What Facebook’s Paper App Means for Marketers

February 4, 2014
By   Steve Buors
Category   Social Media
Facebook Paper

Facebook has finally launched its much anticipated new app, Paper. It is only available in the US as an iPhone app, however Canadians can follow a simple workaround to download it.

We spent quite a bit of time with the app and reviewed Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg’s recent statements in detail to delve into the possible ramifications for marketers.

Our conclusion: Facebook has at last realized that one app cannot possibly satisfy all users’ needs. Paper should encourage brands to up their content game, but it does not encompass the whole Facebook marketing experience (e.g. – ads, graph search, etc.).

Although the existing Facebook app has been very successful from a user adoption perspective, it has long been criticized for being too unwieldy. In it, Facebook attempted to cram all of the functionality of the desktop version into a much smaller screen.

Facebook app

As a result, Facebook has ceded ground to smaller, vertically-focused competitors such as WhatsApp, SnapChat and others who focus on doing one thing really well. With their launch of stand-alone apps for Messenger and now Paper, Facebook is moving towards debundling their powerhouse app to create smaller, more nimble apps focused on specific functionalities.

This is the very dilemma most major media companies found themselves in a decade ago as smaller competitors began to challenge specific areas of their business. At that time, many publishers opted to stay the course as one “big” entity rather than dissecting their business into smaller units. As history shows, that strategy has not worked particularly well, so we’re impressed that Facebook seems to be taking a different path.

One theme that should be clear from our work on products like Messenger, Groups and Instagram is that our vision for Facebook is to create a set of products that help you to share any kind content you want with any audience you want. We aren’t just focused on improving the experience of sharing with all of your friends at once, although that is growing too, a lot of the growth we see is coming from giving people the tools to share with different sized groups of people.” – Mark Zuckerberg, January 29, 2014

What’s New to Paper?

Many of us here at Reshift come from a media background, and we see this app as a significant opportunity for publishers. Paper puts quality content (both from your friends and from leading publications) front and centre in a very engaging, visually appealing manner. The excellent user interface relies on gestures (swiping, pinching, etc.) and mimics a newspaper experience with its horizontal baseline grid. Much like Flipboard, swiping up on a story unfolds it, while swiping side to side instead of up and down scrolls through your feed. Publishers should be actively forming strategies to take advantage of the new, immersive experience Paper offers.

Within Paper, Facebook has created “channels” of content curated by their editorial team, which appears at the top half of the app. The first story is pulled from your Facebook news feed, but the remaining seven stories at the top come from select publishers organized in categories such as Headlines, Tech, Pop Life, LOL, Enterprise, Score, Family Matters, Cute, Glow, and Home. We noticed that at launch on Feb 3rd, only about half of these categories were available, and only 40 approved publishers were included (though Facebook says Paper will soon pull stories from all over the network). We find this approach very interesting, as it explicitly positions Facebook as a source of news for people alongside “professional” publishers like Time, Rolling Stone, The Verge and others. Facebook has long referred to itself as a “personalized newspaper,” a claim which this app clearly strengthens.

What’s Missing from Paper? (We’re Looking at You, Graph Search!)

Paper is primarily meant to be a newsreader, so even though it includes Messages and Notifications, you cannot access Trending, ads, apps, feed sorting, etc. Even more surprising, Graph Search was not included in this shiny new product. As we have talked about previously, Graph Search is a major focus for Facebook and they have taken some heat about how slow they have been in rolling out Graph Search, particularly on mobile – so why would they not include it here? In fact, the app is not local at all – business pages do not even include an address, which seems to fly in the face of everything Facebook has been saying about being more locally relevant, particularly from a business perspective.

Before mass media, all business was personal. Sales happened customer by customer at the local store or door to door. The evolution of mass media made it possible to sell at scale, but business was no longer personal. On Facebook, marketers can do both. We are building the world first global platform that lets marketers personalize their messages at unprecedented scale. This is marketing where you are, for who you are.” – Sheryl Sandberg, January 29, 2014

This app is not about searching and finding. It’s about browsing. In the publishing industry, we used to refer to this as the “serendipity” of reading a newspaper or magazine – the reader flips pages without necessarily knowing what they are going to see next. There does not seem to be a way to sort your feed by “most recent” or friend lists. The level of engagement is determined by the quality of the content itself and the skill of the editorial team curating it. Based on this measure, Paper clearly delivers.

What This Means for Brands

Some people are expressing concern for what Paper means for brands and marketers, as many of the Facebook features and functionality brands have come to rely on aren’t front and centre in Paper. The app doesn’t even have any ads!

Rest assured, if the app proves successful we’re confident Facebook will monetize it. They have a tremendous focus on advertising, particularly for mobile, so after the audience comes, ads will likely not be far behind.

Advertising aside, what this really means for brands is that:

  1. If you want presence on Paper you will need to step up your game from a content perspective. This app is a newsreader, plain and simple. You need to create content that people deem “newsworthy” if you want it consumed in this app. You don’t need to go as far as Coca-Cola has in terms of creating a full-on content site, but you will need to really consider what content you produce that appeals to your specific target audience.
  2. Photos are a big deal. Social media has been getting more visual for some time now, so if you haven’t already bought into the notion that visual appeal is paramount to engagement, Paper should finally convince you.
  3. Consider the possibility that maybe you don’t need to be on every app. As Facebook launches more and more niche apps throughout 2014, marketers and brands may be forced to pick their spots. Based on your target customer, industry and ability to produce content, perhaps a search-focused experience is better than a browse-focused one, or vice versa.
  4. Mobile is here to stay. You need to be thinking about a mobile aspect in everything you do. If someone sees your Facebook post on mobile and then clicks through to your site, what does it look like on the phone? Are you putting your best foot forward?

For Facebook, this is only the beginning. Given the glowing reviews Paper is receiving, expect more targeted mobile apps from them in the near future.

“If 2012 was the year where we turned our core product into a mobile product, then 2013 was the year we turned our business into a mobile business. I expect 2014 will be the year where we begin deliver new and engaging types of mobile experiences.” – Mark Zuckerberg, January 29, 2014




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Steve Buors

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