Why Marketers Should Use Native Interfaces

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Recently, conversations have picked up on possible third party interfaces for Google+. Marketers in particular want to schedule updates, sift through posts using simplified search, and measure click throughs.

The proliferation of Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, and other third party API-based clients to update social networks within the marketing space is substantial. It’s not a question of if you use one, rather which one.

Rarely do you hear discussions of Twitter’s native interface. And just recently this conversation surfaced about Facebook as analysis revealed that third party interfaces dramatically drop engagement rates by as much as 80%.

That argument in its own right tells you why you should update in the native Facebook interface. Recently, head of Facebook’s Nonprofit effort Charles Porch confirmed with me that for maximum impact communicators should absolutely update within the social network.

Beyond Facebook, regardless of whether it’s easier to update or more measurable to use a third party interface, marketers should still spend some time (note: not all of their time) each week on native social network interfaces. Why? Because most stakeholders don’t use third party interfaces. Even on Twitter, 58% of people use native applications.

If you are trying to communicate with people, it’s good to know how they will receive the message. Literally. What does your update look like to your stakeholders on xxx social network? You can only know this by using native interfaces. And knowing this helps you intuitively create better updates.

If Steve Jobs could find the time to take customer service calls, online marketers can certainly make time for native interfaces.

What do you think? Should marketers use native applications?

Book Excerpt: The Death of Facebook

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The following is an excerpt from Welcome to the Fifth Estate, Chapter 7: Sustaining Your Community Over Time

Who in their right mind would predict the death of Facebook, given its ever-increasing dominance? But everyone always asks, “What’s next?”

One thing long-term Internet citizens have seen over the past 30 years: Communities and social networks get large, even as dominant as Facebook now is, and then they fade.

Some stay relevant as leaders in their niches — YouTube, for example — and others drop into a second tier, or worse. Friendster, MySpace and AOL exist in some form to this day, but none of them enjoys the leadership positions and mindshare of their heyday.

One of the secrets to Facebook’s longevity is its replication of the McDonald’s business model. McDonald’s offers a cheap menu of foods and beverages that contemporary society demands. If a customer wants a latte, they can go to McDonald’s. Ice cream? McDonald’s offers soft serve. Salad? No problem! And McDonald’s still offers the now classic Big Mac, just in case someone wants a burger.

Facebook does the same with its social network functionality. It literally watches competitors create new features, and then it incorporates those functionalities into its network, competing head-to-head in that functional space. Facebook relies on its incredibly large user base to accept and use the new features. We saw this with Facebook Places and the competition it offers Foursquare. Other examples include:

  • Facebook Pictures competes with Flickr
  • Facebook Video competes with YouTube (this feature does as well as a McRib sandwich on market share)
  • Facebook Chat competes with AOL’s AIM
  • Facebook Questions and Groups compete with LinkedIn Questions and Groups

One could argue that the strength of this business model is also Facebook’s weakness. As we have seen over time, Facebook constantly updates its interface to incorporate these changes. This is relatively easy because of its text-based, three-column layout. While text allows Facebook to offer all of these features, the user interface has become clunky and cumbersome. In essence, being the McDonald’s of social networks has forced it into an over-reliance on text.

If a competing technology arose that provided a new interface, an almost completely visual tactile (touch) input to a social application, then Facebook would be challenged to completely redesign its web site. Several new apps on iPad have shown a new way to interact. Early signs show these applications are becoming immensely popular.

One iPad application, Flipboard, allows users to create their own magazines based on preferences and socially recommended content. ABC’s popular iPad app features a visual globe of news stories. Both application interfaces rely heavily on pictures with very few words, and why shouldn’t they, given that a picture is worth a thousand words?

It’s only a question of time—maybe even within the next two years—before a primarily visual-interface-based social network launches. Processing time, software development and bandwidth inevitably will increase to enable it. How will Facebook upgrade its interface to compete with this kind of innovation?

