A Web CEO's Take On the Facebook Redesign

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Sam Lessin is founder and CEO of the file-sharing site drop.io. What follows is his reaction to the Facebook page redesign.

My company, drop.io, has just shy of 3,000 Facebook fans and 3,500 Twitter followers. While by no means are either of these numbers earth-shattering, social media has always been at the absolute center of how we as a company interact with our most dedicated users and customers, and we take it very seriously as a primary means of keeping up an ongoing dialogue with our community.

As such, whenever either Facebook or Twitter make changes to their platforms, we take those changes very seriously. Having spent an initial few days playing with and thinking about the changes Facebook is making to their fan page system, I must admit that I think it will radically effect the way in which we as a brand can and will use Facebook--this time for the better. Had you asked me last week, I would have said that Twitter is a far more important and rapidly growing channel for us than is Facebook, but I am not sure I will have the same feeling going forward.

By way of background, Facebook fan pages were historically a slightly orthogonal aspect of the Facebook service. They allowed brands, which originally didn't have any profile or presence on the Facebook service, to have a specific place in the ecosystem. Over time, Facebook actually degraded the presence and power of fan pages by hiding individual brand 'fan' status on a secondary tab in the profile, and changing the ability of a brand to even reach out to fans.

As of the latest change, pages now have a look, feel, and function largely consistent with user profiles on Facebook. Most importantly, brands can now post status updates, just as regular users can. While this might sound cosmetic, it actually makes all the difference in the world in terms of how we as a company can and will interact with our customers through the service.

This means that our brand not only has static presence on Facebook with the ability to receive wall posts and the odd rating, but we have an active and evolving voice that we can use. Just as we do with Twitter, when we have an announcement to make, want to share a new screencast, or ask for fan participation, we can post status, and it will filter it's way through to those who are interested. Best yet, as we do things of note and start up a consistent 'discussion' the responses, status updates, wall posts, etc., of others will theoretically refer people back to our brand.

All that said, the key to the pages change is that it is a step in the right direction, but it isn't a complete fix. There are a few issues in the way Facebook has released the updates that mean we aren't going to be abandoning Twitter any time soon, even as we dramatically increase our use of Facebook. With all of these points, my exposure comes only from trying to functionally react to the changes Facebook has made. So, they are either true issues, or points of serious confusion after significant research, which you may want to consider as you figure out how your brand should function with regard to the Pages changes.

1. Make sure you choose which of your brand's 'tabs' you want to appear when users first look at the brand page. By default it seems that when a non-fan visits a fan page, the first tab that is loaded is the Boxes page, rather than the Stream or Wall pages that is standard for user profiles. True, the Boxes tab is where the brand has the most control over the layout of experience of a visiting user, but it isn't the viral/communicative part of the page. So, make sure you decide upfront whether you would rather have more control on the Boxes page or open up the conversation by first pointing to the 'wall' or 'stream' view.

2. I can't figure out how to update Facebook 'status' for my brand via Facebook Connect or Facebook Applications, and am not sure I can. It is possible that I am missing something, but also possible that this is a conscious decision by Facebook. Without the ability to update my brand's Facebook status via Connect or Applications, I actually have to make Facebook my starting page on the Web for our brand's social identity. I can't just have Facebook parrot Twitter, or another service. Unless they change this, it is a powerful but subtle play on their part to eventually come to own your brand's presence.

3. For brands, Facebook still isn't fully a conversational tool--I can't respond to an individual, just because they are a fan of a page I own. I can't publicly '@' them so that people looking for posts back and forth can follow the thread of our conversation.

Overall, I like the page changes a lot. I think you will see brands making another go at seriously investing in their voice on Facebook, and you could easily see them becoming the dominant platform for brand discovery and interaction. The problem for them is that because the platform is so vibrant and powerful, it is very hard for them to turn on a dime and provide as simple and elegant a solution as Twitter.

Sam Lessin is CEO of drop.io. He tweets at twitter.com/lessin.

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