Even Mark Zuckerberg concedes that the biggest challenge on Facebook’s plate is developing a viable mobile strategy. The question is: How? In recent announcements, the company has shown that it's thinking hard about the answer. Here are some things Facebook's mobile engineers should consider.
The problem is devilish: Moving Facebook to smartphones and tablets changes almost everything about the user experience. (Zuckerberg said as much last week in an interview with Bloomberg News.) Add the fact that Facebook's mobile apps are notoriously slow, and the difficulty compounds.
Whether or not Facebook can resolve it is the $100 billion question. As Facebook prepares for its first earnings release since becoming a public company - due at the end of July - social media experts, mobile industry veterans and Facebook critics are split on whether Zuckerberg can engineer the company-saving overhaul of his company's mobile platform.
“Facebook isn't the only company with this problem. In fact, no one has really ‘figured out’ mobile advertising quite yet,” said Robert J. Payne, a marketing specialist with PHD Virtual Technologies. “It's just that Facebook is so large and pervasive they will feel the pain hardest and soonest.”
Last week, Facebook gave one of its first concrete hints on how it would address the mobile issue. As part of plans for a faster iPhone app, the company announced an overhaul of its developer tool kit that would make it easier for developers to connect apps across Apple's iOS mobile operating system. The new tool kit marks deep integration of Facebook into iPhone and effectively makes Facebook more than just another app. The initial reaction from developers was positive.
Time, Location, Interaction
Effective mobile strategies come down to three key factors: how they address a user’s time, location and interaction, says Alex Campbell, co-founder and chief innovation officer for Vibes, a mobile marketing company founded in 1998 (before you could even send an SMS text message in the U.S.).
“It's important for Facebook to start asking questions about how the experience could be better because you're on a phone," Campbell said. "For example if someone is at a Cubs game, they might want the Facebook app to tell them that one of their friends is there too. While there are a few privacy issues they need to think about, if the Facebook app actually helped users be more social, that would be awesome for its user base.”
And the fix doesn’t need to be major or even noticeable to users. In certain cases, Campbell said, it could be a matter of arranging the newsfeed on mobile devices to show updates from users who are nearby, as opposed to the most recent updates.
The changes announced last week also offer opportunities for location-based features. By allowing Facebook to easily communicate with the mobile version of Yelp, for example, users could get an alert when they pass a restaurant that has been highly recommended by Facebook friends. Users who post a status update on their mobile app about being hungry may get targeted ads from nearby restaurants.
“Overall, Facebook should think about the possibility of starting from scratch with the app rather than repackaging the Web experience into a phone,” Campbell said. “What if the app didn't have to look like the online site? What other ways does the data behind Facebook help you know what's going on right now around you?”
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