The social media giant’s web estate is fragmented and often frustrating to navigate. However, there are pockets of brilliance and originality; and signs that the company’s approach to online corporate communications is maturing, Jason Sumner says.
In the last few days, we’ve been doing our annual check of Facebook’s web estate to help keep our Index of Online Excellence up to date. Since we last looked in detail at the firm’s online presence in 2015, the all-conquering social media platform has become one of the world’s 10 biggest companies by market capitalisation and now has 1.8bn monthly users.
We think it’s unlikely that Facebook will break into our top 30 ranking though. It has too many weaknesses, the most obvious of which is fragmentation, something that it has in common with a lot of US technology firms’ online estates. Journeys to information for anyone who is not a signed-in ‘user’ are often difficult, with an array of dedicated Facebook pages and microsites that have different navigation systems and do not always link up neatly.
But Facebook has online communications strengths in a few important areas that make it worth watching:
• It is highly effective at providing online information for its customers (advertisers and potential advertisers), an issue that is front of mind for digital managers we speak to.
• Careers pages are at global best practice standards.
• Visually speaking, much of the estate looks elegant and parts are outstanding.
We also saw signs that the company thinks ‘corporate’ online audiences such as investors and CSR professionals are worth trying to serve better too.
Facebook.com/business is the gateway page to resources for advertisers. The material here is clear, straightforward and well-targeted to the audience. The calls to action anticipate some ignorance about the basics of Facebook’s business model and address it – ‘How Facebook adverts work’ – or, for those already in the know, ‘Create Advert’, which leads to a step-by-step process to set up an online campaign. There is abundant and useful supporting content, including clear, succinct video tutorials, FAQs, case studies, pricing information, metrics, etc.
Careers information on Facebook.com was strong when we looked in 2015 and it is strong now. On digital careers metrics alone, we rate Facebook among the best online estates in the world, and well worth emulating. Jobseekers receive a top service, with the global vacancy mechanism and careers information provision at global best practice levels. The online application form is excellent - elegant, streamlined and appropriately targeted at digital natives. The ‘Careers hub’ provides a very effective pitch to prospective jobseekers, positioning the workplace as a lively environment in which staff are encouraged to pursue their ideas and make a real difference.
Facebook has made some improvements in the way it communicates with traditional corporate stakeholders such as investors and CSR professionals. In 2015, we noted that their investor landing page stood out for its boring conventionality (even if their recent quarterly information was very well organized). Since then they have launched a modern-looking microsite for investors that is much more in tune with the company’s visual style. Although it falls short of best practice (we could not find a quarterly results archive, for example), the microsite is a step forward.
In 2015, we could not find any CSR data. In our most recent visits, the Sustainability microsite had a long scrolling page of creative data visualisations, housed under ‘Our Footprint’, covering carbon emissions at data centres, the energy mix between renewables and fossil fuels (including its goal to be using 50 per cent renewables by 2018), and water usage. The site provides a PDF download of all the data and a useful list of links to external resources about Facebook’s environmental performance. The page has links to interesting real-time dashboards tracking ‘power usage effectiveness’ and ‘water usage effectiveness’ at Facebook’s four data centres.
The Sustainability microsite is a good example of the site’s often striking visuals. It uses (currently-trendy) looping video on the landing page, original photography, clean fonts and colours to tell make the company’s case that it is a force for good in the world.
‘Facebook Stories’ are another example of professional visuals combined with high-quality editorial. Housed on a microsite, they are a set of well-produced videos that cover what ordinary people have accomplished by setting up Facebook groups. Many of the videos have CSR and community-based themes, including 'Homeless in Seattle' about an architect who has a page 'Facing Homelessness' and 'Save the Monarchs', a group in Iowa dedicated to butterfly conservation. The production values are high, and may well be outside many firms’ digital corporate communications budgets, but the way the videos are summarised on the page, and the way the videos are subtle about connecting Facebook to the groups doing the work, could be a model for other corporate 'story' videos.
Overall, we were struck by the imbalance between how frustrating it can be to find specific information on the estate, and then being impressed by the abundance and detail when we got to the right places. It is a good thing for Facebook, given how frustrating our journeys were, that the estate tested very well for visibility on search engines. Users starting from the home page could struggle, for example, to find the links for journalists, investors or sustainability, but putting these terms into Google returned the exact destination at the top of the results every time.
- Jason Sumner