With Facebook’s Conversations, the public-private divide is about to get even smaller

If Twitter is a town square, Facebook is a large family
living room. You know what happens there. Family members shout at each other, your
friends debate about television programs and politics, there is the occasional
small talk and comments about the weather.

And while Facebook’s Newsfeed can be taken over by any topic
du jour such as a baseball game, TV show, music awards or political debate, it
often returns to that space where personal conversations trump public
commentary. Twitter is typically where one goes to read the thoughts of public
figures, celebrities, brands and yes, each other, but the ability to amplify
a thought through 140 characters has proven quite useful when trying to read
the pulse of a certain issue or event compared with Facebook’s semi-gated
community.

However, that public-private divide between Twitter and
Facebook is about to change.

This past week, Facebook announced a new tool to surface
“conversations” beyond the walls of its social network. Using Facebook
Conversations
, a Public Feed API will help select media companies leverage
the millions of discussions about various topics and display a “real-time feed
of public posts around a specific word.” Or they can aggregate the total number
of posts about a specific term and boil them into vanity metrics to give
talking heads something to well, talk about, using the Keyword Insights API.

Just like Google Search Trends or Twitter Hashtags, Facebook
Conversations
will serve as a quick way to poll the public on particular
events, issues and topics. It will turn a closed living room conversation into a
global amphitheater of discussion. It is a move that directly competes with
Twitter and will empower the individual and brand to go beyond the confines of
140 characters to share public opinions.

For the media world, this will allow Facebook to become more
equal with Twitter in terms of acting as a source of information and reportable
material, strengthening the connections between social media and old media. Right
now, any public Tweet can easily break news, but a Facebook post tends to be a
little more difficult to find. I would assume one goal of this development is
to change that tendency and thus, increase Facebook’s relevancy.

If Facebook’s Conversations API can be used by the marketing
world, it will help brands monitor conversations on Facebook across the
network, not just on their Pages. This will undoubtedly increase the time that
agencies and brands spend monitoring Facebook. At this time, it is hard to say
what type of customer response will occur beyond the brand Page and if it will
take the same frequency as on Twitter.

One question in my mind is whether those using Facebook
Conversations will surface actual insight or just aimless volume metrics and
noise. If done right, the media will not report on spikes in conversation, but
track shifts in opinion in a way that demonstrates changes in public attitudes
around important issues. Imagine Facebook Conversations and Twitter Hashtags as
the new Gallup polling mechanism in the next Presidential election or helping
Congress decide whether to go to war. Unscientifically of course, but it could
be more accurate than relying on people who answer landlines during public
polling surveys.

What do you think the implications for Facebook
Conversations will be? How do you think the media will use the new API’s? Share
your thoughts in the comments.

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