It's been a hectic year for Facebook, which spent $1 billion buying Instagram in April, then raised $16 billion from its initial public offering a month later. In October, it also recorded more than 1 billion active users per month. That's one out of seven people on the planet.
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About two dozen music applications came along for the wild ride-not that many, considering that there are hundreds of thousands of apps on Facebook. Most have benefitted from the organic growth of Facebook's own user base. For example, Deezer's Facebook user base tripled in 2012. Clear Channel's iHeartRadio monthly active users from Facebook grew by a factor of 30. And BandPage's shares tripled in the fall.
But it's also been a bumpy ride for some who struggled to keep up with the social network's tinkering of its News Feed algorithm, which decides which posts to show each user and, therefore, determines its massive flow of traffic.
Facebook manager of strategic partnerships Ime Archibong is the person most responsible for the social network's music and video strategy. A former IBM engineer, Archibong joined Facebook in 2010. He manages relationships with such companies as Spotify, Hulu, Deezer, Clear Channel and Netflix, to name a few. A hip-hop and R&B fan who grew up in Kansas, Archibong says his musical tastes expanded considerably after he started working with music app developers. Here then are his six answers to our commensurate questions.
Billboard: With regards to music, what were your primary objectives for 2012?
Ime Archibong: We spent most of the year making sure the foundation was in place with how Facebook and social intersect with music. Making sure that iHeart, Deezer and Spotify were leveraging the Open Graph in interesting ways. Now [that] you have the foundation in place, the fun begins.
What would you say are the pieces of that foundation, exactly?
The pieces line up in two basic pillars. One is making sure my music identity was represented on my Timeline. That was a critical piece. That didn't happen until 2012. The second is the News Feed. We wanted to be able to take my listening and aggregate it in a way to make it compelling. The News Feed picks up on the Open Graph action, so we look for context. Is the person listening a lot to a single artist? Are they spending a lot of time on one radio station? Are they listening heavily to one particular album? We'll be thinking about this in the next year.
Now that that's in place, what's in your sights for 2013?
We'll dive in and try to solve the issue of discovery. We're now leaning into the idea that we can be a destination for social music activity and discovery. In the past, Facebook.com/music was just an aggregated view of what friends were listening to. In the last couple of months, we added status messages from artists that they liked, as well as conversations from friends around music. That destination, along with the News Feed, is what we'll think more about in 2013. We want to add more pieces of context to let people tell rich, engaging stories around music.
What has the effect of Timeline been on band pages?
Timeline allows artists to build out a richer and more robust story about their careers. I've seen plenty of artists posting pictures of when they fell in love with music or talking about their first concert.
There's been some grumbling from brands and bands that traffic and reach declined once Timeline was made mandatory and Facebook changed its News Feed algorithm this year. Can you explain what happened?
Essentially, with any product we do, we revisit the News Feed and make sure it surfaces the most engaging pieces of content for our users. The algorithmic change was about increasing engagement. If folks weren't engaging in those pieces of content, we didn't show them. This helped reduce spam. For 1 billion different people with 1 billion priorities, this can be tremendously challenging. Do I show this person a post from his grandmother? Or a Rihanna update? It's a tough problem to solve.
Fair enough. Are there things bands and brands can do to increase their reach?
As long as the messages are engaging, they will continue to get the reach that they are looking for. Also, visual content always does well and performs well. It can be an exclusive picture of you preparing backstage for your concert. The other thing to think about is what content works well for you. Go to the music dashboard and look at what fans are doing.