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Facebook Lets Users Put Questions in a Bottle

By Richard Adhikari
Mar 25, 2011 12:24 PM PT

What is the temperature of the sun? What is free will? Who's in charge here, anyway?

Facebook Lets Users Put Questions in a Bottle

These questions and more -- any question one could possibly imagine, really -- are what Facebook's Questions feature is for. The social network updated Questions Thursday, throwing the general inquiry forum open to the public.

Anyone can opt in by going to this link, Facebook spokesperson Meredith Chin told TechNewsWorld. That will set up the Questions link on their publisher, next to their status, photo and other links.

Facebook members click on the Questions link and input their questions. Their friends, and friends of friends, can post answers.

Administrators for businesses with Facebook pages that have opted in to the Questions feature can pose questions to people connected to their Facebook pages and can see the answers, Chin said.

That opens up possibilities marketers find exciting.

"It will definitely have an impact on brands asking questions directly to their fan base and extended network of friends and aggregating the data," Henry Wong, CEO of Adgregate Markets, told TechNewsWorld.

"We feel recommendations or opinions about products and brands from people you know are the most powerful influencer of purchase decisions," Matt Compton, CEO of ShopIgniter, told TechNewsWorld. "Data shows that 90 percent of people trust recommendations of friends above any form of advertising."

A Glimpse Into the Questions Feature

Facebook first launched a trial version of the Questions feature in July.

"We took the last few months to test and tweak the product to find the optimal experience for people," Facebook's Chin stated.

When Facebook members ask about something through the Questions feature, they can get replies from their friends and friends of their friends.

Facebook filters the answers to bring up those from members' direct circles of friends first. Members can see the rest of the responses by clicking the "Others" tag within the question.

Although businesses with Facebook pages can see answers to questions they pose on their pages, Facebook doesn't include data in its Insights section for this feature, Chin said. It doesn't share information from the feature with advertisers, she added.

Facebook Insights provides Facebook Page owners and developers on the Facebook platform metrics around their content through a dashboard. Only page administrators, application owners, and domain administrators and view Insights data for the properties they own or administer.

"I don't think Facebook necessarily designed this feature with marketers in mind," Greg Sterling, founding principal at Sterling Market Intelligence, told TechNewsWorld. "They certainly will get some data from it, which would be interesting to marketers, but I think they're just trying to simplify the feature and get more people to participate.

"My guess is they don't have as many users of the feature as they want," Sterling explained. "If you have a lot of people doing anything online you can throw ads at them."

Shadow of the Invisible Hand

In other words, Facebook may ultimately seek to monetize the Questions service.

Already, online marketing and advertising firms can see the possibilities offered by the Questions feature.

"We are working with an apparel retailer now in implementing this [Questions] feature to ask whether the products being displayed in their Facebook store are hot or not," Adgregate's Wong said. "You can imagine the cool things you can do with the answers to this question," he added.

"The Facebook Questions feature reinforces one of our value propositions, which is to help retailers and brands seed, influence and measure advocacy behavior with social badging, referral and loyalty point systems and shareable coupons," ShopIgniter's Compton said.

Keeping Stuff Private

Whether Facebook will face a backlash over privacy issues users of the Questions feature face is not yet clear.

Questions asked by members can get distributed to a wider audience if their friends reply because friends of their friends will also get access to the questions.

It would be wise to assume there is no privacy, Sterling Market Intelligence's Sterling suggested. "If you want to ask private questions, you should set up a group or protect your account, and respond only within your friends network," he elaborated.

However, that doesn't necessarily mean Facebook itself would have to build in additional security.

"This Questions feature doesn't give access to my news feed, just access to my questions or the feed around the questions," Sterling pointed out. "I don't think there's any super-heightened danger here apart from the general privacy and stalking issues that plague Facebook."


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