It would take an almost complete gutting of its social networking code. Facebook’s system has become so clunky that Facebook CEO Marc Zuckerberg can’t make changes that he wants to in order to open the network.Plus Facebook’s original feature of private, closed social networking was its big differentiator. The privacy tension caused by the movement toward openness continues to haunt Facebook.

Such a network upgrade likely would force Facebook to abandon users who are still text-based. It would be very hard for McDonald’s to keep serving Big Macs while offering a tastier Filet Mignon sandwich that holds market share (Angus Wraps aside). If you think Facebook cannot unseated,or it will not be by a tactile-input-based network, what about a video- based network? Bandwidth and technology permitting, how about Third Life, a better version of Second Life’s would-be virtual-avatar-based world, where interaction would occur in a computer-generated 3-D environment? Or a video-based network like, but more nimble than, the original Seesmic?

Isn’t it just a question of time before Facebook meets a competitor with a better, next-generation interface that it can’t match? Yes given the context of Internet history and technology development.

If a better, easier choice becomes available, you can expect people to spend more time on it than on Facebook. The Fifth Estate moves with what’s hot, and without thinking about the historical value of today’s technology platform of choice.

Business leaders and strategists cannot afford to become too entrenched on a mega social network like Facebook or Twitter. If an organization cannot move with its community because of an over-investment in one network, it loses the opportunity to serve stakeholders effectively.

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The source material for this section of the Fifth Estate was originally published on this blog under the same title.

The New Twitter: Better, But Power Users Still Need Clients

The New Twitter Interface

Twitter had to do something. Facebook’s incredible growth this year thanks to Open Graph (Like feature) has made it a top-tier web site, surpassing even Google for site visits. Facebook is even using Open Graph to compete with Google for search. To stay competitive, Twitter had to encourage more page views. Enter its new interface.

How does the new Twitter stack up to its old interface as well as desktop clients such as HootSuite, CoTweet, Seesmic and Tweetdeck? Very well, in my opinion.

The interface is very intuitive. There are lots of great features to take advantage of, including vastly improved Listing, semi-threading for response views, and DM capabilities (see Social Media Today piece). While it does not allow multiple columns like a Tweetdeck or Seesmic, it uses tabs above the main column to create fluid interaction. In this sense, I feel like its competitive and in some ways better.

The right column space is used for information, from user details to trends. This will only get better as Twitter adds a real time analytics feature to the mix.

As someone who still uses the web interface (yes, it’s true) for casual tweeting, it’s a vast improvement. As someone who switches over to Seesmic or Cotweet for business use (I like those two over the other services), I may still have to use these clients for specific Twitter uses, though I think less often. That means Twitter will get more page views from me, but not 100% of my Twitter attention.

In my opinion, the text entry itself is the weak point of the the New Twitter. On the positive side autotext name features in the main entry box is a great improvement. It makes social interaction easier.

However, you have to manually enter names instead of replying to multiple voices simultaneously with a singular click. Also, while promised, the new autoshortener is not present on the new interface, requiring a second web browser tab to bit.ly or another shortening service. Twitter needs to roll out autoshortening as soon as possible if they want the interface to really take off.

In addition, the retweet feature does not allow for you to edit the tweet still, providing only auto repost to your feed. Lastly, you still cannot schedule Tweets, which is a feature I like for my photo of the day or busy days.

Conclusion: The new Twitter interface makes their information service/social network much easier and fun to use. Generally speaking, only power users and marketing accounts will have issues with the new interface.

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

If I was a desktop client that had to compete with Twitter, I would not be happy. This change is significant, and makes it difficult for these services to remain competitive.

Twitter’s Open API has been well hailed as a driver for businesses to develop on top of the client. However, as we have seen from Tweetmeme and mobile clients to the new desktop API, Twitter tends to cannibalize its most successful innovating third party developers.

In essence, Twitter development via the API makes you a minor league application which Twitter may opt for its own use, either through acquisition, compensation (a la Tweetmeme), or simply take ideas through copycat development. This approach may create a slow down in third-party development.