07/20/2012 05:54 pm ET Updated Sep 19, 2012

Reports of the Death of Facebook Tabs Greatly Exaggerated

Recently Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes published an article asserting that the introduction of Facebook Timeline marked the end of the useful life of tabs on Facebook Pages, and with it the demise of a rather large industry that has developed around the creation of tabs and applications for brands on Facebook. I have a great deal of respect for Ryan, but I take issue with the conclusions of his article.

Such a bold claim was certainly made in part to spark conversation, which it has, and partly to validate Hootsuite's position within an extremely competitive and often confusing marketplace for tools and platforms all promising to deliver greater "engagement."

As the CEO of Strutta, a company that is a Facebook Preferred Marketing Developer focused on Apps, I clearly have my own biases on this subject. However, I think that I speak not only on behalf of the billion-dollar (and growing) industry that Mr. Holmes declared dead, but also on behalf of all marketers who understand that engagement comes through multiple consumer touch points and various types of interactions over time.

The True Impact of Timeline

Where Ryan and I are in agreement is that the change to Timeline has impacted the role of Facebook tabs. In fact, Facebook itself is clearly pushing marketers to think beyond the tab. I would also agree that forcing marketers to think more deeply about how they engage with fans is a good thing. Where Ryan and I diverge is when it comes to defining engagement and specifically the role tabs play.

His article cites research indicating that engagement with Facebook tabs has decreased 53% since the introduction of Timeline. The problem is that the original data simply illustrates the decrease in views of custom tabs. While it is clearly important to have people see your content, it is a specious conclusion to equate views with engagement.

Marketers can no longer rely on eyeballs coming from a default landing tab on their Page, but what has been lost is largely low engagement interaction. Instead, marketers must provide a reason for users to visit a tab and get creative in how they drive traffic to their applications. The resulting interaction, which comes at the user's discretion, tends to be more genuine and engaged.

Across our client base the level of engagement with tabs, in terms of meaningful user interactions such as people entering or sharing a promotion, is virtually unchanged since the rollout of Timeline to brands. That is because it has always been the case that to get someone to truly engage, beyond simply clicking the Like button, you have to provide compelling content and experiences, whether it be on a tab or elsewhere.

Getting To Meaningful Engagement

As Ryan says, Timeline is forcing marketers to focus on content instead of splashy landing pages. However, as reported in Huffington Post and elsewhere, on average only 16% of fans see any given post a brand makes. So simply posting more content to the news feed is not the answer to greater engagement.

Tools for publishing content and facilitating the management of communication are an essential part of the equation, but so too are platforms that enable content creation and the development of interactive experiences within apps on Facebook. Tabs remain a great place to both host and create content that fans can interact with and share. In many cases this takes the form of user generated content (say in a photo contest) that is arguably more engaging than a generic post published by a brand.

Clients utilize our platform, and others such as Wildfire, largely for promotional marketing, including contests, sweepstakes, and coupons. I won't claim that this is the primary source of consumer engagement with a brand but I would argue that it plays a fundamental role. Creating a genuine, personal dialogue between brands and consumers is one of the great potentials of social media. Nevertheless, consumers still often choose to interact with a brand to receive special offers and discounts, so it would be foolish to ignore.

Brands that have proven most successful at engaging fans over a sustained period of time do so by sharing content, interacting through comments on their Timeline, publishing fun polls and quizzes, and mixing in a healthy dose of engagement oriented applications such as contests.

Yes, Timeline has ushered in a new era of marketing on Facebook. And yes, it will force social media management platforms to adapt. But our industry is alive and well, thank you very much.