerce platform that made shopping as fun and engaging as it is to raise virtual cows. And whether they do or don’t get into ecommerce, the lessons of their success should be heeded by any retailer looking at F-commerce. Leveraging social connections, game mechanics and the other benefits of Facebook is what will make F-commerce an eventual success.

It’s Early Days

With the current shortcomings of Facebook stores it’s no wonder people opt for the brand website over Facebook. And while it may be an intriguing story to write when a few big brands shutter their v1 store-fronts, it’s important to look at all of the reasons for failure, including the user experience and the changes needed to make shopping on Facebook worthwhile. Hopefully this article will get Facebook focused on improving the tools for retailers so that there are new, innovative ways to shop rather than just replicating ecommerce on Facebook. But it would be a shame if brands took an article like this as any type of analysis that would suggest that they abandon Facebook as a potential platform for commerce. The potential is there, but it is, early days again.

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Facebook Product Changes Aimed at Maximizing Revenue

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

Brands love being on the Facebook platform. With Facebook reaching 3 out of every 4 Internet users in the US, it’s been a great way to reach customers where they’re spending their days. And the best part? It’s free. That combination has been a powerful driver, bringing brands and marketers on to the platform, with companies forsaking their own websites, driving traffic to Facebook to gain new fans. All with the hope that this new opt-in-lite “fan” asset will be a longterm winner, creating new customers and revenues. But two recent seemingly-unrelated changes on Facebook may signify the party is almost over, and that Facebook will be coming for it’s cut of the pie for the privilege of connecting with customers on Facebook.

The first change rolled out week’s ago to much fanfare and debate. The new Sponsored Stories. The Sponsored Stories product lets brands promote organic mentions, reviews and other shared information by users of Facebook, gaining guaranteed visibility for the item that may otherwise have gone unnoticed in the river of the hidden-by-default “Most Recent” news items. Most marketers loved this idea, because trying to get your items into their much more visible “Top News” feed is an art and science that has yet to be figured out completely.

With Sponsored Stories, Facebook gave brands a way to pay to get that extra visibility that everyone wants, in a consistent and guaranteed way. It was pitched as a boon to advertisers who wanted to stand out among the noise, and already, brands like Levi’s have lined up to take advantage. It was a smart move for Facebook in terms of wooing advertisers, and an innovative way to drive revenue.

But, then, just a few days ago, Facebook changed what users see in their news feeds. Switching the default view of the feed to “Show posts from: friends and Pages you interact with the most”, hiding tons of content that could’ve previously been visible to the user under the old settings. Of course, there are some obscure controls at the bottom of the News Feed that let you customize and restore the “Show posts from: All of your friends and pages”, but really, how many users even know they can change the global settings on their news feed, let alone know that something’s been changed for them that’s materially altering their experience on the site?

And this is punch #2 of the 1-2 product punch for Facebook. Because with a new, more restrictive filter on the News Feed, plus a new vehicle for driving revenue with Sponsored Stories, Facebook is making it harder and harder for brands to get organic mentions in front of casual fans – the exact people they want to reach and engage with on Facebook. It’s a shrewd and calculating move. Cut off organic access quietly, shortly after trumpeting a new, innovative way to get more visibility. And I predict that as brands see less engagement on their organic posts, more and more are going to be considering the Sponsored Stories as the de facto way to ensure key messages hit their target audience on the site. Driving tons of new revenue to Facebook.

But how will this sit with the advertisers who have been lured into a false sense of security where now the only way to leverage Facebook is to pay whatever the going rate is? Will brands feel taken advantage of now that their organic updates are less effective and the only way to the customer is through the Facebook sales department? Or will brands just merrily pony up cash to reach more people on Facebook, counting their number of fans like chits and assuring themselves they’re building a permission-marketing asset?

What do you think? Did Facebook intentionally roll these changes out together to drive more revenue? Or is one just a case of improving user experience by reducing clutter and the other a new ad model? That’s the benevolent angle I guess – but not the one I’m betting on.

