State of the Union Facebook 2013

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Facebook 2013 State of the Union


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Ah … Facebook.  It’s been a spectacular 2012.  You blew through 1 billion users and went public.  Your stock cratered and fought back to respectability.  You bought Instagram, revamped Offers, made Gifts functional, and expanded our advertising options.  You jammed us with the Timeline, freaked us out with Instagram’s new & scary Terms of Service, gave us the opportunity to vote on privacy policy changes, and then took it back.  Some might call you schizophrenic, others adventurous, and others self-interested.

No matter what you call it, the truth is that 2012 was a banner year for Facebook.  Steadily through the fog, you’ve innovated and experimented – and we’ve been along for the ride.  Threats to your dominance remain exaggerated.  Like it or not, we’re with you.  But on the flipside, you’re finding the sledding to be pretty rough as the unquestioned market leader.  Criticism grows as the euphoria fades, as Microsoft, Google, and now Apple know all too well.  Welcome to post-adolescence.

Facebook major stakeholder groups are demanding more and more in 2013

  • Users are bored.  People are increasingly turning off their Facebook accounts and/or disengaging from banter in such a public forum.  And let’s face it, this was bound to happen.  The social discovery phase is more or less over, but the social operating system phase is just taking hold. The trend for people to have more of their personal information online is continuing to pick up steam, but the countervailing trend is that people want to do a lot less conversing on Facebook.
  • To participate in Facebook as a user today, you are opening yourself up to your friends’ narcissism, facebragging, vaguebooking, and egocentrism.  Not to mention their politics, ignorance, hate, religious and sports preferences, anxieties, and fears.  It was all novel in the beginning, but can this continue?
  • Brands are all-in.  They can make long-term investments to capture “share” without seeking immediate ROI.  The Social Media Management Software (SMMS) business is thus very strong and continues to grow as infrastructure investments are being made.
  • Data-driven brands are starting to make strides to measure their effectiveness, and are beginning to ask second level questions such as “how are we doing against competitors?” and “how can we do better than we’ve done so far?”.  Showing up has been half the battle to date, but data-driven performance optimization is the wave of the future.  Leading brands will move in this direction in 2013, laggards will fall in line thereafter.
  • Software companies and agencies think “the grass is greener on the other side” by seeking to be more like the other.  Both sides recognize that large companies want solutions and are not as “price-elastic” as smaller businesses more immediately concerned with the bottom line. Software companies recognize that technology thrown over a fence has only limited value.
  • Agencies recognize that all but their “creative” services and relationships are indeed a commodity after all and that technology can help differentiate in the 21st Century marketplace.  Therefore, software companies are starting to add things like advertising services and maintenance agreements a la Oracle.  Agencies are looking across their clients and are creating software tools in their spare time to solve common problems.
  • Small businesses are frustrated.  Ironically, small businesses are the most demanding users of Facebook products (Pages, Ads, etc.).  They typically make marketing investments in order to make customers walk through the door or make the phone ring.  And when that doesn’t happen or happens without proven attribution to Facebook, small business owner/operators get extremely skittish.
  • There is no such thing as a long-term marketing investment for a local business that typically operates with a limited budget and limited human resources.  Tried, true, and directly proven are the buzzwords for the local business – and Facebook hasn’t quite hit the bar for them yet.  Solutions that focus on ratings & reviews and direct leads such as Angie’s List, OpenTable, and Yelp are rapidly earning more mindshare among the local business market segment.
  • Developers are semi-empowered.  The APIs are… well… “social” in the sense that some of the data is available some of the time.  Let’s face it, the world’s best APIs are not created by YouTube, Facebook, or Google.  Access to some of Facebook’s APIs is limited to select partners, while everyone more or less has access to the Graph API.  That Graph API works as expected some of the time.
  • Infrastructure elements such as social-plugins and authentication, by contrast, work spectacularly well and reliably.  Facebook is building out its developer support infrastructure and engagement programs, and will mature significantly in 2013.  But it remains a little of the Wild West currently, and breadth developers have to achieve something significant to unlock more access.  Sounds like a video game.

