It was another big week in the San Francisco Bay Area last week. The annual Ad:Tech conference was in full force, playing host to 12,000 visitors and a huge range of exhibitors anxious to show off the ways in which they're innovating across online, search and mobile advertising.
At the same time, Facebook kicked off its Developers' Conference, called F8. Like Twitter's conference the week before, the gathering was for third-party developers of applications that live on Facebook itself and across a growing ecosystem. Founder Mark Zuckerberg announced a stunning array of changes and new initiatives that will directly affect the nearly 500 million people who now visit the site each month, not to mention all the brands anxious to reach them.
Facebook is moving aggressively to expand its ecosystem across much of the Web. Its new Open Graph effort, which provides Web site publishers with simple tools to integrate Facebook features and functions directly into their own sites, will be a game-changer. In addition, Facebook has essentially set every users' default to "globally social" -- which is to say, it presumes all members of the social network want to be social not only on Facebook, but wherever it is extending its tentacles across the Web.
Web sites that add the new Open Graph features to their site can also add a tracking token -- like the Google Analytics tracker -- that will provide publishers data from Facebook's new Insights analytics package. For instance, Levi's new Friend Store leverages Open Graph. If you see a "Like" button next to, say, a cool pair of jeans on the Levi's site, and you click on that button, your endorsement will appear in your news feed on Facebook for all your friends to see, comment on and share. And Levi's will be able to see the degree to which its site content went viral across your particular social graph.
In the meantime, Facebook will track everything you're liking, posting, etc. for its own advertising platform, enabling it to target ads to its users based on what they've declared about themselves in their profiles and news updates.
Facebook believes it can help advertisers more precisely deliver ads that are directly relevant to the person who sees them. Moreover, it's hoping that because users will see ads that pertain to their immediate needs, interests or desires, they'll be more receptive to those messages.
At Ad:Tech, all the buzz was about how to integrate better into the interactions and conversations you might find on social networks, including Facebook and Twitter. Everyone in the business, it seems, is particularly interested in those 500 million monthly visitors to Facebook. And Facebook knows it.
It's also clear all the ex-Googlers in leadership positions over at Facebook learned a lot from their experience baking AdSense into the Web's plumbing -- you could call Open Graph a cousin to AdSense. Moreover, as they continue to refine Facebook's equivalent of AdWords, today's search marketers will be able to add "social marketer" to their job descriptions more effectively. In addition, all those SEOs out there have a whole new dimension to focus on as they work to optimize Web sites not only for search engines, but also for Facebook. Keyword lists will take on whole new dimensions as semantics, target markets, personal interests, and rising and falling memes become a critical part of deploying ads on Facebook.
While there are many unknowns to contemplate around all this new stuff, the key concern will be the degree to which people become animated about privacy issues. Facebook is being careful to advise its users about what their actions and activities will mean, and providing avenues for opting out of a variety of social settings. Over time, however, people will slip. A casual "like" may trigger a cascade of opting-in, and because most of us won't pay attention when that happens, it's likely the vast majority of Facebook users will have essentially bought in to the new scheme. Still, there could be a backlash.
The rise of Facebook, and to lesser degrees Twitter, has been good for a whole variety of reasons. The most important of these is the wave of innovation that has been unleashed, which may represent the first credible threat to Google since its ascendancy began more than a decade ago. The best news is, the entire marketing profession and the brands we serve are the major beneficiaries.
These remain exciting times.