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Facebook inches towards Twitter with Branch, Potluck acquisition

Facebook's addition of link-sharing services Branch and Potluck aim to bring the social network in line with Twitter on the real-time conversation front.

The move could give Facebook a stronger presence in real-time postings, where it had been unable to keep pace with Twitter. Branch and Potluck will form Facebook's conversations group as the social media giant continues to build it mobile social offerings.

"The acquisition of Potluck and Branch could have a substantial impact on Facebook?s ability to compete with Twitter in the area of real-time conversations," said Chicago-based Jay Hawkinson, senior vice president of emerging products for SIM Partners. "These tools will allow users to start conversations on topics which are seeing significant engagement across the Web and invite both friends and non-friends alike to participate. 

"The non-friend invitation is a big jump for Facebook, which has traditionally reserved those capabilities for users who were already friends on the platform," he said.

"Second, and equally important, this move demonstrates Facebook?s play for improving content by capturing conversations; an imperative step for Facebook and marketers alike as they try to provide quality content trumping Internet memes and other lesser items that can clog users? Newsfeeds," Mr. Hawkinson said. "Doing so will help to retain and grow Facebook?s user base."

Mr. Hawkinson is not affiliated with Facebook, Branch or Potluck. He commented based on his expertise.

Facebook could not be reached for comment.

Branch and Potluck declined to comment.

Expanding its presence
On his Facebook page, Josh Miller, chief executive of Branch, wrote: "After two years building Branch and Potluck, I am thrilled to announce that we will be continuing our mission at Facebook ... with the goal of helping people connect with others around their interests. Their pitch to us was: "Build Branch at Facebook scale!"

Branch is a platform for hosting and publishing invite-only conversations. Potluck is a Web and mobile app designed for friends to hang out and talk about cool things they find online, according to Branch Media, the parent company of Branch and Potluck.

Marketers and news media look to real-time conversations, as opposed to random postings, to monitor trends, interests and actions.

Twitter has been the leader in real-time postings.

It is unclear how Facebook will utilize Branch and Potluck at this point. 

"They've made it clear that this is a talent acquisition so they may be building something similar to Branch and Potluck directly within Facebook or they may just be interested in their development team," Mr. Hawkinson said.

"The obvious change will be adding the ability to use these services in direct conjunction with Facebook," he said. "To this point, Branch specifically has been integrated with Twitter, but not with Facebook. That should change quickly."

Facebook introduced videos and hashtags last June. 

Varying its options
Mobile consumption of video is quickly growing, which is why Facebook introduced a video feature for its Instagram photo-sharing app last June.

Around the same time, Facebook announced that it was making hashtags in its timelines clickable. 

Those moves made it appear that the social network was looking for ways to enhance both the user experience and marketing opportunities (see story).

"Throughout 2013, we heard about how hashtags had become the unifying force in an increasingly fragmented social world," said Roger Katz, CEO of Friend2Friend, San Francisco. "The social world is using hashtags to not only communicate personal ideas and feelings in the 'here and now', but also to search and follow categories and brands of interest. 

"From being the sole domain of Twitter, they've now extended to every popular social network," he said. "At last year's Super Bowl, half the TV ads included hashtags, designed to generate real time conversation during that event. 

"Without hashtags, Facebook was missing out on the chance to have the platform participate in all that activity, and to offer a solution to brands riding the hashtag behavioral wave with seeded outreach. "

Final Take
Kari Jensen is staff writer on Mobile Marketer, New York