In London on 26 May 2016, the Facebook for Business team held an event on the topic of ‘Unlocking Europe’s Digital Economy’. As a social consultant at Organic, I decided to go along. My aim was to gain deeper insights into Facebook’s long-term strategy and to consider its implications for brand development.
At the end of the event, I didn’t leave disappointed.

Facebook on facing the future

Over half of the world’s web users are also Facebook users. As such, the social media giant has the ability not just to understand where the digital world is heading – it also has considerable power to nudge it along.
Orla Malone, Facebook’s SMB Manager, confirmed several points that I personally and we at Organic already believed to be the case:

  • ‘Messaging’ is the next revolution and it’s already started. We’ve seen this from the rise of messaging apps, to bots, all the way to broader social trends and behaviours – young people in particular engage with each other online more through messaging than posting. Messaging is going to get even bigger and brands need to prepare for it.
  • The power of images, and their centrality to Facebook’s strategy, is hard to overstate. Our brains can analyse images 60,000 times faster than words.
  • People are consuming video content differently. Mobile devices now account for 45% of video views globally. (It’s reasonable to assume this figure is even higher in developed, urbanised countries with better mobile networks and more Wi-Fi hotspots.)

Relative to the above three points, Facebook’s approach to Virtual Reality (VR) has been more ambiguous since its purchase of Oculus Rift, at least to those outside the company.
It’s clear to me now, however, that Facebook sees VR as infinitely more than a specialist tool, novelty item or piece of hardcore gaming apparatus.
At least as far as Facebook is concerned: VR is The Next Big Thing. Brands had better to get to work.
Facebook sees the evolution of digital content as a logical, linear progression:
My own flowchart would look slightly different, but still follows the same overall trajectory:

What’s next for content?

Let’s take a few steps back. In reality, whichever form the content takes, whether we’re talking about traditional long-form articles, live video or next-generation VR, many of the same considerations apply.
I believe these four points are more important than ever.

Discovery is king

Thanks to digital, various media that were once only available to the biggest companies are now in the hands of some of the smallest. It’s unsurprising therefore that the gap between the content available to us and our ability to consume it is continuing to grow.
In this environment, discovery has become king.
Given the likelihood that average or low-quality content is more likely than ever to be lost in the crowd, it follows that more effort should be directed towards higher-quality content. This is true even if it means reducing output in terms of quantity.

Stop thinking ‘desktop first’

As digital consumers we’re all on our mobiles, but as developers and designers we’re still optimising for desktops. A good indication of this comes from Orla Malone’s striking statistic that 93% of daily Facebook use is mobile.
For all brands a mobile strategy is essential – this should go without saying! – and this strategy should not be merely an afterthought.

When two become one: The merging of the online and offline worlds

The online and offline worlds are becoming increasingly interconnected. Social media was never meant to function in a vacuum, so it’s quite surprising to see how some brands use social as a separate channel on its own.
Rather, social is a reflection of one’s life experiences and emotions, and one of the supplementary tools for communication. Social works best when it makes a connection to real life. It’s no wonder then that experiential content does so well on social.

I want it all. And I want it now

Users must find what they are looking for, or they will leave instantly. Of course, serving them the content and services they need involves a relentless focus on on-site optimisation.
But it’s about far more than that. For example, an ad that offers specific products or services but takes users to a generic landing page is likely to fail. User expectations need to be aligned with content.

A case in point: Look Fabulous Forever

I’ve tried to focus this article on high-level trends and their implications for brand strategy. But before concluding, I’d like to mention a few points raised by Tricia Cusden, the founder of Look Fabulous Forever. Her experiences and best practice tips were one of the highlights of the event.
A key insight that informs Look Fabulous Forever’s content strategy is that older people are often irritated by ‘anti-ageing’ messages. Most are happy to be ‘old’. Therefore, the brand asks: shouldn’t we be celebrating age instead?
Their social media channels are mainly used for sharing interesting stories. This minimises social media spend, as users are actively seeking their content.
Stories are created by the target audience. This takes the guesswork out of creating relevant, resonant content.
Furthermore, the owner herself often gets involved. She filmed a video tutorial (using her webcam) during which she put on makeup herself. This created trust in the brand and, more directly, caused an instant increase in sales when it went online.
Brands can no longer rely on an effective monopoly of the means to produce average-quality content. As such, it’s incumbent on them to produce higher-quality work, giving your users both what they want and what you promised.