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One particular item is emerging with perhaps the greatest challenge and the highest potential for Page owners – there is a new way to present custom content on Facebook Pages. Tabs and FBML are going away. Get ready to friend iFrames. Here’s a basic rundown and some tips on how to make the switch.
Background: Starting With a Clean Canvas
iFrames are not new. An iFrame is a standard HTML tag that allows one page to be inserted into another. It would seem like a pretty obvious way for Facebook Page owners to customize content, and Facebook did experiment with it a while ago before discovering security issues. But as of February 10, iFrames are back. Facebook Markup Language (FBML), which has been the primary custom content creation tool, is being deprecated.
FBML is a subset of HTML that has additional Facebook specific functions. For example, the FBML tag
<fb:visible-to-connection> requires a user to “Like” a page in order to see certain content. Existing FBML Pages will still be supported, but new ones cannot be created as of March 11. There is no immediate need to worry about existing FBML based Pages. In the software world, the time horizon for “deprecated” is often measured in years, if not decades. Still, you’ll want to continually delight your Facebook visitors, which means that there are iFrames in your future.
Learning to Love iFrames
This all sounds much more complicated than it really is, and in fact it is probably simpler than the old process. Most developers are celebrating. “iFrames allow marketers the creativity and flexibility similar to that afforded by webpages, while developers can streamline integration with one process for Facebook canvas apps, Facebook Connect website widgets, and now Facebook custom Pages,” says Vikas Jain, director of business development for Wildfire Interactive. If you can create something for the web, respect Facebook’s ToS, and (preferably) hold it to 520 pixels in width, you can now present it as custom Facebook Page content.
Great content is only the start. Page owners can now have a more direct relationship with their Facebook visitors. “Right now the implications are countless,” says Patrick Stokes, chief product officer for Buddy Media. “Conversion tracking is probably the first thing that marketers should be focusing on. iFrames mean that you will be able to recognize the visitor, track their source and note their IP address in order to present a customized response. These capabilities are much stronger through iFrames than they are in FBML”.
Mark Spangler, director of client services at Stuzo|Dachis Group is also expecting “exciting personalization options which should now appear seamless to the user: Customized landing views based on user location or referral source, dynamically updating the view for specific content, loading of Flash elements and interactive front-end features which formerly could not initially load on custom Pages.”
But don’t expect things to change overnight. This is a change that lies firmly in a divide between the aspirations of the marketing department and the freshly fueled capabilities of web developers. Companies that can bridge that gap wisely will likely see the best and fastest results. Involver’s VP of marketing Jascha Kaykas-Wolff is advising marketers to proceed slowly and plan carefully for the best results. “The switch from FBML to iFrames is not earth-shattering right now. However, in the future – and as Facebook evolves their ToS – iFrames will allow for a much more immersive experience consistent with your brand’s corporate experience. The evolution of Facebook becoming the replacement for the branded micro-site is well on its way.”
The best and simplest news for Facebook marketers is that they may not have to try and pull someone away from Facebook to get them onto their site. There are now better options for accomplishing their sales or branding goals entirely within Facebook. “We’ve found, in doing Facebook ad testing, that Facebook ad respondents tend to convert better when they land on a page within Facebook,” observes Search Mojo CEO Janet Miller. “iFrames now opens up a whole new world of possibilities for what can be delivered, including e-commerce, directly through a Facebook Page.”
Some of the selling may first have to occur internally as social media initiatives frequently need to fight for budget. Linda Bustos, director of e-commerce research with Elastic Path Software, notes, “Any new web development poses a challenge for social media. C-level execs want to see ROI from social initiatives – something that has historically been hard to prove.” In this case, she points to the improved tracking capabilities and the ability to monitor activity via Google Analytics as a unique opportunity to measure social media costs versus benefits. Additionally, businesses should find it easier to convert existing web apps for Facebook use with iFrames.
The Endgame for iFrames?
The concept of businesses investing money to keep users on Facebook may seem like part of Facebook’s master plan. It probably is. Will Facebook Pages evolve into self-contained store fronts? “It will be interesting to see how Facebook handles this. One possibility is that they will require that all transactions be transacted in Credits, which is how they would get their cut,” speculates Buddy Media’s Patrick Stokes.
iFrames for Pages may be a win-win for all sides but it will require planning and some investment. As always with Facebook, you can’t ignore the huge user base, and you have to be open to new opportunities to interact. iFrames is very much a work in progress that warrants serious attention.
Disclosure: Buddy Media is a Mashable sponsor.
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