NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- For the last several months, social-media pundits have busied themselves debating whether Twitter was the new Facebook. But last week Mark Zuckerberg & Co. hoped to change that dialogue, launching a pair of modifications that had people asking if Facebook was the new Twitter.
For marketers, the changes mean more freedom on Facebook; for users, the moves mean they're going to get more information about each other, faster.
The second move is meant to change how Facebook users share and follow information, creating a new home page that will show users what their networks have been up to and make those exchanges more current -- newsfeeds will now update in near real time, vs. every 10 minutes.
That means when a user visits his or her Facebook page, they'll see a long list of actions and messages from their friends, which can be filtered by family, closest friends or friends in a local network. The idea is to get people to share more and share more often, while giving them better control over what kind of information they see.
'Participate in the stream'
When people share more, said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in his blog, "the pace of updates accelerates. This creates a continuous stream of information that delivers a deeper understanding for everyone participating in it. As this happens, people will no longer come to Facebook to consume a particular piece or type of content, but to consume and participate in the stream itself."
It's for good reason that the "stream" sounds like Twitter. Mr. Zuckerberg acknowledged that Twitter has done interesting things to accelerate the pace of information that gets shared among networks. And by letting brands act in the same way as users, they'll be part of the stream as well.
The moves are a "concerted response to the rise of Twitter as a real-time message broadcasting system that goes beyond members' personal circle of friends," wrote Erick Schonfeld on TechCrunch. "Facebook doesn't want Twitter to become the way large companies and public figures connect to fans."
There would almost certainly be a backlash as users get used to more information coming at them faster, so Facebook launched a number of filters. Users can choose to only see updates from their friends, their families or their closest contacts. Or they choose whose activities not to follow, like that friend from high school who's not really a friend anymore.
Every "page" will be converted to the new "profile" format automatically on March 11.
Updates with value
So what do brands need to know as they convert their Facebook pages to regular profiles in the next few days?
First, they should make sure the key messages are present on the main page, and upload video and other important images regularly so they continue to appear high on the wall, said David Berkowitz, director of emerging media at 360i, on Ad Age's DigitalNext blog. Anyone already active on Twitter might take some of what they've learned there and apply it to Facebook. "Marketers who take the most active role in keeping their pages fresh with regular updates will benefit the most," he said, but added a caveat: Every update must provide "some sort of value to the page's fans."
Indeed, with great power comes great responsibility, said Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus, on DigitalNext. "You will have the power to (and responsibility of) publishing directly to people's home pages. ... But can brands be trusted to respect social (network) etiquette? And can a few brands that abuse their power ruin it for the rest of us?"