Each year, Facebook holds a developer conference called F8, at which they announce changes and improvements to their development platform for the over a million developers that use it. Most years the fast-innovating social network has something big and exciting to reveal and this year was no exception.
Facebook announced a number of major changes to their platform that will affect the way developers create applications and the way users interact with them. The most important change for small business owners to be aware of, however, is the launch of the Facebook for Web Sites platform and specifically, the new social plugins.
The most immediately significant part of the new Facebook platform for small business owners are the social plugins. These are a set of new, easy-to-install plugins that allow Web site owners to hook their content up to Facebook using just a single line of HTML code.
These new plugins mean two things for small business owners. First, that you can easily make your Web site more engaging for the over 400 million Facebook users worldwide (read: very likely a good portion of your customers), and second, that you can get more detailed information about how your content is being shared around the web and within the Facebook ecosystem.
Facebook currently offers eight social plugins, but the most relevant for small business owners are the Like Button, the Like Box, and the Comments.
- Like Button - Perhaps the biggest announcement that Facebook made at the F8 Conference this year was that they plan to spread their concept of "liking" content around the entire web. The Like Button plugin lets Web site owners easily insert Facebook like buttons on their content, which allow visitors to share that content back to their Facebook social graph with one click.
- Like Box - In order to help proliferate their new sharing vocabulary, Facebook changed the interaction model for users and businesses from "fans" to "likes," though in practice the idea isn't much different for end users. The new Facebook Like Box is really a revamp of the old Fan Box widget that allows visitors to remotely like a Facebook Fan Page and view its activity stream.
- Comments - The Comments Box makes it easy for Web site owners to encourage engagement around any content on their site in the form of users comments. Users will also be given the option to syndicate those comments back to their Facebook Wall and to their friend's news streams, which offers small business owners an opportunity for added exposure.
What Else to Watch
Along with the social plugins, a couple of other announcements made at F8 might have significance for small business owners in the coming months.
One of the areas in which Facebook has a huge competitive advantage is demographic information. Their newly revamped Insights analytics application will provide Web site owners with detailed demographic information about the people that are interacting with their content. Previously, Insights was only available for application and Fan Pages, but the new version will provide "rich data about users sharing content from your site within Facebook no matter where those shares originated." In other words, you'll be able to track social engagement with your content across the entire Facebook ecosystem and glean valuable insight into how your social media marketing efforts are performing.
Another area that small business owners should pay attention to is Facebook Credits. Though currently Facebook's virtual currency platform is designed for game developers to sell virtual goods, the social network announced expansions and their plans may eventually include a payment platform for the sale of real goods. If the speculation about an eventual social commerce system turns out to be true, Facebook could represent a major platform for the sale of physical goods, with the ability to target sales to a local audience, which is something small business owners should play close attention to.