An Interview With Facebook’s Carolyn Everson

At this year’s ADMERICA!, one of the American Advertising Federation’s (AAF) resident bloggers, Monica Helms, and the AAF’s Manager of Digital Marketing and Content Strategy, Ciara Ungar, had the opportunity to sit down with Facebook’s Carolyn Everson to discuss some of today’s hot topics as they relate to the future of Facebook. The AAF would like to extend its gratitude to Carolyn Everson for her contributions to this year’s conference, as well as Monica Helms for her passion for and dedication to the AAF’s mission and growth.

Facebook's Carolyn Everson

Facebook’s Carolyn Everson giving her presentation at the AAF’s 2014 ADMERICA! National Conference

The interview, held on May 29, 2014 in Boca Raton, Florida, provided Monica and the AAF team with valuable insights into the future possibilities of advertising and a few emerging technologies. 

Monica: What makes a good or a bad Facebook profile?

Everson: I think a good profile is just when you’re your authentic self, because Facebook is really built around your personal connections; brands that are important, charities that are important, and so the more you are yourself and don’t try to be someone else, I think that’s really when you get the best experience out of Facebook.

Monica: What insight do you have for those who say Millennials and teens are leaving Facebook for other platforms?

Everson: We look at this extremely carefully, as you can imagine, studying every data point, that is tied to how people are using Facebook, and the truth is that we have seen essentially no decline in teen usage. As a matter of fact, they are really our top engaged audience on Facebook. In markets like the United States and Western Europe, places that we’ve been for a very long time, we have practically full penetration of teens. Now, what we are seeing with teens is that they’re using multiple services. Teens absolutely love Instagram, and often if you pick up a teen’s phone or a Milliennial’s phone, they’re going to have several different applications on it. So they might have Facebook, and Instagram, and Twitter, and others, and that’s fine. That’s how the younger generation is growing up. They’re very comfortable seamlessly moving between the different apps, and they use them for very different reasons, but we are very happy with our teen audience. And as I said, they’re our most engaged audience.

Monica: It’s been about two years since Facebook acquired Instagram, and about six months since Instagram debuted an advertising structure of its own, currently limited to beta brands. It seems like the chatter surrounding the debut has been pretty positive – are you able to speak to that, or fill us in on the future of advertising on Instagram?

Everson: So, Instagram now has about 200 million monthly users around the world. Actually, a good portion of them are outside of the United States, 35 percent of about 200 million of them are in the United States, 65 percent are outside the US. It is actually one of the fastest growing apps that’s ever been out there, growing faster even than Facebook did in its time. So when we introduced advertising about six months ago, we introduced it very slowly and very carefully, because we wanted to really respect the integrity of the Instagram community. Instagram’s mission is to document the world through imagery, and what people do on Instagram is curate that one great photo from that experience, which is very different from uploading an album of 30 or 60 pictures, so it’s a community of people that really care about the imagery and the content they’re consuming. From an advertising standpoint, we’ve run about a dozen campaigns. They’re 100 percent focused on brand and awareness metrics, and really, companies like Michael Kors, and Macy’s, and Levi, and Lexus, Ben and Jerry’s, have been the initial advertisers, and they’ve been very pleased with the results. In general, we’ve seen anywhere between a ten- to 30-point uplift in ad recall, people that are having intent to increase awareness in the brand, intent to increase purchase, and so from the initial early days, we felt really positive. We have broadened it out, and will be having more and more marketers enter Instagram, but at the end of the day we’re going to do it in a really slow and methodical way, to make sure that we introduce it in the best way possible.

Monica: Can you talk a little about the response Facebook has received to the recent feed algorithm changes and the impact it’ll have on brand pages?

Everson: There’s really two things that are driving what’s been changing in organic reach and the algorithm. The first and most important thing is to state that everything we to do is to benefit the people who use Facebook. So as the algorithm gets smarter, it’s really trying to serve the content people really want in their news feed. So on any given moment, when you pull up Facebook, there are about 1,500, sometimes even more stories that could be relevant to you, based on the personal connections you have, the brands you’re interested in, the local businesses you care about, community service organizations, and so out of those 1,500 stories, the algorithm has to choose around 150 to show you on any given time you come onto Facebook. There’s just been a huge increase in the amount of content people are sharing, and mobile has been a big driver of that. Think back three years ago, when mobile was not the predominant way people used Facebook, you had to be in front of a computer to upload a photo and to actually put on content. Now, people check their devices about 100 times a day, and so the amount of content that’s getting uploaded is enormous, but our human capacity to consume that content hasn’t increased that dramatically. And so what happens is that the algorithm is trying to pick what is the most relevant content, which means organic reach is going to decline, and that is something that happens in all feed-based systems. Even when Google first started out with search, you could, without paying, get organic search results. Well, more and more businesses got into that, and now it’s much more of a paid search model. So this is a very natural evolution, and one that involves a lot of large numbers. There’s just only so much content that can be put into the newsfeed for people to consume.