It remains to be seen; but either way, the trap has been quietly set, and Facebook is counting on reaping a ton of cash from access-starved marketers who, now addicted to connecting with their customers for free on Facebook, will pay the going rate to keep feeling the love.

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Marketing’s New Frontier: The Facebook Stream

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

I first heard the idea of Stream Marketing in this AdAge article, where the author explored how brands were marketing with Facebook status updates. The article looked at Oreo and other big brands who had figured out that the mundane updates were the ones that got the most engagement. And, by virtue of the Facebook social graph, also the most exposure and attention for the brand on the social network. Stream marketing is the practice of optimizing your outgoing status updates to get the most engagement (and therefore reach) with each one. It’s about being intentional in the stream, and cultivating your brand persona with well timed, and executed updates. As a social marketer, it’s imperative that you go beyond the network-presence level of social marketing, and get down into the front lines, update by update, to maximize the brand’s presence in the stream.

Stream marketing is the next frontier of online marketing. Many people and companies talk about using social marketing; but how many are actively thinking, planning and optimizing their stream marketing? It’s a huge, open field with few boundaries and rules for the road; and lots of debate about what is, and isn’t good marketing in the stream. But what does it really look like? Let’s look at that AdAge article:

As it turns out, many people in social networks don’t want to talk about your product, they just want to talk. We’ve long known that inserting brands into social-media channels requires a conversational touch, but many are surprised by just how conversational. There’s increasing evidence that the most-effective kinds of marketing communications on these websites are simple, random, even banal statements or questions driven by the calendar or the whim of a writer that may not have anything to do with the brand in question.

What are you doing this weekend? What is your ideal vacation? What’s your favorite movie or book? On Veteran’s Day, BlackBerry posted a simple holiday-related message that received nearly 8,000 likes and more than 500 comments, many of which consisted of veterans thanking the brand and posting their PINs, allowing others to contact them via BlackBerry messenger. Reaction to that update far outpaced other recent ones concerned with products or tips.

The key here is the conversational element. Being able to create a dialog around your brand or product is what drives the spread of your brand through Facebook’s social graph. Facebook’s algorithm, called EdgeRank, uses the number of comments, likes and shares of an item to determine what bubbles up to the user’s Top News feed – the default view of the News Feed for most of Facebook’s 500+ million members. Items with many comments and likes get seen by more people, driving the virtuous cycle of the viral spread of the message to your fans’ friends, and so on. Without any engagement those status updates just fly by, in a river of noise, unnoticed.

Facebook knows that brands and marketers are paying attention to their stream marketing efforts, and have started adding some rudimentary, yet valuable, stats underneath status updates visible only to the page administrators. Now with each status update you can see the number of impressions received by the status update as well as the percent feedback received for each of these posts. Now marketers can start to really see what is connecting with their fan base, and not just throw stuff against the wall to see what sticks.

The impressions number is important because it’s representative of the number of how effective that message was at propagating through the social graph of users. Getting content into that Top News feed is the best way to reach people on the network, and so the number of impressions can be used as a proxy for how effective that update was at achieving that goal. The feedback is a critical number for obvious reasons. The higher the feedback, the more engaged the users are with the brand around that update. You get all sorts of benefits from that. You have more awareness, you can drive action that’s tied to a KPI, you may get more affinity/loyalty, and you also get the Edge Rank boost as mentioned above, driving that status update into the Top News feeds of your fans’ friends and creating the opportunity to gain new fans, and build greater awareness with people not already connected to the brand on Facebook.

The status data from Facebook isn’t real time, but it is fast enough to let you make some smart decisions very quickly. For example, looking at a recent client’s feed, we realized that their fan base was very engaged around Mad Lib-type, fill-in-the-blank status updates. In fact, they were performing at 4-to-1 compared to other updates. So we made a recommendation to mix more of those types of updates into the stream. The result has been more engagement around more status items, which is exactly the goal. Of course, we also cautioned them not to overdo it, as you don’t want to exhaust a fun outlet for fans; but it was a way that they could shift their stream marketing ever so slightly to get better results.

