Exclusive Q&A with the architect of Facebook's new Pages Insights.
David Baser disassembled a computer when he was eight years old and then put it back together in working condition. As a 13-year-old in New Jersey, he designed and built his first website. Baser later went on to attend the University of Southern California, where he managed technical customer support for the school's 37,000 students. With all that in mind, it's little wonder he wound up in a senior technology role at Facebook.
"I learned a lot about how basic technical systems work at USC," he said. "I got into wiring buildings. I wired routers. I [demolished] walls and put new copper cabling into buildings."
With the same gusto he brought to wall demolition, Baser recently led a project to tear down and revamp Facebook's Page Insights product. For quite some time, many marketers have rolled their eyes at the product's simplicity - with its five rudimentary stats. In less than six months, Baser and his team transformed Page Insights into a much more robust analytics platform that has industry players buzzing.
"One thing about Facebook's culture is that we like to build things out, see how it works, and then iterate rapidly," the 28-year-old product manager said.
Earlier this week, ClickZ News sat down with Baser to discuss what marketers need to know about Page Insights. He spoke to a new era of Facebook engagement optimization and offered opinions on what works vs. what doesn't on the social site. In lighter moments, he disclosed a "nerdy" passion for classical piano and shared anecdotes about working in CEO Mark Zuckerberg's kingdom.
The Q&A is the final installment in our "Facebook Faces" series, where we have delved into some of the lesser-known personalities at the social site whose work ultimately affects brands large and small. The series also featured Facebook execs Sarah Personette and Jim Squires.
Here are excerpts from our 30-minute conversation with Baser:
ClickZ: Marketers seem intrigued about the "talking about this" metric. What's the No. 1 thing they need to know as they get used to seeing this stat on their brand pages?
David Baser: User engagement is the best proxy metric for the ultimate success of their brand page on Facebook. It's great for understanding how much distribution you are getting in the news feed, how many people you are reaching with your messages…From a fundamental perspective, that's the most important thing for marketers to take away. They should always be trying to increase that number to make it as high as possible within the bounds of reason. Marketers will have different objectives for their brands, and there will be different industry norms. Some industries will have higher engagement levels than others.
CZ: The post-by-post engagement stats are also intriguing. Please explain how Facebook Page marketers can now test copy in an enhanced fashion.
DB: We felt that the kind of rich, robust A/B testing that advertisers had been doing online with their ad copy…is a philosophy we wanted to bring to Pages. For Facebook Ads, the best content does the best for the marketer. The same is true for Pages. We wanted to bring the kind of thinking in terms of, "How do I optimize my content?" We imagine a future workflow where people go to the post box, load up the past couple months of their posts, and…they want to see how to best embed a new video post. What words around videos have been successful in the past? They can sort and look through the video posts to see which ones have been most engaging in the past. And which ones have had the most virality. Understanding how you think about post copy is going to be an evolving process for marketers because this is kind of a new concept. Some of the tricks that work for ads may not work for posts. It is going to be a process where people are going to have to test and learn.
CZ: Why is Weekly Total Reach one of the new stats?
DB: Since distribution is, generally speaking, the highest-level proxy metric advertisers start with, they can say, "How many people did we hit?" And that metric is super correlated with how many people engaged with your page. So we wanted marketers to see it because it's a first-level proxy that they get.
CZ: How important was agency and developer feedback when putting together the new Page Insights?
DB: Our first step was reviewing the existing feedback we've been getting for years, and making sure we understood what people had already been telling us….When we actually got into the building process, we collaborated with API developers. We collaborated directly with several [advertiser] clients, showed them the product in early stages, and asked for their feedback. We had brand managers come in to show us what they are doing with their Insights. We spoke with agencies to discuss what they do with Insights and what they are looking for. We also did a lot of user testing. We had people come onto our campus, sit in front of the computer, and tell us what they thought.
CZ: Since its release, what kind of feedback have you been receiving from the marketing community?
DB: We've gotten quite a bit of feedback, and it's been universally positive. But I think it's a little early to measure the feedback. There's a lot of new metrics, so I am interested to see what happens as people digest them.
CZ: Sometimes Facebook users post negative comments on Facebook Pages. We've seen that this week in the case of Dr Pepper. Will sentiment analysis be part of a future Facebook Page Insights iteration?
DB: When we've researched this, we have found the vast, vast majority of content is positive. So we don't believe today there is any need for us to get into sentiment analysis products.
CZ: What's more important...the quality of a brand's Facebook Page or the quality of its posts?
DB: That's a really great question. It comes up a lot. At Facebook, we focus a lot on the posts. The reason is due to the distribution aspect. While getting a bunch of really good tabs can drive engagement with the page, the majority of distribution for a page comes through its posts.
CZ: How important are photos and videos to engagement on brand pages? Has Facebook conducted research on this subject?
DB: This is an area that we are just starting to explore. In general, what I can say is that more engaging content is better. And photos and videos are almost always more engaging than text. They are generally more appealing. It's not that smearing your page with photos all of the time is a great idea. But it's definitely true that rich content tends to drive up engagement.
CZ: OK, let's close with a couple of questions of the more human interest variety. Facebook involves a ton of people working together in Palo Alto. Do they play together, too?
DB: Probably my favorite thing about my first day at Facebook was learning that Facebook employees use the social network to be social. So there are a ton of events going on at any given time - from regular board game nights to tennis clubs to ski clubs.
CZ: Who is your favorite actor, musician, or athlete?
DB: You are going to expose a little bit of my unusualness here. I've been a pianist for a long time and still actually participate in competitions. I have two classical pianists, Evgeny Kissin and Martha Argerich, who are probably my two favorite musicians. I literally travel to follow their concerts around the United States. I am a member of their fan clubs. I've talked to them...Yeah, it's just my big nerdy thing. I love piano.
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Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.
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