Facebook today announced a major new feature that could put renewed pressure on Google+ and Twitter to out-innovate the social networking market leader. Facebook users can now choose to allow others to asymmetrically follow them thanks to the new (and optional) “subscribe button”– just like on Twitter and Google+. This is an opt-in feature, so you may not see it on every Facebook profile. The fact that Facebook even decided to go into this direction, however, shows that it may be changing its views on how “relationships” on the service should work and that it took a closer look at the success that Twitter and Google+ are having with this model.
After all, many of us are more than happy to share some things publicly and there is no reason others would have to become our “friends” just to be able to easily follow these updates. Facebook obviously wants you to use this feature to follow journalists, celebrities and political figures – exactly the type of users who have taken to Twitter to post their updates because it’s easier for them to get followers there without the hassle of managing lists of friends or fan pages.
Facebook recommends that brands and businesses continue to use Facebook Pages to engage with their audiences. This makes sense, especially given that Pages comes with a number of tools – including stats – that users with personal profiles don’t have access to.
To turn this feature on, just click here and follow the instructions. It’s really just a one-click affair. Your friends who want to subscribe to your updates can then also choose if they want to see all of your updates, most of them or just the important ones (how Facebook then decides how to categorize your updates, I’m not sure about, to be honest).
Stemming the Tide
With its renewed focus on lists and now this subscribe feature, Facebook is clearly chasing Twitter and especially Google+. While it’s currently the market leader, the trend recently has been towards asymmetric following and away from the explicit “friends” model that Facebook imposed upon its users until today. Make no mistake, this may just look like a small feature, but it’s a major cultural shift for Facebook. This shift doesn’t just show that Facebook is worried about Google+ and Twitter, but it also shows that these competing networks are slowly changing the nature of what users expect from a social network.