Stream marketing requires a mix of planning and thought combined with the ability to rapidly respond and shift based on what’s working and what isn’t, all while keeping with the brand voice and persona. With such a fast-moving environment it’s easy to get off brand in a hurry, so it’s important that the people managing your stream understand the brand voice to the core and have a working playbook of ideas, themes and do’s/don’ts that keep them on brand in this fast-paced environment.

It is the evolution of marketing from editorial calendars to playbooks. Let me use a football analogy here. In most football games, a team has its first 15 or so plays scripted. That is, right out the gate, no matter what, they’re going to run 15 plays and see what happens. These are based on their best research and planning, and allow them to test their theories about the opponent, etc. This is very much like a standard editorial calendar. Here are the items we’re going to go to market with, because based on what we know we think they’ll get the best response. But after those 15 plays are done, it’s time to go to the playbook adn call plays based on the response of the opponent.

The same is true in stream marketing. You can start with a strategy and an approach, and you can even stick to it at the start; but then you need to start adjusting and responding to what is and isn’t working if you’re going to have success connecting with fans on Facebook. And much like a football team, marketers, copywriters and community managers can call a play, but whoever is driving the feed activity is the Quarterback, and they need to be able to audible into other plays and strategies based on how their fans respond. From the AdAge article:

“When you have ad agencies or copywriters writing your Facebook copy, it ends up being promotional in nature and if you’re not inspiring feedback no one’s going to care,” said Sarah Hofstetter, senior VP-emerging media and brand strategy at 360i. “You can only talk about your product so much. Balance that with you’re not trying to be their best friend, you’re trying to achieve some marketing objective.”

So how can you be effective at stream marketing? Here are a few tips:

  • Create a strategy and approach to stream marketing that fits with your brand and brand voice
  • Create a rules of engagement document that outlines what is an isn’t on brand for status updates
  • Set a soft editorial calendar for the first handful of status updates to learn what does and doesn’t resonate with your audience
  • Create engagement opportunities by asking questions and using fill in the blank statements
  • Use the stream insights provided by Facebook under each item to see what works and what doesn’t work, and refine accordingly
  • Create a playbook of ideas for conversation starters and status updates that your community manager can go to at any time to engage the fan base
  • As with any online marketing effort: test, learn, refine, test, learn, refine, repeat ad infinitum.

By effectively marketing in stream you can “inspire feedback” driving the virtuous cycle of extended reach across the network, leading to better results and greater return for your Facebook investment.

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Photos are the Love Letters of the Social Web

Instagram, Hipstamatic, Path, the list goes on and on. Photo taking, editing and sharing apps are gaining momentum right now as more and more people use quick photos to communicate with their friends and family. Years after Flickr and Facebook reinvented the photo as a shared, social object, these new apps are transforming how we communicate, from short text-based status updates to candid, interesting photos. Some people are wondering why these photo sharing apps are so en vogue right now, but I think the answer is pretty simple – people want more than text to express themselves. As the on-board cell phone camera technology has improved pictures have become a more viable and attractive way for people to express themselves online. With our new cameras and better upload ability photos have become the new love letter for the web.

We’ve talked about the “statusphere” since the dawn of Twitter. Short text bursts were our our only option if we wanted to participate in the social web. But they were lacking. Sometimes, words just don’t do it. Text is great for relaying information, facts, quotes, etc. but photos are a much more emotional. They not only serve an information need, they serve an emotional and phatic need as well. These facets are often missing in text form, or if they’re there, aren’t nearly as profound or effective.

So now, instead of typing what we’re doing, we’re sharing what we’re doing visually with these apps. Our phatic expressions previously text-based, are being replaced, and in a hurry. The rush to join Instagram and the rest of the photo sharing/taking apps is a direct response to this emotional void that photos fill that text just can’t touch.

