Facebook is testing a new feature that could (and should) lead to mobile users sharing more links, which in turn, should increase Facebook's lead as the social media referral traffic king.
TechCrunch reports that Facebook is piloting "a new way to add a link that's been shared on Facebook to your posts and comments".
Essentially, when you go to post an update, there's an option to "add a link," which lets you search within Facebook to find an article to share. If you want to say something about Tom Brady, for example, and wish to share a link with it, you can search for him, and you'll be presented with popular articles that people have already shared on Facebook, and can choose the one you wish to share.
It's true that sharing a link on Facebook from a mobile device can be an annoying task if you're already on Facebook. If you were in the app and wanted to share something, you'd have to leave it and go find what you wanted to share, then either copy/paste it or use your browser's share functionality. This feature could be considered an improvement in that regard.
Some reports, however, are painting this as a feature that should worry Google, effectively making Facebook more of a search engine. I think that's a little much.
What some reports seem to be overlooking is how people really share to Facebook. How often do you share links to Facebook by starting with a status update, and then deciding to add a link to it? Isn't it typically the other way around? Don't you usually share links you've already found? Don't you read an article, find it interesting, and then share it because of that? Maybe I share differently, but when I post a link on Facebook, I don't start with a topic, and then look for an article that meets my sharing needs. I just share what I've already seen.
That said, the feature would indeed serve to increase the sharing of links to some extent. It's certainly not going to make people share any less. For those lucky enough to appear in the top results for these searches on Facebook, it could improve referrals significantly. In other words, Facebook optimization will effectively double as a new kind of search engine optimization for sharing within Facebook.
I suppose the race is on to rank on Facebook for coveted keywords.
Of course the feature is extremely limited for now. It's only being piloted with a few users in the U.S. Assuming this becomes a full-fledged feature, there's no question marketers will be rushing to break into those search results.
It would appear that Facebook sharing is already on the rise. ShareThis recently put out a report suggesting that changes Facebook made to its News Feed earlier in the year have already led to an increase.
“It’s likely that Facebook’s News Feed adjustment increased engagement with the social network and, as a result, sharing activity increased,” says ShareThis’ Michalene Becker. “This quarter, Facebook represented 84% of sharing volume, up 12% from Q1 2014. Blogger, which makes up 5% of sharing volume, also saw a slight uptick in activity compared to last year (+2%). Meanwhile, Pinterest and Twitter saw slight declines in sharing (-5% and -3%, respectively).”
The report found that smartphone and tablet sharing now account for 20% and 13% of device activity respectively. 77% are using desktop devices for browsing, but they’re less likely to convert to a social action. Only about 7% of sharing is generated by desktop devices.
The new feature will definitely lead to an increase in mobile sharing, especially considering how mobile usage of the social network continues to climb.
According to the latest numbers released by the company, 798 million use Facebook from mobile at least once every day. That's up 31% from the same period the year before. Meanwhile, 73% of Facebook's ad revenue for last quarter was generated by mobile.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg talked a little bit about the company's approach to search during its earnings call last month. He said during a Q&A (via SeekingAlpha):
So we’re pretty early in this whole thing and there’s so much unique content that people share in Facebook that I think that that is the clear, unique opportunity to go for first, right? I mean there’s – if you think about the overall web, there’s a lot of public content that’s out there that any web search engine can go index and provide. But a lot of what we can get at are recommendations on products and travel and restaurants and things that your friends have shared, they haven’t shared publicly, and knowing different correlations, or interesting things about what your friends are interested in, and that’s the type of stuff, those are questions that we can answer that no one else can answer, and that’s probably going to be what we continue to focus on doing first. And I think what you’re seeing is that as we enable more use cases and as we just get a lot of the basics right around performance and bringing the mobile features into parity and beyond what we’ve been able to do on desktop, the volume is growing quickly.
I think on a recent earnings call we just announced that we passed 1 billion searches total so now being more than 1 billion on mobile shows some progress that I’m pretty proud of for the search team.
The company announced in December that it was giving users the ability to surface posts based on keywords in search, and that this would be available for desktop as well as iOS and Android Little by little, Facebook is indeed making it easier to search for content within the social network.