Facebook Goes Offline (But Not In That Way)

Having played a pivotal role in the dawn of the social media era — and only growing stronger since (moment of silence for MySpace) — Facebook is largely responsible for bringing the physical world into the virtual one.

Although the social networking giant shows no signs of slowing its expansion in the realm it calls home, its influence online has grown so strong as to facilitate the company to make a number of moves recently that are also connecting it back into the offline realm, offering potential for significant impact in commerce (and socialization) in the “real world.”


Messaging Apps Mean Business

Facebook is taking a twofold approach in connecting businesses to customers online for transactions that are completed offline, relying on both of its messaging apps, Messenger and WhatsApp.

The social media platform is testing the capabilities of Messenger — which, earlier this month, reached the milestone of 800 million active users — as a facilitator for business-and-customer interaction. According to David Marcus, Facebook’s messaging VP, these tests have revealed a steady increase in those types of exchanges on Messenger; among the company’s goals in 2016 is to continue making them more seamless.

Aiding in this journey is Facebook’s digital virtual assistant, called M — also still in the testing phase — which expands Messenger’s capabilities beyond social and into commerce.

“At Messenger, we’re thinking about how we can help you interact with businesses or services to buy items, order rides, purchase airline tickets and talk to customer service,” wrote Marcus in a note to the Facebook community.

As for WhatsApp, Facebook announced this week that it is moving the application off of a subscription model (previously, users paid $1.00 per year for the service). Instead, the company is now testing a notification process that would let businesses, like airlines, restaurants and credit card companies — for a fee on their end — directly interact with consumers on their phone’s notification layer.

As explained in a company blog post: “That could mean communicating with your bank about whether a recent transaction was fraudulent or with an airline about a delayed flight. We all get these messages elsewhere today — through text messages and phone calls — so we want to test new tools to make this easier to do on WhatsApp, while still giving you an experience without third-party ads and spam.”


Weighing In On TV Ratings

In today’s digital world, one of the growing complaints about the Nielsen ratings system — which critically affects how television networks determine what to charge for advertising — has been that it does not account for streaming services, like Netflix.

This week, Nielsen announced that is making moves to amend those inaccuracies — with help from Facebook.

The companies are collaborating on a new metric, called “Social Content Ratings,” that will factor conversation about television programming that takes place on Facebook into the Nielsen ratings system.

“As more and more of our TV partners explore new and creative ways to engage with fans during and after the broadcast, it’s critical that they are able to measure and analyze their efforts,” Facebook Media Partnerships Director Nick Grudin wrote in a blog post. “Nielsen’s Social Content Ratings are a part of Nielsen’s effort to measure the total audience across screens and platforms. This standardized measurement will help our partners create even better experiences for their most passionate fans, and that’s really exciting to us.”

While it may be a long overdue (in relative terms) move on Nielsen’s part towards getting into step with the digital age — and the concurrent reality that a significant (and ever-increasing) portion of at-home entertainment is consumed using devices other than televisions, with televised media, in particular, being commonly watched outside of the traditional broadcasting schedule — the fact that Facebook will play a central role (data from Twitter will also be accounted for in the new metric) in correcting outdated revenue allocations for an offline — and immensely profitable — business highlights the social platform’s role as a bridge between online and offline commerce.


Counting On Facebook Friends (Using Probably One Hand)

Business is business, and social is social. Is there a more clear line of demarcation between consumers’ offline lives and their online ones than their “friend count?”

A new study conducted by Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford University, makes the case that there is not.

Determining, from a sample of 3,375 Facebook users, ranging in age from 18 to 65, an average of 150 Facebook friends per person, Dunbar found that users would describe around 40 (27.6 percent) of those individuals as “genuine” friends, while the average number of Facebook friends out of 150 that users feel they could truly count on in a time of real-life (read: offline) crisis is a scant four.

Facebook did not comment to CNET on the study, but the outlet posits that a person’s tendency to want to make others believe that he or she has lots of friends — whether or not they are true friends — was essential to the social platform’s early (and continued) success.

Albeit unwittingly, in this case, here again Facebook represents a connective tissue between the online and the offline world: Sure, it’s likely that the entirety of the average person’s Facebook friend count far exceeds the number of his or her actual friends, but those people are represented nonetheless.

Based on Facebook’s moves into offline commerce, it’s quite possible that the company has already drawn the same conclusion that Dunbar did (which CNET highlights): “There is a cognitive constraint on the size of social networks that even the communication advantages of online media are unable to overcome.”

Until Facebook figures a way to effectively monetize users’ online friends in accordance with their comparative value offline (and who knows — maybe it’s working on it), the very fact that there is a ceiling on the purely “social” worth of social media only reinforces the company’s efforts to expand across both worlds.



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