What Facebook Questions Means for Marketers
â€¨This post co-written with Erica May aka "The Seattle Office."
Each time a significant new development hits the social media landscape, the Ignite team will pull together a short analysis of the impact it might have on our clients. "Significant" in this case is pretty simple to define - if it creates new opportunities, or headaches, for our clients then it's important that we take the time to explore the change and share what we think.
From now on, we'll also share our thoughts with all of you.
Facebook Questions, what we cover in this post, is a great example. While it's not earth-shattering - we're not talking F8 and Social Graph here - it does create, or at least frustratingly hint at, some interesting possibilities for brand-managed Facebook fan pages.
Facebook Questions Review
Last week Facebook began rolling out a new beta feature that enables users to ask their friends or the broader Facebook community any question on any topic. About 1% of Facebook users have beta access to the new feature at this stage, and they plan to gradually roll it out to all users sometime in the future.
Why is it Different?
Given millions of users are already asking questions everyday via their Facebook wall posts, itâ€™s worth asking how exactly this feature is any different (it is). Several aspects stand out:
- By being able to tag questions with relevant keywords, Facebook Questions helps users direct their queries to the individuals best suited to answer them (see below).
- Tagging also may enable Facebook to aggregate questions onto relevant Community Pages, deepening the potential value and utility of those pages.
- Users can also â€œfollowâ€ questions they are interested in so that they get notified as new answers are posted. As of now they canâ€™t â€œLikeâ€ a question, though the end value for the user is roughly the same.
- Answers can be flagged as helpful or unhelpful. Right now Facebook is not using this information to sort questions, although it is displayed publicly.
Facebook Questions also stands out vs. existing 3rd-party competition such as Yahoo! Answers thanks to how it taps into friend networks to help users get their questions answered from the people they know and trust. Questions pushes out the question asked by a user not only to their friends, but also to friends of friends who share an interest related to that question (note that the question is by default visible to all Facebook users). Taken into account are location, hobbies, workplaces and education, so for instance a question about restaurants in New York City will show up for friends in that area.
Opportunities for Brands
Given the limited initial rollout, uncertain final feature set and unclear extent of planned integration into brand pages, opportunities for brands to take advantage of Facebook Questions are currently limited. As a result, we're making some assumptions which we note below:
- This could allow for more targeted content-driven engagement as brands experiment with Questions as an alternative to Wall polls and queries. Using targeted keywords, brands could be able to tailor questions to specific subsets of their fan community to boost engagement rates.*
- Integration could also allow for brands to encourage more fan interaction with each other on special Questions-based tabs, creating structured de facto discussion boards. This opens up the possibility of creating fan-driven FAQs on topics selected and curated by the brand team.*
- Engagement advertising should also benefit as Facebook begins to allow for Question-based targeting, notable especially as all questions are visible to the broader Facebook community by default. According to a great post at Search Engine Land however, it appears Facebook is keeping the ad-related value of Questions to itself: Questions are not currently indexable by outside search engines, and Facebook appears to have no plans to change that.
*this assumes that page administrators will be able to post and curate questions that appears on their page or tab, admittedly a big "if" at this stage.
Words of Caution
As with any new Facebook feature rollout, there are significant questions and concerns to keep in mind: Questions is a new feature; itâ€™s a beta in limited initial rollout; the roadmap is unclear; privacy remains a concern. Additionally:
- Questions currently cannot be integrated into brand fan page Walls, potentially driving fans off brand pages in order to answer a question, or at least onto a separate tab.
- The Questions tab functionality right now is only pulling in user questions (and only selected questions), not questions created by an administrator of the page, significantly limiting the utility for brands to guide or shape the conversation.
- Marking answers as â€œhelpfulâ€ or â€œunhelpfulâ€ is unfamiliar terminology for Facebook, in contrast to the expected Comment/Like behavior. Users canâ€™t â€œLikeâ€ them yet, and can only comment if they are directly connected to the user who asked the question.
- There are no additional analytics offered in Insights specific to Questions.
- There are no administrative controls over answers to Questions asked on pages.
- The search functionality for questions is extremely weak right now.
- Spam is always at risk of flooding the system, just as it affects competing online Q&A services.
Facebook Questions is a new feature, with significant uncertainty around the planned rollout and eventual functionality, particularly as it applies to brand-driven fan pages. Despite this it at least hints at some very interesting opportunities for brands to both encourage more fan interaction (around the brand and products, or on the brand page itself), and to better target content to drive higher engagement rates. If Facebook eventually delivers on some of the enhancements for fan page administrators that are floating around, in part mentioned here, Facebook Questions could certainly prove to be valuable to both brands engaging with their fans and fans looking for answers about the brands they have relationships with.
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