7 Key Learnings you should know from the Web Community Forum

I just spent the last two days exploring nearly all aspects of Facebook with 100 brands, marketers, widget companies, and developers at Seattle’s Web Community Forum (with a focus on Facebook). Some have had success (some were strategic…others were in the right place at the right time), but many are trying to make sense of what to do.

But what does it all mean, what’s the big takeaway? A few high-level themes that I observed:

1. Hard to keep up: Facebook platform is constantly changing
Nearly every developer who presented mentioned that the Facebooks developer platform F8 is constantly changing, and sometimes without notice, it’s difficult to keep up. New features are released (such as the ability to read messages in external email) without warning, and major changes are made that can impact privacy (Newsfeed and Beacon) with little warning to the community. On the brand side, some expressed they were still trying to understand all the different features and tools. Facebook is like an evolving operating system.

2. There are so many features or products –overwhelming for brands We had several sessions showing the many features of Facebook, the 80/20 rule of feature adoption probably holds true. Most of us just use a small portion of features for most of the time. I learned a few new things: I didn’t realize that applications could be put on top of Facebook pages (fan pages), there’s an interesting dynamic there, except for the fact that most applications won’t serve a large brand. With so many features and combinations, it’s difficult for brands to keep up.

3. Advertising effectiveness questioned, although hasn’t been fully explored A few times, the click through rates were challenged for ads, banners, and contextual or social ads. In only one case did I hear that one advertiser created a very focused ad campaign (towards college-bound high school students) received low click through rates, but once the users made it over to her site, the conversion was at 40%, that’s very high. With that said, I’ve yet to hear of a large brand use a balanced advertising campaign on Facebook, a combination of Facebook pages, ads, social ads, banner ads, and applications in an integrated way.

4. Despite privacy issues, majority of users will continue on
The majority of Facebook users (and internet users at large) are unaware or don’t care about how their information is being used online. Proof? I’ve lectured my kid-sisters in college on what’s appropriate, I’m not sure if she understood. Despite the major concerns for user privacy, a majority of users will continue to live life online as normal, they will only become concerned once it impacts them. I still think the majority of internet users are sheep, they follow the behind of the sheep in front of them.

5. Many widget creators are planning for other networks
Some of the widget networks I’ve been talking to (I’m starting to get briefed by others) are looking NOT just at Facebook as the sole place to deploy, but on other networks. It makes sense, yet there are two major challenges: 1) Each community is different, so expecting widgets to work universally across all social networks is unwise. 2) APIs and platforms for each social network are radically different, so many applications have to be rebuilt.

6. A mini eco-system has emerged
Building off the previous bullet, a new service industry has appeared. I made at least two introductions for my clients that were present (at their request) to widget developers for Facebook (which are very hard to find now a days). We should also expect a new service provider to emerge that will help widget developers quickly port applciations to many social networks –sort of a ‘widget/container integration specialist’. Lastly, the conference itself was a nod to this future industry, I mentioned to the press over a call that 12 months ago, no one had even expected that a conference on Facebook would emerge, yet there are at least 4 this year.

7. The “Distributed Web Strategy” starts to take hold
In more than one presentation did the theme of “Fish where the fish are” resonate. Brands, companies, and marketers, need to stop focusing so hard on ‘driving traffic to my irrelevant corporate website (translated into 8 languages now)‘ and now start thinking about joining communities where they exist, where the trust is highest, and being part of the communities that are naturally forming online. This also means that any brand who is focused on a Facebook strategy alone is missing the picture, the scope should be to wherever online communities are forming in their marketplace.

My upcoming research reports are focused on Online Communities and Social Networks, I was able to formerly interview many of the community strategists or community managers that are living in the day to day, they’ve shared quite a bit with me. Many of those who I interviewed for my research I also did some mini-video interviews, you’ll see them published over the next few days.

For some research that is available from Bill Johnston check out this report Online Community ROI Best Practices Survey (PDF) from Forum One. On question 9 on budgets for online communities, is that monthly or yearly? Also, in the metrics that are reported back to management, how come ‘attention’ isn’t listed? (Update: Bill responded in the comments below, budget is annual, and attention wasn’t considered important) Great report overall, if you’re in the space, you should read that, and attend their events –I’ve been to a few, and will attend future ones.

Ok, now back to you, what other large themes and trends are you seeing? Care to dispute any of these observations?

Picture 024Picture 054Picture 049Picture 044Picture 041Picture 034Picture 033Picture 035Picture 029Web Community Forum Team (missing Eric)