Upon opening Paper, it feels like the app is trying to create an identity distinct from its sister application: gone are the iconic “F” logos and the familiar vertical timeline (and the ads, but that’s for later in the story). In fact the only thing that makes you realise you’re on Earth’s biggest social network are the small “Like” icons attached to the stories, and your personal profile picture.
The emphasis here is less on your friend’s stories, but on stories that are happening related to the things you care about. When you first start up, just like with Flipboard, you’re invited to select “topics” – ex. Pride, Creators, Headlines, Pop Life – headline copy that invites a little more intrigue than the standard ‘News, Design, Style, Sport’ we’re accustomed to.
Facebook is no longer relying on “Liked” pages, but on broader, explicitly stated, interest and passion areas to serve you content from both sources familiar and new. The breakthrough with Paper is exposure to publishers and content creators from the wider web, outside the comfort of your usual news feed. The new stories and content pieces all discreetly feature the standard engagement buttons (Like, Comment, Share), designed to maximize the reach and visibility of the curated stories.
Big bold photos cover the upper half of the screen on each section. For the audience increasingly impatient and working off small screens, pictures are the easiest and quickest way to get to the essence of the story. Striking visuals that capture people’s attention, just for a split second, will become critical for brands and the swivel ability to navigate within a photo adds a touch of dynamism to what is otherwise a static piece of content.
Facebook at the moment are using human editors, not algorithms, to serve content – more quality control, but less timely, and less personal. It’s not trying to steal Twitter’s space with real-time participation in the breaking stories, instead placing emphasis on deeper engagement with the content.
For the Millennial generation that lives in a state of partial attention, it’s a risk.
For brands, it becomes clear that the rhythm at which content is updated on Paper (through human curation) means that it doesn’t lend itself to incredible Oreo-style moments.
It also begs the question of the value exchange for user data; and for the generation who have come to expect personalisation and relevancy as part of the deal, serving the same to everyone feels a little “last year”.
There aren’t any. Zero. No branded content, or prominently displayed posts. For a company whose mobile ad revenue is over £800M (53% of its total), and having spent a year developing the app, it’s a puzzling development.
One hypothesis is that it’s an attempt to win back part of its younger, mobile-first teen audiences (who depending on who you trust are either simply fracturing onto more niche platforms, or completely fleeing Facebook), with the promise of better content “on-the-go”, and a fatigue with the constant exposure to their friends updates of “breathtaking holiday shots”, and “incredible life moments” . Part of that package then becomes forgoing the ads as a reason to switch, and to eventually monetize them later.
The challenge (and opportunity) for brands
Let’s start with the good. Brands can kill the right-hand banner ads and initially re-think the paid component of social spend. For an age that was proclaimed the “end of interruption advertising” – the ubiquity of in-your-face “sponsored stories” continued to be a paradox.
Brand updates now will be seen in the context of real publishers, churning out high quality content, so the challenge becomes can the former compete in this space, and is it worth competing, how what un-branded stimulus will spark conversation, not just on Facebook, but on other social platforms as well?