The future of a grown-up Facebook

Now more than a decade old, Facebook is a mature product. No longer the rebellious upstart of 2004 promising to change the way we connect; it’s now the status quo. For better or for worse, it has done its job in this regard. With over a billion users, Facebook’s monthly growth rate is now close to flat. We all know about social media and understand its potential for reaching consumers, and most of us have registered on one network or another.

As a part of this status quo, it’s vital that you think about how the network’s maturation affects consumer perceptions and interactions. In line with this, many of us may feel obliged to maintain an account on one of the more popular social media sites like Facebook because of how entrenched said networks have become within groups of friends. My question to you: How does something that’s viewed as “compulsory” change how we interact with it? Moreover, how are branded pages perceived on established, supposedly “uncool” networks versus on newer networks with a lot more buzz? These are just a couple questions every savvy marketer has considered.

Just as Facebook overcame the growing pains of accruing, managing and bringing value to hundreds of millions of active users, now it faces the additional obstacle of continually placating stockholders with steady returns. The challenge is in balancing the wants of these two groups. Even as the site continues to deploy new features to heighten the user experience, much of what we have seen in recent years indicates that the shareholders are winning as Facebook increasingly becomes an advertising-fueled and acquisition-hungry corporation (recent examples include Instagram and WhatsApp) hamstrung by a need to buoy its own stock price.

Yes, Facebook has changed, and the way consumers use it has as well. The social network is far from dying — as many have purported — but it is certainly evolving into a beast with a wholly different source of sustenance and primary user behaviors. This transition can be a headache for hoteliers attempting to understand where their social media resources would best be allocated and how to best entice fans into spreading the good word.

Here are five top-of-mind issues for you to consider as Facebook moves into its second decade of existence:

1. Uncool doesn’t mean obsolete. True, the teenagers have migrated to Snapchat and Instragram, but everyone still keeps and periodically checks their Facebook accounts. The latter is too multifaceted and rooted in today’s culture to ignore. Tagging, newsfeeds, comments, pages, events, private messages, groups, places —there are always updates worth a user’s eyeballs, and this relevancy cuts through a wide swath of demographics beyond the tail end of the Millennials. While a person’s login frequency may be higher for the dedicated picture and video social media, eventually he or she comes back to the mothership that connects all other networks, and at present this happens to be Facebook. 

2. Geolocation reigns supreme. Many of the latest feature rollouts on Facebook have been designed to engage smartphone users based on their current locations. This includes “Nearby,” which suggests proximal locations relevant to a person’s interests as well as “Local Awareness Ads,” which is an elegant form of advertisement geotargeting. As these features become more prevalent — and indeed as overall smartphones utilization increases — the prudent hotels will be the ones that are both connected to their neighborhoods (via inbound links, cross-promotions, local events, etc.) and have promotions that are specific to and convenient for passersby. There are many options here beyond selling rooms — restaurants, bars and spas are a good start.

3. Analytics. Posts, likes, check-ins, shares, searches — they accumulate over time and contribute to something far bigger. As the record-keeper of the ceaseless online interactions on its network, Facebook is primed to leverage its big data archives to glean some fascinating observations about its subscribers, its businesses and overall consumer behavior. Hotels will be a key benefactor of these refined advanced analytics features, as they will allow us to more efficiently connect with the right types of customers — those already eager to learn about hotel brands.

4. Personalized recommendations. White noise to one consumer is gold to another. Part of the vision for Facebook is to deliver more value for its users by increasing the precision and ranking of its interest-based, location-based and retargeting search and suggestion services. This will also become a prominent factor in the network’s advertising functionality as such tools like “Boost Post” and “Promoted Posts” come to increasingly hinge on previously endorsed content. While these audience-customization and algorithmic changes may seem to favor users in terms of not bombarding them with white noise, they will also help hotels avoid consumers who aren’t already receptive to a business’s posts and promotions.

5. Social media is earned media. In the advertising game, you pay for people’s eyes and ears (albeit temporarily) with the hope of generating excitement for your product or, at the very least, a base level of awareness so consumers will investigate further. Even though Facebook has pay-for features that companies can use to garner more attention for their posts, engagement is less a direct result of money down and more correlated to the quality of content generated. In other words, converting users to fans and fans to customers requires trust — something you earn, not buy. This will become progressively more important as the amount of daily content increases, all of it vying for the spotlight and creating an abyss of digital white noise in the process. The foremost tactic to developing this relationship is by consistently delivering valuable content for the end user. And social media advertisements are not exempt from this trend — they’ll need to highly creative and well-targeted in order to thrive.