Have you seen Facebook’s Harry Potter Anniversary “Easter Egg”?
If you post the words Harry Potter, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw or Slytherin in a Facebook update, the text will be highlighted in a branded color. If you then click on it, a magic wand will wave across your Facebook newsfeed. It’s a bit of fun for the 20th anniversary of the book series, but it hints at a new age of branded engagement on Facebook.
A Storm of Branded Engagement
Since 2016, Facebook has warned investors that it is running out space in the newsfeed for ads. While Facebook’s investors haven’t seen the full effect of that yet, Facebook has been experimenting with new ad formats across Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. All of these continue to fill the gap and Facebook continues to find ways to grow.
At the same time, for brand advertisers, the holy grail is to get people to engage with your brand and content. This is why Snapchat has been a brand advertising darling. Snapchat users spend an average of 15 seconds playing with a sponsored lens. In a world where we count a successful Facebook video view at 3 seconds, I will gladly take those 15 seconds.
Now layer in the Harry potter reactions. Suddenly, five phrases are taking over the newsfeed with color and a unique reaction. Suddenly, Facebook is learning about who has an interest in this subject and is engaging with it. Having it tied to a beloved book series and movie franchise helps Facebook to confirm its existing data set.
Reacting with Pride
Earlier in June, Facebook launched a different experiment. Users in select countries who like the LGBTQ@Facebook page would gain access to a unique “Pride” Reaction. The reaction can be used on any post or comment, just like the other reactions on Facebook. Facebook even limited the reaction so it won’t work in areas that are hostile to LGBTQ people.
As a member of the LGBTQ community, I can say that people are using the Pride reaction everywhere. It’s almost become a joke to have the pride reaction on everything, even when it doesn’t make sense. If I am Facebook, I am seeing this as a rousing success. A reaction in support of a minority community is driving more interaction and time from users, who are then identifying more LGBTQ content for Facebook. This is especially true compared to the less than stellar results that Twitter sees with its branded emojis.
Monetizing for Engagement
The way I see it, there are two ways this could go:
- The Google Doodle Route – Facebook rolls out features like these on a time limited basis. You can use them for a certain amount of time, and then they are “retired.” These are purely for fun and education as selected by Facebook’s editorial team. Overtime there is a new reaction or feature and Facebook will collect user data on them endlessly to better target ads.
- The Snapchat Route – Brands pay for the opportunity to have their name or keywords spark a reaction in the app. The branded reactions are easy to imagine. Movies, TV shows, whomever would pay to have those keywords do a specific thing for a certain amount of time. They then get the data on how many people saw it and played with it. Facebook in turn gets a better sense of who actually touches specific brands. While sponsored reactions are harder to imagine (Do you really want to “Coca-Cola” that status?), the reaction could be white-labeled, and the advertiser then finds out who is using it.
Either way is a win for Facebook. They are better understanding people so they can make more money off of them. One option even gives them the opportunity to make both short-term and long term money.
I suspect they will go with the first route. If they keep these features as time-limited and special, it helps get people into the app regularly. It also doesn’t make them seem spammy. Meanwhile, Facebook collects data about what people are actually interested in. Facebook has proven its ability to pivot and think long term. I suspect in a year we’ll look at these two features as pilots for the Facebook of 2018 and beyond.