illustration_of_facebook_iconLike it or not, Facebook’s threaded conversations will now play a role in your brand or business’s marketing online strategy.

The social media network recently launched its highly anticipated threaded comments feature for all brand and business pages. And as of right now, page owners can opt-in to activate replies, but as of July 10, 2013, if you’re a page owner, you’ll be forced to partake in the switch.

According to Facebook, these threaded comments and replies are meant to improve conversations throughout the network. But before you choose, or are forced, to participate, you need to understand how the threads are going to work. You should also realize that while more organization and engagement means an increase in quality discussions (and hopefully conversions), there can also be some negative implications that you need to be conscious of to protect your brand or business’s reputation and credibility.

What You Need to Know About Threaded Conversations

Instead of the chronological comment stream users are familiar with, the new conversation threads are displayed using a more socially-centered algorithm. As a page owner or manager, these improved conversations will allow you to reply directly to your engaged audience instead of tagging them with an answer at the end of a chronological comment stream. This eliminates the user’s difficulty in finding answers and participating in relevant discussions, providing an improved user experience.

From one person to the next, it’s important to know that threads can appear entirely different. Comments are displayed based on several factors, including positive feedback, connections and negative feedback.

Positive feedback may launch a reply to the top of the thread. These comments will likely have more replies and likes compared to other post comments. This social rank reminds me of comment replies and upvotes on Reddit – posts and comments are often displayed based on their popularity within a particular sub-reddit community.

Social connections also serve as a method of organization. If a user’s friend comments on a post, they might see that post before a comment from someone out of their network. For example, if I happen to see a post from my favorite local restaurant, and several of my friends have already commented on the post, it’s likely that their comments will appear higher in my unique thread as opposed to a user who is not connected to anyone in the conversation.

Negative feedback will likely cause a comment to decrease in visibility and position within the conversation thread. Fighting the uphill battle against spammers, if users and page owners mark comments as spam, the comment will hopefully fall to the bottom of the conversation, assuming you decide not to delete it entirely. Facebook may also decrease the rank of comments made by recurrent spammers automatically.

The Pros: Engagement, New Marketing Initiatives and a Sense of Community

Quality Conversations Can Increase Visibility and Engagement

I think that it’s safe to assume that if a page visitor sees a post with intriguing and interesting replies on display, they’re more likely to stop and join the conversation. This can equate to more brand awareness as well as increased engagement with your audience.

In Facebook’s old comment structure, these valuable insights from users and page owners tended to get lost in the noise. Threaded conversations eliminate the clutter because more relevant conversations are likely to appear at the top.

Conversations between users, given that they use the reply function properly, are also grouped together instead of in one confusing chronological stream.

Threads Can Lead to New Marketing Initiatives

Have you ever used Twitter for a brand or business live Q&A or tweet chat? Threaded conversations now make it easier to hold interactive events similar to Twitter chats on your Facebook page. Events can be held in the same Twitter fashion, but Facebook opens up the conversation with opportunities for more extensive replies and rich media responses. You are no longer limited to 140 characters. You can also reply to each person individually, instead of at the end an insanely long comment thread or through individual wall posts. Let’s face it, conversing on Facebook can be time consuming – but hopefully, not anymore!

If you decide to hold a Q&A or other live marketing initiative to engage your Facebook audience, be sure to promote it to your other social networking audiences. These efforts will help drive traffic and participation to your Facebook page from a previously untapped audience, which will lead to a higher social standing. Remember, your page’s social interaction is about to get way more important with the implementation of Facebook’s Graph Search!

Conversations Create a Sense of Community

Have you ever lurked on or participated in an online forum or message board? These online outlets are threaded based on posts and replies. They are also known to foster some of the strongest online communities because people can interact directly with one another in an organized fashion.

Facebook threaded conversations may have the same effect. Since users and page owners can now directly reply to one another, it’s easier to read other replies and opinions. This ease of use and increased communication can build the foundation of a real personal relationship between users because of your business and brand. Users will finally be able to easily identify other community members who are interested in the same products or services as well as those who share the same opinions as they do.

The Cons: Negativity, Confusion and Tech Difficulties

Negative Comments Can Rise to the Top

Since positive and interesting comments can rise to the top of a post’s threaded conversation, negative comments can do the same. Like I mentioned earlier, Facebook’s comment ranking algorithm protects against spam, but it doesn’t protect against harsh criticism.

Think about it. Let’s pretend you just posted an open ended question or comment about your latest product or service. If a user comments on the post with a negative review, and other members of your community agree, the comment can easily rise to the top of the thread. Even if people are disputing the original negative comment, Facebook will still think the post is popular based on the quantity, not quality or content, of the replies. If this unfavorable comment receives plenty of replies and likes, it may very well be the first thing other users read after they read your post.

Conversations Can Get Confusing

Since users are used to chronological conversations on Facebook, conversations might seem confusing during the first few months of implementation. This is especially true since the feature is currently unavailable on individual profile pages with less than 10,000 followers. Users won’t be accustomed to popular posts appearing at the top of a conversation with less popular and spammy comments appearing at the bottom.

Threaded conversations also only have the capability for one sublevel. Users and page owners can reply to an original comment, but other users cannot reply directly to those replies. Replies to replies (confusing, I know) can be compared to the original comment structure as they are in chronological order. Conversations within a reply thread can get messy if there are several participants weighing in on the discussion. Facebook really needs to add further threading capabilities in the future.

Threaded Conversations Are Only Available on Desktops

With the official launch announcement of threaded conversations, Facebook declared that this feature is currently only available to users accessing the site via a desktop computer.

Yes, that means that all users accessing Facebook through their mobile and tablet apps will not see threaded conversations (unless they opt to view the full site on their browser). This is a huge disadvantage for mobile users because they will be viewing an even more jumbled-up conversation than before! Since desktop users are using the reply feature, they will likely not tag the person they are speaking to, making it hard for mobile users to follow the conversations.

It remains to be seen if threaded conversations will be a benefit or detriment to brand and business page owners. What do you think this new feature will do for your brand or business page? Will you opt-in early to get a little practice and opportunity to develop related marketing strategies before July?

By Adrienne Erin