It’s been a tough year for Facebook, facing one controversy after another. This year’s F8 conference was going to be an important one for them to reassure developers, users and businesses that they are fully committed to operating more ethically.
And that was the overriding emphasis of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s opening remarks, reiterating comments he made earlier this year that privacy will be a defining pillar for the social behemoth, moving away from a focus on the News Feed in favour of a “privacy-focused communications platform”. And the developments subsequently revealed at the conference give us a glimpse into what this will look like.
I’m not going to give you a run-down of all the announcements - plenty of others have already beat me to it (here’s my personal favourite). But I did want to focus on the one development that appears to demonstrate the start of the biggest shift for Facebook - the laser-focus on Groups.
With a historic focus on connecting with - and broadcasting to - the world, Facebook has become an unwieldy place to be, and it’s seen users gradually migrate elsewhere to share and find out what others are up to. But by increasing prominence of Groups within the main navigation as well as in the content we see across the platform, prioritisation is being placed on connections through shared affinities, be that based on location, profession, or passion.
This will, in essence, create a series of hyper-relevant mini-Facebooks that are more manageable for users to navigate and discover, more akin to Reddit threads. And maybe - just maybe - it could offer users more protection from privacy and security issues and the proliferation of fake news which have plagued the platform recently. With the announcement back in February that brands and publishers can now enter Facebook Groups (once given permission), we would expect plans for monetisation of this move to be revealed in the coming months.
So what does this mean for marketers? While it’s the industry norm to create communications based on shared demographics or mindsets, perhaps this focus on shared affinities will mark a new era for brand messaging. We could see our communications evolve to become much more bespoke and tailored to individual groups, with one message for knitting-enthusiasts in Halifax, and another for Deftones fans attending an upcoming gig.
We don’t yet know how this strategy will pan out for Facebook and the brands that invest in the platform. It could offer the opportunity to get even deeper under the skin of consumers through their specific passions and interests; it could mean a whole new approach to distribution on the platform as it starts to limit access to data with its increased focus on privacy. One thing’s for sure, it’s certainly not the last of the major changes we’ll see from Facebook as it scrambles to maintain some semblance of consumer trust and loyalty, and the ad spend that will follow.