January 19, 2012, 12:35 PM

Facebook moves beyond Likes

The social network makes it easier for consumers to share product information.

Lead Photo

Facebook Inc. has rolled out roughly 60 applications aimed at making it easier for shoppers to share personal information, which products they own and what items they want to buy.

Facebook is calling the tools Apps for Timeline. The Timeline is an opt-in tool on Facebook that replaces his wall and profile with a virtual scrapbook that features a graphical and chronological timeline of events of his life on the social network, as well as other interests that he chooses to share, such as the bands whose concerts he has attended and the clothes he has bought. Once a consumer adds an application, he can update his Timeline with activities as they happen, while also controlling who can see those updates and what appears.

The announcement late yesterday builds on an initial batch of features that the social network rolled out last fall at its annual developer conference that made it possible for consumers to share a range of actions—for example, what movies and TV shows they’re watching on Netflix and what music they are listening to via digital music service Spotify.

For instance, outdoor gear and apparel retailer GiantNerd.com’s application enables shoppers to click that they Love, Want or Own a product, in addition to clicking the Like button. “We think it will allow users of GiantNerd to connect to Facebook in a way that is more meaningful,” says the company’s president, Randall Weidberg, whose official title is nerd in charge. “As opposed to just saying that you like something, it enables you to better describe your relationship to a product and to share that information with your friends.”

Similarly, social shopping firm Payvment now allows consumers to click Want and Own buttons to share their shopping desires. The application aims to drive more conversations around products.

When a consumer interacts with these features that information is shared on the Timeline, as well as on the Facebook Ticker—which features updates on what a Facebook user’s friends are doing at that moment—and the news feed—which displays a selected array of actions taken by a consumer’s friends. The news feed dominates the page a Facebook user sees when logging on to Facebook.com. For example, if a shopper clicks the Payvment Want button, the post would read, “Jane wants a Gold Bangle Bracelet at the Shopping Mall on Facebook.” Payvment launched a virtual shopping mall on Facebook last March, which enables shoppers to browse various retailers’ Facebook storefronts.

“While every one of the 2.4 million products listed on the Payvment platform has always had a Like button, our feeling was that Like didn’t really work in e-commerce,” says Christian Taylor, founder and CEO of Payvment. “If I click that I Like a particular snowboard you don’t know if I own it, I want it or anything else. By having more descriptive buttons we’re looking to drive discovery.”

Pointing to Spotify’s integration with Facebook, Taylor says that when consumers see what their friends are listening to may drive them to give something a listen. A similar phenomenon may occur when a shopper shares that he Wants or Owns a product.

The applications will also foster more social activity off of Facebook, says Wade Gerten, founder and CEO of social commerce technology company 8thBridge, which developed an application for Ticketmaster. "These tools allow us to add social features to web sites, which is where everyone is shopping, instead of doing so on a Facebook fan page, where not that many people go," he says.

For example, a consumer using Ticketmaster's application receives personalized recommendations of events the user might want to go to based on the his Likes and listening activity through music services like Spotify that are integrated with Facebook. He can also click a button to note he that wants to attend an event or that he bought tickets. "We're giving people a way to express themselves and, in return, they get far more relevant content."

In total 12 vendors yesterday launched shopping-specific applications. Those companies include LivingSocial, whose new service broadcasts when a shopper buys one of its deals; Polyvore, which allows users to mix and match images from any Internet retailer to create and publish collages; and Lyst, which aims to present shoppers with personalized product recommendations from an array of retailers.

Those companies are the beginning, says Lou Kerner, social media analyst at the institutional brokerage firm Liquidnet, who predicts that just about every merchant and many other types of online businesses will develop Facebook applications in time. “Everyone will eventually be there,” he says. “This is just like 1994—how many retailers were selling online then? Now how many are there selling online?”

The more consumers interact with these features the more opportunity marketers will have to present highly relevant ads, he says. “If you’re using a jogging app, that is a great app to be advertising Nike shoes. If you’re using a music app, a band can advertise for an upcoming concert. The more consumers use apps, the more marketers can know.”  A concert promoter, for instance, can know who is listening to what music, and when they are listening to it. “It’s a tremendous evolutionary step forward in how information is consumed,” he says.

Facebook accounts for the fact that not all its users will want to share the minute details of their lives by requiring application developers to ask for permission to access a consumer’s Facebook profile. Shoppers also don’t have to view all of the details their friends share by allowing a user to select to see All Updates, Most Updates or Only Important posts from a particular user or brand.

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