What the Facebook Paper App Means for Marketers

Facebook’s new Paper app is not only a new way to view and interact with the social network; it is the company’s effort to reinvent itself and deepen engagement with its members. Paper isn’t just a simple app, it’s key to Facebook’s future.
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The app was created by Facebook Creative Labs and released on Feb. 3. The new interface is similar to Flipboard as a way to view the Facebook newsfeed. It is a much more image-driven experience, though, making even amateurish photos come alive on a small screen. The app also allows members to subscribe to additional themed content on topics like tech, pop life and sports. The stories in these areas are chosen by Facebook content curators, marking a significant shift in the company’s role in the delivery of stories to members.

Mobile first

The most significant thing about Facebook Paper is that it represents the company’s acknowledgement that its future depends on engagement via mobile devices. The importance of mobile is something everyone has seen coming for quite a while. More than half of Facebook users engage with the network using a mobile device, and the number of mobile-only users has doubled in the past year.

Despite this data, Facebook’s mobile app has remained dated and cluttered. The user experience is one that stems from cramming the desktop version of the newsfeed into a smaller screen. Paper is the company’s effort to deliver a more engaging user experience. And I believe it will succeed.

Beyond content curation

Just as significant is Paper’s inclusion of themed content sections chosen by Facebook from various publishers and authors. While Facebook says it is not becoming a media company, this marks a significant change from the company’s previous role of delivering stories based on the likes and interactions of its members. While this may seem to be a minor change, it is important.

Like the mobile first design, Paper’s creation of themed content areas is an effort to increase engagement and loyalty. It is a recognition that people want to be introduced to ideas that they didn’t know they wanted. They want to be inspired by thought-provoking and insightful stories. Most importantly, this thirst for inspiration and entertainment is not adequately met by only being introduced to things by their friends.

The best evidence of this is the explosive growth of content curators like Upworthy, Viralnova and others. However, people have quickly grown tired of being link-baited by provocative or intriguing headlines only to be disappointed by stories that fail to deliver. Most of these curators deliver a frustrating user experience that is ultimately bad for Facebook and the loyalty of its members. Through Paper, Facebook is becoming its own curator of content. Whether it will be a good one remains to be seen.

So what does this mean for marketers?

At launch, Paper doesn’t have ads. You can bet this will change soon. Facebook gets more than half its revenue from mobile ads, and if Paper is to be the future of its members’ mobile experience they will appear.

Paper also doesn’t appear to include content posted by brands in members’ newsfeeds. While showing up in newsfeeds without buying an ad has been a growing challenge on Facebook, branded content seems completely absent today. This will likely change, as well. You may even see branded content showing up in some of the themed content areas that members choose to include in their Paper experience.

At this point marketers will just have to wait and see how opportunities develop on Paper. The app is new – it’s only available for iPhone as of now – and has a long way to go before it becomes commonplace to most users.

The best thing marketers can do now? Get an edge by using it yourself. There’s no better way to figure out what your audience will want (before they even know they want it) than to fully understand the medium.

While it is still in its infancy, Paper is significant. Through it, Facebook recognizes that its future depends on a drastically improved mobile experience. Facebook recognizes the need to take a more active role in driving member engagement and loyalty, and in both of these areas, Paper delivers.