Where does that leave all of us as we plan for 2013?  Here are a few predictions for Facebook:

  • A significant user profile redesign is absolutely going to happen in 2013.  Threats from Google+ and MySpace – muted to date – will force Facebook’s hand to improve the overall user experience.
  • Facebook’s commitment to experimentation will not subside.  Not that you needed me to point that out to you.  The iterative a/b web, agile development model will continue for the world’s dominant social network.  Adapt or die.
  • Speaking of Google+, the blending of search and social will result in a major search engine deal between Facebook and either Yahoo or Bing.  I’m thinking of something significant, where (like Google+), social proof will impact search results and become another leg of SEO.  Something has to happen here.
  • Attribution is the keyword for local businesses in 2013.  They’ll need to be proven the value of Facebook, or their confidence will continue to erode.  A refresh of the “Local Business” page with a greater emphasis on lead generation is forthcoming.
  •  The attribution point will become bigger for larger companies, brands, and Facebook advertisers in the 2nd half of 2013 and beyond.  Larger advertisers will need a firm grip on what they’re getting for their ad spend, or they’ll migrate to other platforms.  The clock is ticking on this altogether critical point.
  • Facebook’s data platforms will be even more open in 2013 than they are today, not less.  Facebook’s developer strategy remains to empower people with data and extend the influence of the network.  This won’t result in restrictions as many have predicted.
  • The ongoing marginalization of basic, first-generation “social marketing” will continue and intensify.  Social maintenance, auto-pilot, “post 2x/day morning and evening” broad generalities are common knowledge.  Consultants, agencies, and “experts” will be forced to bring a bigger and better value add to clients.  The basics are known – now who bridges the gap from social back to search to create real & lasting business value.  That should be the focus moving forward, as it is sustainable.

Have a great 2013 everyone!

Chris Treadaway
This bi-monthly Facebook column is contributed by Chris Treadaway. Chris is co-author of Facebook Marketing An Hour a Day with Mari Smith and Founder & CEO of Polygraph Media, a Facebook data mining & analytics company. +Chris Treadaway
Chris Treadaway


CEO Polygraph (@polygraphmedia) - turning data into better social advertising. Ex-MSFT. Data nerd. Dad. Co-author of Facebook Mktg An Hour a Day w/ @marismith.
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  1. says

    Some great forward thinking here. But I’m guessing this post was written before the introduction of Graph Search? Facebook’s supposed challenge to Google search is out, and I find it highly wanting, at least in this early iteration. As sophisticated as it looks on the surface (ability to ask natural language questions), it’s really just a fancy database query system. Still a long way from the kind of semantic search Google is rapidly developing.

    Furthermore, I think it will provide disappointing and even misleading results as a recommendation engine. Likes are a horribly corrupted signal, with so many of them occurring for any reason other than what real humans mean when they say aloud that they “like” something.

    Finally, I see also a big challenge for Facebook to change the habits of its users to think of making searches with commercial intent on Facebook, which is not what they’ve been trained to come to Facebook to do.

  2. says

    I think a lot of the 2013 trends will be determined by the financial results of Facebook. The next earnings report should be great. After that, I am not so sure. If there is a plateau or decline in revenue we will see Facebook try to roll out some of these features quicker than they should. We have seen them do it in the past and they will do it in the future to appease shareholders. Watch that Facebook stock chart and you will be able to predict the immediate future.

  3. says

    Yes it was written about two weeks ago actually!

    Agree that FB has a long way to go, but we are seeing semantic search come to fruition finally. And I suppose that’s a good thing. Behavior change is a huge hurdle for FB here as well. Great points, Mark.

    • says

      Chris, not trying to beat this horse too hard, but is this really “semantic search”? It’s certainly a more sophisticated semantic querying. What I mean is, Graph Search appears to be not so much search as Google has developed it as just a huge relational database with a natural-language-appearing interface. In other words, at it’s core it simply connects bits of existing data together and filters it. “Show me friends in San Francisco under 30 who like football” isn’t really as sophisticated as the query makes it sound, from a database standpoint.

      True semantic search is the development of machine algorithms that can learn from actual human interactions to predict human needs from a natural language query. Google is rapidly heading in that direction; I seriously doubt Facebook has the experience and engineering power to get there as quickly.

      And that’s all in addition to my thoughts about what I see as the corrupted data that FB is working from in the first place.

      • says

        Facebook will collect a ton of data on the usage patterns here in order to enable semantic search. Agreed that a tiered search structure is a rudimentary semantic search. But it is the beginning of something bigger.

        Undoubtedly, Google has way more usage data than Facebook does at present. So it stands to reason that they’d be ahead. I guess the question moving forward is whether or not search data will create more value than than the social graph data + Facebook usage patterns + what Facebook is learning about individual users through social plug-ins. I don’t think the FB data is nearly as corrupted as you do — it’s dirty but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s significantly worse than Google data.

        I’d argue that Facebook data is unharnessed and not properly analyzed at this point.

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