As one of the seven companies that participated in the Alpha release of this new Insights data, we've been very excited about the opportunities this new data presents for pages and their fans. Let's take a closer look at why.

While most discussion around social analytics slips and slides across the valley floor of a wide crevasse between practitioners and business leaders, there has been one metric everyone agreed was important: fans. Fans have been an obvious place to start because your number and everyone else's have been public for years. Also, there's a natural, implied value proposition in the metric because it's about affinity. Surely having a large number of people with expressed affinity for your brand is a good thing (especially if it's more than your competitor has).

Justin Kistner is the Director of Social Products as Webtrends. He's a regular speaker on social media marketing at conferences like Web 2.0 Expo, OMMA Global, and Social Fresh. Kistner also founded Beer and Blog, a social marketing meet up in 20 cities from Portland to Tokyo.

Focusing On Engagement

Now Facebook has helped the world move into the second of four stages of maturity for social measurement, which is engagement (stage 3 is monetization, and stage 4 is retention/growth). Facebook has announced a new metric to define engagement, which is "People talking about this page." If you want to know how many fans your competitor has, you simply need to look at a single metric. If you want to know how much engagement your competitor has, it used to take some effort to pull that data. Only a handful of lesser-known tools offered the capability. Now, Facebook has made it easy to pull as a single number for any fan page on Facebook. This has huge implications because it now puts the focus on engagement. This may not seem all that new or revolutionary for leading edge social marketers, but it's a huge deal for the market. ROI will now expand beyond cost per fan to cost per engagement. We still have two phases of maturity to go through before social marketing is as developed as some of its other digital siblings, but this is a big leap forward.

Expanding Engagement

"People talking about this page" is a roll-up metric of all engagement for a page. It includes what we expect, which is Likes, Comments, and Shares; but it also includes a few actions you may not have guessed. Along with standard interaction, "People talking about this page" includes more niche actions like RSVPs, answers to questions, check-ins, and more.

Facebook's announcement about supporting customer OpenGraph actions and objects also feeds into this new focus on engagement. Facebook has made it easier to create connections between people and content by lowering the barrier from affinity to action. Mark Zuckerberg said it well on stage at f8 when he said, "People read ten times more books than they like."

By including all types of engagement such as interacting with posts, consumption, and custom app actions Facebook is leading the focus past fan acquisition onto fan engagement. For at least a year from now, page owners will be optimizing their social campaigns by increasing engagement. That is also good news for fans because it means a focus on content they want to interact with.

The Continued Rise of Sponsored Stories

One of the big winners for this new engagement focus is ads. Facebook beefed up Sponsored Stories at this year's F8 by announcing the ability to use your custom OpenGraph actions in the ads as well as the ability to target users based on actions they took on other people's apps. Now they have rolled out the ability to see how much activity the paid channel is driving for posts. Facebook now reports on reach, which is the total number of unique impressions, and they break it down into Organic, Viral, and Paid. Organic is how much reach you achieve from people seeing your post. Viral is how much reach you get from the stories generated by people interacting with your post. And Paid is how much reach you get from Sponsored Story ads. As you can imagine, pages with ad budgets will be focusing on how much additional reach they can achieve through Sponsored Stories. We'll also start to calculate how much additional Organic and Viral reach can I achieve as a result of a boost from Sponsored Stories.

Technically Better

Most people won't care about this part, but the other nice thing about this data is that it brings richer post level metrics into the API. Previously developers had to use FQL in order to pull this kind of data, which added complexity to development by requiring additional knowledge of Facebook's various data access methods. And, some of this data was not available, even through FQL. Now, Facebook has brought more of the post level data into their standard Insights API, which makes it simpler to innovate on their platform. Facebook has also told us that they will be continuing to increase the speed of data delivery with the goal of achieving real-time availability.

Relevance, Relevance, Relevance

All things considered, this new metric will make the experience for pages and their fans more relevant. Pages have been pumping out poor quality content for some time. And, because Facebook's distribution algorithm, EdgeRank, is based on engagement; most pages have reached less than 10% of their fans with their posts. Starting on Wednesday when the new data becomes available, it will be easier for page owners to optimize on engagement, which means they'll have to publish more relevant content.