Facebook is everywhere, from the movie box office, to news about frequent announcements and changes, to your friends and family who are likely interacting there more and more frequently. Facebook’s leveraging its 500 million users to become the gorilla who can sit anywhere it pleases. You may have dismissed it as not being useful for your life science business, but Facebook’s users, and the changes that the company has been making, are affecting many current and future aspects of the web. Below we outline the changes that are most likely to affect life science businesses.
Mark Zuckerberg describes the ‘heart’ of the important changes at the April f8 conference (Facebook’s conference for developers), establishment of an ‘open graph.’ What is it? Zuckerberg explains that before the described changes were made, many different applications were mapping out the connections between people and their interests–for example Yelp maps out restaurant patron experiences shared between friends, and Pandora maps out music interests. At f8 a series of applications were launched which will help to connect much of this information, using Facebook as a hub, to create what he calls the open graph.
Perhaps the most obvious change you’ve noticed as a user is that the ‘Like’ button is showing up everywhere on websites (we even installed one in the sidebar here). This change is made possible with the new applications Facebook has made available, allowing almost any web entity to be ‘liked’ and tracked. In addition, websites can also use a Facebook login rather than an individual one, making it much easier for them to join a website.
I highly suggest listening to Mark Zuckerberg’s f8 keynote speech, as it underlines the broader, optimistic implications for ‘changing the web,’ but it should be pointed out that some see it as a ploy for Facebook to ‘take over’ the web. Somewhat quietly during this time, Facebook forced users to convert all of their interests into ‘Likes’, which served to standardize the information more. For example, my favorite movie is Moonstruck, so I was ‘forced’ to ‘Like’ that page. This is pretty powerful if you think about it–if there is ever a sequel to the movie, Facebook will be THE place to market it, as they can easily market to their exact demographic (not to mention the ability for them to do market research beforehand). In a sense, with this change Facebook made an important step in them ‘owning’ a lot of important real estate on the web.
Some of the other changes Facebook made this year also far reaching and important to note. One is the introduction of ‘Community Pages,’ which pull content from Wikipedia. What does this mean for life science companies? Well, it means that if you have a wikipedia entry, you now have a facebook page which you may have no control over, as wikipedia is crowd sourced (e.g., anybody can edit). For an example, check out Thermo Fisher’s community page.
Also, this week Facebook launched updates to their groups which will allow more interaction, functioning as Yahoo! or Ning groups, but in some ways easier because so many people belong to Facebook. Because this announcement is so new, it’s hard to say how it will affect life science companies. For now, we still recommend that a Facebook Page be made for brands, and you can check out early reactions to the announcement as well.
You may still be wondering what this has to do with your life science business. Consider this: Facebook’s inclusion of wikipedia entries means that there is now a MAP Kinase page. Consider my movie example above–because of Facebook’s reach, they may ‘own’ this on the web, giving them some control, but also allowing you to tap into MAPK aficionados. Now, take it one step further and imagine that all of the products you have related to MAPK could be linked to this entry. Wow. Are you starting to see how powerful these changes are? It’s all part of what’s called the semantic web, and its being thought of from both the life science side and the commerce side–see the Linked Open Data and the Linked Open Commerce websites.
What should you be doing now? I suggest scheduling a meeting with your IT/Web group to discuss the implications for your product catalog. Are there Facebook applications which will help you to engage and learn about your customers more? Check Facebook for community pages related to your company, and replace them with ‘real’ pages which you’ll have more control over. Is Facebook starting to ‘own’ a piece of the web that you are interested in, and if so what should you do about it? As always, contact us with any questions you have, or check out our Social Media for Life Science and Biotechnology Workshop 3 which covers third party applications such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube.
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