Monica: In light of these algorithm changes, do you have any advice for nonprofits or other small businesses/organizations who might not have the budget to boost posts to reach their fans? How will the algorithm changes affect these entities?

Everson: The best advice we can give is almost the same advice I’d give you as an individual, which is to think about content that is going to be engaging as possible and is relevant for the audience you’re trying to communicate with. Depending on what your message is, being authentic is usually the best way. So, if a brand or a business has humor as part of their brand equity, then being humorous is expected and you should do that. If a brand is brought to life better visually, then that’s how the brand should come to life visually on Facebook. But at the end of the day, it’s really about finding authentic and relevant content that people will care about and hopefully be inspired to share.

Even if you’re not a business or a nonprofit, I say you get different reactions from your own personal posts. When you talk about something very emotional, or if, God forbid, someone is sick in your family, or if you’re celebrating a major milestone, Facebook explodes with people getting into the excitement. Maybe if you’re posting a picture of a meal, maybe only certain people are going to be that interested, or have food as an interest. So I think it’s very much around what what’s actually going to inspire people to share, and actually care about what you’re putting up.

Monica: When Facebook acquired WhatsApp, it sounded like the company was pretty happy with the product as-is. Is there any news on the horizon for WhatsApp?

Everson: Well we haven’t closed on the deal yet, so we are not working together as companies yet. What I can say is that WhatsApp hit a half a million users very recently. They’re growing incredibly quickly. We believe there’s only going to be a handful of services that can reach a billion users, and we believe WhatsApp is going to be one of them. Messaging happens to be one of the fastest-growing applications people want to have access to, and WhatsApp has a delightful user experience. So we’re really excited and we hope the deal closes soon.

Monica: What do you think the future holds for Facebook? How will it continue to revolutionize the way people communicate with each other?

Everson: Well, I think the world is going to be really different in a handful of years when a majority of the world is connected to the Internet. If you think about right now, we have seven billion people on the planet, and less than one-third are connected to the Internet, or about one-third, with those increases at about a million people a day in terms of people getting connected. There’s about 80 percent of the entire world’s population having access to a 2G or 3G tower, but they’re not yet on the Internet, and there’s usually two reasons for that. One is awareness: they don’t even know what it means to get connected to the Internet. Number two: costs, because of data plans. And so we’re actively working on addressing those two issues, and I think the world –when you have literally four, five, or six billion people connected to the Internet, and first have access to information they’ve never had before, with health, financial services, and education– it’s going to be a really different place for us to be living in than we are today, and I think there’s going to be opportunities that we never thought imaginable. From a Facebook perspective, Mark’s mission when he started the company a little over ten years ago was to connect the world, and to make it more open and connected, and that mission is still very much true to the core and heart of what we’re doing today. And so we’re on a mission to try to connect the world, and to bring them delightful experiences, so that they can communicate and share information.

Monica: Any closing thoughts?

Everson: I think what I’d like to add, if perhaps we could go back to the role of Facebook and marketing, is that we believe you’re going to be a very key driver in making business personal again. What I mean by that, is if you think about before mass media, before TV, print, radio, business operated very locally, those shopkeepers knew their customers; they had relationships with them, they knew what kind of products they liked, and business was very personal. Then the advent of mass media happened, and it was fabulous in terms of building world-class brands at huge scale, and reaching millions and millions of people, but business became less personal. So what we’re trying to do at Facebook is actually combine the best of both worlds. So we have significant scale over 1.2 billion people, but also have the opportunity for businesses to have a really personal relationship with their customers and the people that really matter to them. And that’s the journey we’re on – to make business personal again.

Ciara: Talking about making business personal again and diving into the ground roots, there is the facial recognition technology, and Facebook is all over it. Businesses now are really honing in on facial recognition and they are starting to be able to target audiences –separate from Facebook- but they are able to know when a customer comes in what they like and usually order. Does Facebook have any plans to tap into that side of marketing for local businesses, or can you speak to that at all?

Everson: Certainly, we see a world in the future where merchants are going to know who their customers are whether they’re physically in the store or not. So there’s all sorts of scenarios that we plan out in the future – what would it be like to walk into a local bar and have the bar know you’re coming in? And suddenly your music and the music your friends like most is playing, and the bartender knows your drink ahead of time? And so we do have very interesting scenario plans, but we don’t have any products right now that we’re on a road map with, that’s not something we’re currently discussing with our product road map. But we see a future where that’s possible.

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