Summary:

Last year, it became clear that Facebook is well on its way to becoming a social operating system underlying our digital lives. And the enh…

Ben Elowitz, Founder and CEO, Wetpaint

Last year, it became clear that Facebook is well on its way to becoming a social operating system underlying our digital lives. And the enhanced Facebook Open Graph makes that vision a reality.

My company, Wetpaint, was fortunate to participate in a beta phase with Facebook and be a launch partner with The Washington Post (NYSE: WPO) social reader project; in the process, we have gotten a glimpse of how to build media for a fully social web, and it’s had a dramatic impact on our business.

We have learned that without question, there is a ton to be gained in audience acquisition, branding, and retention by integrating into the Open Graph. And, based on the few months’ head start we’ve had, I wanted to provide a brief guide to what has worked, and explain how to take full advantage of the Open Graph.

Here, then, are the four most important elements:

1. Determine what’s inherently social in what you do for your audience – This is the most important part, and it’s not easy, because people don’t want to share everything they read online. Rather, they share the things that are helpful to others, or contribute to their public identity.

Don’t fight it. Work with it, instead. Provide content your audiences will use to define themselves and enhance their reputations as a curator. With your content, what specifically can they share, and what can it say about them?

I especially like this item from a cousin who recently posted this recipe for fried Coke (what? oh yes!). If you think it means she’s a southern gourmet, you’d be right: she makes the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. And posting recipes like this makes sure we all know about her decadent down-home style.

People also respond to things that make them smile. Who wouldn’t like a picture of a cat laughing with a dinosaur? Sharing it makes a statement about what gems you can find, what loops you’re in, what makes you chuckle, and that you like brightening your friends’ day.

We are thumbs-up with things that back our opinions, or show we are in the know about things that are important to how we want to be perceived. For a news site, this means interests and causes that we want to support; and, for a sports site, it’s our tribal badging and admiration of teams and players.

And for games, movies, and events, it’s more about sharing something special together. Whether a concert or a conference, convening with others turns content into an experience. The phenomenon of Social TV that we see at Wetpaint, and throughout all TV programming, is proof positive that media events are made to be shared.

2. Start thinking in verbs – other than “Like” – To date, publishers have been focused on the page. Now it’s time to think about the interaction – not just with the page, but with the content. Think in verbs. Facebook has suggested a handful of obvious ones. Your audience should “watch” videos; “listen to” songs; and “read” articles. But beyond that, you can also add your own creative alternatives: “view” photo galleries, “lust for” celebrities, “OMG” scenes on TV, “vote for” reality TV contestants. All of these help define a relationship between your audience and what they love. And as a publisher, you get to take credit for that introduction and its viral distribution among a user’s circle.

3. Own objects, not just content – In the now-more-open Open Graph world, the objects of our affections are no longer just dumb pages. Rather, you can define objects in the real-world – with the promise of improving Facebook’s and your audience’s connections to them, and to you. As with the examples above, the limit of what you can define is constrained only by your creativity; however, the focus should be on objects that are natural social extensions of your consumer experience. Don’t try to socialize objects that no one wants to share – I don’t want to circulate that I “zero balanced” my “bank account.”

4. Live in Facebook’s world – It’s not really just Zuckerberg’s world … it’s your users’ world, too. 500 million Facebook users are logging in every day, and spend seven hours per month (on average) on Facebook. That’s why it’s important to create an experience that blends with the social world; and that experience needs to be connected, and in real-time. The more you integrate into Facebook’s clearing house, the more you can benefit from seamless transitions, access to connected user data, and user expectations of implicit sharing. Facebook Connect is critical; as is earning the Likes to be in a relationship with your audience. When you do that, you can program your users’ news feeds. At Wetpaint, we average 30 impressions per fan per month. I’ve never had that much communication in any of my relationships with friends or family (much to my mother’s dismay, which she reminds me of all the time), yet our consumers have it with us all year long. And, beyond the news feed, creating a Facebook canvas app (we’re working on a new one now) means you can truly be everywhere your audience wants you to be – both in Facebook and on the Web.

With the new Open Graph features, a short-term way of thinking about the opportunity is that you are integrating into Facebook’s technical architecture. But a far more meaningful – and, ultimately, more beneficial – way of thinking about it for both your users and your business is that you are integrating into your users’ lives.

I overheard someone at last year’s F8 event say that Facebook is no longer “Face”-book, it’s really becoming “Life”-book. It’s that level of integration with real life that can create the most powerful opportunities for the next era of the Web.

Ben Elowitz (@elowitz) is co-founder and CEO of Wetpaint, a web publisher, and author of the Digital Quarters blog. Prior to Wetpaint, Elowitz co-founded Blue Nile, the online retailer of luxury goods. He is also an angel investor in various media and e-commerce companies.

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