For example, I share photos with my girlfriend throughout the day. We snap pictures of what we’re doing, our kids, our workspaces, our shopping carts, our friends, and more. These aren’t award winners and they won’t end up on the mantle; but they’re a powerful way to say “I’m thinking of you. I wish you were here. I love you.” A picture of my son coloring is far more emotionally engaging than a text message that says “we’re coloring,” and that is what makes the photo sharing so appealing to us as users.

But there’s another thing going on here. Because people could MMS well before Instagram came along and they could share on Flickr and BBS’s long before that. And I think the secret ingredient is the filters that come on these apps. Because when you take a photo you’re documenting an event; but when you add a filter to the photo you’re adding a mood and personality to the moment. You’re marking it for posterity. You’re able to add what the camera can’t see. You’re making each picture special. And that last step is what makes sharing so interesting. In some way, you’re able to idealize the moment, and that makes sharing far more interesting for both the sharer and the recipients. It isn’t just cold reality captured by an unforgiving, inhuman lens. Rather, it’s the scene as it appeared in your mind (to some reasonable approximation anyway,) and you’re able, in some small way, to share your life the way you see it.

And people love this. Because it’s their editorial touch on the reality captured by the camera. And it lets them put their voice into the picture. The picture and it’s alterations say as much about the person as anything else they share.

This ability to alter the mundane into something special resonates with users again and again and again. We see this behavior and rapid adoption whenever a company can add an extra layer of meaning on top of an everyday item. For example, it’s not Starbucks coffee, but what the coffee and logo say about the drinker and how it makes that person feel. It’s the design of the Mac and the aluminum casing and what that says about the person holding the laptop.

And now these photos are capturing and conveying that same idea. It’s not the photo necessarily, its presenting the moment the way we choose to represent it, and what that says about us and who we are and the life we choose to lead. The photos are love letters to the people we love and care about and to ourselves. They make the mundane significant and add importance to what we experience, big and small.

Idealizing these moments is what makes these photos the love letters of our time, and what makes these apps so popular.

There are important ramifications for this change in behavior from a business and social media strategy standpoint as well. As more people share and engage around photos brands will have to find a way to participate in this preferred way of sharing content online. The Daily Beast reported that photos and videos get more interaction on Facebook than text updates. Images and videos get more comments and likes than text updates (on average,) which puts them in more Top News streams and in front of the customers they’re trying to reach. How can brands adapt to this? By sharing more photos and video of course – photos with an emotional appeal that resonates with their customer base.

It goes beyond just social sharing though, and has much broader implications for product design and development. How do you let your customers express themselves in a way that resonates with them, that helps them depict an ideal/romanticized version of their world? How do you give customers lightweight ways that they can take the raw product and add their idealized filter to it to make it truly one-of-a-kind, truly theirs? How can you help your customers portray not just their reality, but the reality in their mind’s eye?

Increasingly we are able to share more about our lives via text, photo and video. And increasingly we can craft and present our lives to be displayed perhaps not as they are in the harsh light of objective reality; but in the idealized vision of our own emotional lens. And products, like Path, like Instagram, that give us the ability to capture that state and to share with our loved ones and the world that our life is filled with interest and wonder and love are the ones that will continue to succeed in the social space. They say photos are worth a thousand words. In an age when people proclaim that SMS, Twitter and status updates are killing our language, these photos show that expressing our love to those we connect with and care about is healthier than ever.

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Did Google Miss the Next Big Thing by Chasing Social Media?

Facebook announced a new messaging platform today that combines all of your communications into one inbox and uses your social graph to prioritize and validate inbound messages. Email, IM, SMS and social messages in one place. It’s a unified approach to communication and focuses on the relationship between people, rather than between messages as its foundation. And I can’t help but wonder, Why didn’t Google do this first? And, did Google’s obsession with “catching” Facebook and Twitter leave a blind spot to this new way to bring efficiencies to digital communication?

In retrospect, Google was better positioned to unify communication types than Facebook. With Google Voice, Gmail, Wave, SMS-enabled GChat, YouTube and Docs, it had all the components in place and ready to go. Voice, Docs and Wave aren’t even available on the Facebook platform as viable options and Gmail is much more mature than Facebook messaging. But instead of tying these various forms of communication together they were busy chasing down the social grail; fumbling the Buzz launch, botching Wave and trying to court Twitter and roll out real time search.

