Brands to Gain Voice as Facebook Merges Pages and Profiles

Facebook is erasing the distinction between Profiles and Pages. Under the changes, individuals will be allowed to spread content to a wider audience, while Pages owners — including brands, celebrities, politicians and media outlets — will have a greater presence in the activity streams of people who choose to affiliate with them.

The changes are part of a gradual effort by Facebook to enable more unrestricted sharing of content in real-time. In a separate announcement, the company said it will soon transform its home page to include a live, continuously updated activity stream (the current News Feed is typically delayed 10 to 15 minutes) and to give users greater control over what type of information they receive.

Beginning today, Pages operated by CNN, U2, and Barack Obama will be able to engage in activities previously available only to individuals, for instance creating status updates and wall posts. As they use these tools, page owners will likely see more of their content appear in the news feed, where most Facebook users concentrate their attention.

Those Pages will be followed by launch partners such as Lance Armstrong, Adidas, the National Basketball Association, and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

“The old pages were focused on being destination pages — a piece of static content where a brand or person could represent themselves on Facebook,” said Chris Cox, director of product development. He said the new changes will have the effect of “giving these entities a voice.”

Shiv Singh, VP of social media at Razorfish, said the integration of Pages and Profiles will eliminate some confusion for brands and users.

“It’s more similar to MySpace where a brand will be set up as a profile and you can have unlimited number of friends,” Singh told ClickZ. “Facebook tried to be a little clever in having the Pages concept separate… That became a fake difference [as] brand pages were set up to look like profile pages.”

Facebook believes that with time, brands will hone their approach to pushing information to users. Executives emphasized restraint will be required to prevent fans from removing a brand’s information from their activity streams. While Profile and Pages owners are not informed when a person takes such an action, one Facebook product exec said advertisers can optimize their Facebook communications by measuring responses to calls-to-action that are pushed into the activity stream.

Some of the changes announced today seem to bring Twitter-like functions to Facebook. For instance, individuals have previously been limited to 5,000 friends on Facebook. Under changes being introduced, they’ll be able to broadcast content to a potentially unlimited number of recipients, without necessarily receiving information back from them. Such a model is akin to Twitter’s system of followers.

Additionally, Facebook’s decision to make its home page a live reflection of user activity brings it more into line with Twitter’s flow of comments shared in the moment. In his comments today CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company plans to develop more real-time services for its 175 million global active users. Possible examples include location-based services and live interaction within games, he said.

This story has been updated.

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