At the recent 2011 F8 Facebook developer's conference, Facebook announced significant changes to the design and scaled up the information that it tracks about it's users. There are many summaries of the changes from a user's perspective, but let's focus on what the changes may mean for businesses.
The News Feed will be split into two: the Feed and Ticker. The goal with this split is to remove a user's fear of over-sharing. The Ticker will show a stream of updates, similar to Twitter, while the News Feed will be for stickier content (things that Facebook determines will be of interest at a later time).
As of September 30th, page owners will no longer able to send updates to fans using Facebook Messages. Page owners are encouraged by Facebook to interact with their fans through their Wall, so people see updates in their news feeds.
For businesses and organizations, it's important to note that users no longer have to "like" a Facebook Page in order to leave a comment.
The Open Graph
Last year, Facebook introduced the Facebook Open Graph - a combination of publisher plugins, semantic markup and a developer API. This year's changes will allow applications to tell Facebook if a user has watched a video, read an article, etc. From a business perspective, expect that much more information about Facebook users will become available for targeting.
A business can no longer simply have a Facebook page in order to engage with their fans and recruit other Facebook users. To truly engage and market to Facebook users, your business will have to participate in the Open Graph. Focus on your customer's experiences, and how those actions can be integrated and shared.
Essentially, think of Facebook as a targeting tool. You can analyze your audience to learn how stories are shared and created about your business. Paid advertising campaigns will likely play a central role in your brand's presence on Facebook - sponsoring products or services that Facebook users share will be important.
With the increased level of sharing of activities, friends and "friends-of-friends" may become inspired or interested in a product or service. For those in the Alaska travel industry, this could be particularly useful. Imagine a Facebook user seeing "John booked a Alaska Vacation Package with Company X for July 2012" and thinking, "Hey, I always wanted to go to Alaska, maybe this is the time."
Cautions and Areas of Concern
Users may become very cautious in allowing apps to share with others and restrict them to the "only me" setting. But the majority of people will likely trade privacy for increased personalization.
Noise and Information Overload
The split of the news feed into a Feed (sticky content) and Ticker (steam) will increase the information being displayed to users. Will users look for ways to filter out the noise? Is Facebook betting that the volume of information may cause users to have less time for other social media apps? Businesses will have to find a balance of being timely and fresh in people's minds vs. the appearance of being "spammy."