Now don’t get me wrong, real time search is indeed important, and a big business to be in; but the bolted-on Buzz failed, Wave failed, Google Friend Connect didn’t take hold, and before those, Jaiku and Dodgeball died in-house too. And now, their nebulous new Google Me effort looks foolish compared to the innovation coming out of Facebook. In this mad quest to catch Facebook they’ve overlooked key strategic advantages that they’ve now fumbled to their biggest competitor.

When you’re focused on organizing the world’s information, it’s a pretty big miss to let your sworn enemy get to organizing our digital communications first.

The severity of this blow will take a bit of time to play out as more people become accustomed to getting their texts, IMs and email all in one place. And not just any place, but the place they spend more than 5 hours a month online (that’s 2.5x longer than users spend on Google properties, btw.) But once people realize the “cognitive load” savings realized by this centralization Google will start losing Gmail users and growth will slow.

Think about it, is there any reason to leave Facebook once messaging gets integrated? And with the orientation around individuals and not subject lines, communications will become easier to manage. Why would I go to GMail, then to docs, then to my phone, then to Chat when I can have it all in one place? (note: a Hacker News commentor astutely pointed out that these things _are_ in the same place on Google.  What I was referring to here, and rushed too quickly to articulate is that if I’m already spending 5.5 hours per month on Facebook looking at photos, commenting, liking things, etc. Why, once the functionality was available within the interface and on my mobile device, would I jump out of my default environment to use a series of other tools that don’t integrate at all w/my preferred online service. I hope this clarifies this a bit.)

Now, emails from my mom about traveling to see me for the holidays will be in the same place as her text messages about being delayed and where to pick her up. I’ll have flight info in the email with the real time info from her text message all in one place. Plus, with Facebook phone book I can call her from that same interface.

This is a powerful new way of handling communication. Or is it? Some early analysis likens Facebook to the old AOL, opining that Facebook too, will suffer the vagaries of time and evolution of the Web.

And while this may seem reminiscent of AOL in the days when many regular users considered AOL the Internet, I think we’re looking at something fundamentally different for a few reasons. The first has to do with scale. The sheer number of connections on Facebook make it a far more sustainable platform than AOL ever was. At it’s largest, AOL had 30 million members – that’s less than a tenth of the Facebook population. Second is APIs. The connected nature and ubiquity of the Facebook Connect and Like integrations (not to mention automatic personalization) have woven Facebook throughout a large portion of the Web. And third, the time. We, as a population are more digitally savvy than ever before. My parents have cell phones, my grandparents have cell phones. My 4 year old son texts my mother. We’re connected in a way that we never were in the AOL days – all playing into the hands of Facebook.

We’ve also heard the early rumblings of the privacy issues this new platform brings into question. And the privacy debate is an important one; but one that will happen at the fringes. There will be plenty of handwringing by pundits about what Zuck will do with our SMS and email data; but it’s an argument that won’t resonate with your casual user, even if it should. Let’s face it, the moment we accepted Gmail as our email client we gave up that inbox privacy ghost. This is just another step, and one that won’t raise the flags of rebellion among the proletariat.

So what’s next for Google? They’re now in the position where they have to play catch up again. Nothing they ship for Google Me will put them ahead of the game. They were sitting on a massive opportunity and missed it. While they’re out building self-driving cars, Facebook is building the true OS of the Web. And while privacy advocates and open Internet advocates will cry foul, the denziens of the Web will enjoy the cozy confines of their Facebook home and appreciate their newfound ability to have a single point communication interface that lets them manage all their relationships on the Web. And all of it will be hidden from Google.

As more and more of the world’s information gets organized by Facebook, the venerable search giant will need to stop chasing and start looking more at what opportunities their strengths provide if they want to be more than just the yellow pages of the Web.

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