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Facebook launches a subscribe button & changes the social game again

Posted by admin on 14th September 2011

I do wonder if the guys at Facebook, Twitter and Google have slept at all in the last few months. Only hours ago, in a blog about Twitter’s new analytics product, I mentioned that we are living through an intriguing battle as the three pretenders to the throne compete for supremacy. And for those of us working in the social media PR space, it is truly fascinating.

So I guess it should come as no surprise to find that, today, Facebook has unveiled another landmark change that could alter the way we all use the social network.

Introducing the subscribe button

At a basic level, Facebook’s new ‘subscribe’ button let’s users follow the public updates of anyone on the network without actually being friends with them. As Facebook states in the blog post announcing the service, in the past, users “couldn’t hear directly from people [they’re] interested in but don’t know personally—like journalists, artists and political figures.”

Sound familiar? Yes, that’s right, the subscribe button is essentially the equivalent of the follow button on Twitter; Facebook is moving to a more asynchronous model. And, as with Twitter, the number of people ‘subscribing’ to your feed will be displayed on your profile.

There is additional functionality too. When viewing a friend’s profile, the subscribe button will allow you to set certain preferences which will control the updates you get from that person in your news feed. Settings include ‘all updates’, ‘most updates’ and ‘important updates’.

You can enable the subscribe option here.

Public v. private

When Facebook announced the changes to posting updates last month (the addition of privacy settings and location features), it was clear that it was encouraging users to make more of their posts public. This latest move seems to confirm that.

So on the one hand, this could encourage more people to make more of their posts public, but it could also encourage users to think more carefully about their privacy on the network; an issue that Facebook has struggled with in the past.

What does this mean for brands?

Another important question is whether this will have any effect on the ‘Pages’ feature that Facebook has created for companies or businesses.

The simple answer is no, it won’t.

The subscribe feature won’t be available on Pages and is really designed for individuals such as celebrities, journalists or politicians – individuals that have driven a lot of the success Twitter has achieved in recent years.

Facebook has created a handy little table – see right – that lets you see which feature is most appropriate for what you need.

Overly complex?

However, handy tables aside, I can’t help but think we are being bombarded by new Facebook features at the moment. Only yesterday, Facebook rolled out smart lists (incidentally a really nice feature) and it seems that every time I log onto the service, something has changed.

Of course, the subscribe button is totally optional. Facebook will function in exactly the same way that it always has. And one of my concerns with subscribe and with some of the other features that Facebook has introduced recently is that they risk over complicating the network. One of the reasons I believe Twitter has been so successful is that it is so simple to use. Facebook could potentially do with bearing this in mind.

But if Facebook gets it right and if users start embracing these new features, then it could be a good strategic move for the network. Whatever happens, those of us involved in social media PR will be watching how these changes are used very closely. I wonder what tomorrow will bring…


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