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The Anatomy of Facebook: A Quick Guide to the Facebook Ecosystem For Brands

Facebook has become more than just a central component of online life; its a fixture of modern culture.

Facebook is the world’s second most frequented website, with nearly 1.19 billion monthly active users, nearly 80% of which come from outside the US and Canada. In the US, 71% of online adults use Facebook, 63% of whom visit the site at least once each day; comparatively, only 22% of online adults in the US are on LinkedIn, 21% are on Pinterest, and 18% are on Twitter. The company has grown from humble beginnings in Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room in 2004 to become a publicly traded social networking giant with a $140b market cap.

As Facebook adoption has grown exponentially, so has the number of brands who want to participate in social conversations. Our recent study of the Interbrand 100 found that 98% of top brands are active on the social network.

This quick guide is meant to be a brief on how businesses, brands, and organizations can participate meaningfully in the Facebook marketing ecosystem. In this guide, we’ll cover the basic user features, products offered to brands, the data made available from Facebook, and what’s next for the social network.

From the user perspective, Facebook focuses on a few primary features:

  • News Feed: A  frequently updated list of stories from friends and pages you follow. A news feed story can include a status update, photo, video, link, app activity or like from any of your connections.
  • GraphSearch:  A search tool to find people, places, photos, things and other information available to you on Facebook. (i.e. “Photos of my friends in Seattle, WA” or “Friends who work at Simply Measured”).
  • Timeline:  The current version of a Facebook profile, organized as a timeline of your life with posts, photos, friends, interests, and other demographic information.
  • Mobile App:  Share experiences in real time from the real world. In August 2010 the site launched Facebook Places, which enabled its users to check-in at physical locations, competing with existing location-based social networks such as Foursquare & Gowalla. At last count, Facebook has 874M monthly active mobile users, checking in, checking up on friends, and sharing thoughts and photos from their phones.

Facebook offers a variety of free and paid products for businesses and brands:

  • Fan Pages:  A public profile for businesses, brands, and organizations to connect with Facebook users with essentially a landing page. After a user likes a fan page, they will see some updates and activities from the page including likes and comments on a page post. When a fan engages (likes, comments, or shares) with a page, that activity can show up in their friends’ news feeds and increase the page’s exposure (i.e. reach).
  • Sponsored stories:  A paid promotion of stories related to your business or brand. For example, when someone likes a fan page a sponsored story could be purchased so their friends could see in that in their newsfeed. Although officially “sponsored stories” is going away, the ability to purchase actions that show up in non-fans’ newsfeed will continue in other forms.
  • Other Facebook Advertising: Marketers have a variety of ad product options for the news feed, right hand display and mobile app. Targeting information is deep, including demographic information such as location, age, gender, education, employment and interests. Advertising in total accounted for 89% of Facebook’s $2B in revenue in Q3 2013 

To make sense of all those conversations, let’s review the data available from Facebook and its ecosystem.

As a brand, one of the two compelling reasons to have a Facebook presence is the number of your customers already on the platform. The second big reason is the rich data you’ll have access to about your page, content, and fans’ activity.

Given our focus at Simply Measured on Facebook analytics and reporting I could easily dedicate an entire post to the topic, but let me briefly touch on the three ways you can access Facebook data, and what kind of information you can get from each:

  • Insights Dashboard: As an admin or when granted access to a Facebook Fan Page, you can see details regarding likes, reach, visits, posts, and people. Facebook recently redesigned the user interface and removed PTAT from it’s reporting. It’s a slick design and provides some great high-level metrics.
  • The Graph API: The primary way to retrieve publicly available information about any Facebook page. With the API, apps and tools can directly interact with Facebook to gather data about an app or page and send information back.
  • The Ads Platform (and API): For marketers who advertise on Facebook, both the Ads Manager and Power Editor offer the ability to manage ad accounts, publish ads, and optimize those campaigns. Facebook provides information about your ad account, campaign and ad performance, and spend. Similar ability to gather data about campaigns and publish is offered through the Facebook Ads API.

It’s easy to get started on your own using some of these free tools to measure some basic information about your Facebook page. And there are also third party analytics tools, such as Simply Measured, that can combine multiple data sources and provide even deeper insight. An example of a question you can answer using Facebook’s free tools would be, “how has my Facebook fan base grown over the past 7, 14, or 28 days?” An example of a question you’d need Simply Measured for would be, “how has my Fan base grown relative to my 5 closest competitors over the past 3 months?”

As mentioned, the Facebook platform enables a large amount of third party vendors to create apps and tools that enable actions on Facebook (create an app or buy an ad) or use Facebook data in some way (analytics or personal authentication). Some of these tools are companies that have been accepting into the Preferred Marketing Developers (or PMD) program (learn more at PMD Home).

Facebook has grown its product offering significantly, here are a few items about what they’ve been up to and what’s next:

  • Video ads: Coming to a newsfeed near you!
  • Ecommerce: Don’t just post on my wall to wish me happy birthday, buy me a coffee! Facilitating e-commerce transactions and taking a cut can diversify the company’s revenue streams beyond advertising.
  • Monetizing mobile experience: With an increasingly large portion of traffic coming from mobile devices, it’s critically important for Facebook to profitably modify its experience to fit smaller screens. The bad news: with less real estate, display advertising is more difficult to fit into the app. The good news: mobile users are more likely to download and play games than PC users. The net is good for Facebook: about half of the company’s revenue comes the mobile app, which comprises only 21% of its use.
  • Thwarting competition: With so many new social networking platforms springing up, it’s tough to stay the most interesting place on the internet. Some examples for how Facebook handled some high profile competitors:
  1. Instagram: If you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em. Paying over $1b for an 18-month old platform, Facebook sought to corner the market for social photo sharing services.
  2. SnapChat: Attempted acquisition of the popular peer-to-peer disappearing picture message service. But this fight isn’t over; look for continued focus from Facebook on messaging and other forms of more private communication.
  3. Flipboard: Facebook is rumored to be releasing its own Flipboard-style news reader

Facebook is among the most dynamic companies to follow and places to visit on the internet, and we look forward to continuing to cover how brands can create value for their users on the site as it continues to evolve.

Jordan Greene

Jordan is the Director of Product and Strategy at Simply Measured. He leads our product and strategy teams to make sure we deliver useful tools and reports that our customers love.

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