Can Merchants Find a Home on New Facebook Screen?

Facebook Phone HomeFacebook may call its new mobile software “Home,” but I bet a lot of brands are looking at it and thinking “sales!”

Facebook Home replaces a users’ normal mobile home screen with their Facebook feed, so that the moment they turn on their phones, they are connected with their personal Facebook page. Among the many features of the app, which is available on select Androids, is direct friend messaging. You can tap on the face of a friend and begin a conversation.

Surely merchants are eyeballing this technology and wondering what opportunities exist for them in the Facebook Home application. When I read about it, it brought to mind something my friend, the digital communications guru and author Mitch Joel, recently told me. We were discussing his forthcoming book, “Ctrl Alt Delete,” and the topic turned to how online brands can generate loyalty through social media when there is so much competition and noise in the space.

His response: The average Facebook user has a pretty small universe of connections, so you have to create value – regardless of what you are selling, the channel or your message.

“We think of Facebook as this billion-plus network where everybody is connected, but in reality the average person on Facebook has, I think, 200 connections,” Mitch told me. “How do you penetrate that? There is no one-stock answer for every business, but uniformly I do think you have to create utility. The way you overcome fatigue is through value and utility in an environment that provides features that indirectly connect the consumer to the brand.”

Mitch is a smart guy. Facebook Home certainly presents an opportunity for brands to engage consumers, but the effectiveness of the channel depends on execution. The relative affordability of digital communications through mobile and social channels has led to a tendency to abuse the privilege.

Our rule of thumb: If you’re not creating value, then don’t send the message. Just because a brand knows how to reach its customers, or found a new way to do so, that does not mean it has been invited to cram their mailboxes with irrelevant offers or communications. If we apply the same disciplined thinking to digital channels that we have applied to traditional paper channels, in which there are genuine cost implications to over-communicating, we’d put a lot more thought into the messaging.

That is a principle any brand should take to Home, and to heart.

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What do you think?