Facebook announced big changes to what is arguably its most important feature last week. The News Feed is getting a big update in coming weeks (you can get access early by signing up here) with:
- A new look inspired by mobile
- More options for customization
- New challenges and opportunities for marketers
Marketers using Facebook have always had a stake in the News Feed. Whereas most users don’t visit a brand’s page on a regular basis, they often interact with a brand’s content on their own News Feeds. That’s where marketers have the opportunity to get their messages in front of people and the changes will impact how that’s done.
“News Feed is one of the most important services that we’ve built. It takes all the things that your friends are doing and puts them in one place,” said Mark Zuckerberg when introducing the update.
The changes are not revolutionary, but they do follow the current trend of web design—and because it’s Facebook—marketers should be paying attention.
A New Look Inspired by Mobile
Mark Zuckerberg famously stated that Facebook had become a mobile company, and the update to the News Feed follows this sentiment. Users will immediately notice that their mobile and web Facebook experiences are seamless.
Photos take center stage.
The mobile app, which has focused on large visuals, is now consistent with Facebook’s online presence.
During his introduction of the update, Zuckerberg relayed that 50% of the News Feed’s content is photos and visuals. The new News Feed capitalizes on the trend by taking anything that’s visual in nature—photos, maps, events, news articles and even videos—and makes them much bigger.
1. Photos and videos are much bigger and more vibrant. Facebook understands what users are engaging with and making that the focus of the News Feed.
2. Events are more dynamic with larger photos and highlighting attending friends.
3. Shared articles and third-party website content have larger images, longer summaries and bigger headlines. This includes third-party apps like Pinterest.
4. Now, when a story is shared about an individual or a brand, elements beyond the person or brand’s name—the cover photo, thumbnails of friends/fans, etc.—will be displayed to provide additional context.
5. Popular content that many users have interacted with and are talking about is better aggregated, so users will be able to easily see what others have said about a story. Multiple friends sharing the same story will be better aggregated on the left side of a story.
Less Clutter to Focus on Content.
The left-hand navigation that has been part of Facebook’s mobile application is now part of the desktop experience as well. Users will be able to access every Facebook feature without needing to go back to the Facebook home page.
More Options for Customization
Responding to critiques that users were not seeing all of the content shared by friends, the News Feed is now no longer completely controlled only by an algorithm (commonly called EdgeRank). Facebook has added a “Choice of Feeds” option allowing users to switch between different feeds based on the topic.
Facebook’s algorithm, up to this point, chose what users see for them but the update puts users in the driver’s seat, allowing them to choose from:
- All Friends Feed: shows content from all friends
- Music Feed: displays content from favorite musicians, what friends are listening to, upcoming music events, etc.
- Photos Feed: shows photos posted by friends and pages
- Games Feed: displays activity from friends who are playing games, such as achieving a new level
- Following Feed: shows all posts from business pages and public figures followed by a user and articles shared by publications in chronological order
- Other feeds are available, depending on how a user is using Facebook.
Users will still be able to access the algorithm-generated News Feed, but it will be much easier for them to filter out the messages they don’t want to see and view only the content they do, similar to a newspaper with different sections based on your interest. The algorithm-generated News Feed will continue to try to deliver the best content to show an individual user based on past behavior. While this is a feature many users have requested, it will be interesting to see how many actually use it.
Challenges and Opportunities for Marketers
Users now have much more control over how they receive content on Facebook, and this should be a big consideration for marketers. While this presents some obvious challenges around reach, it does spell new opportunities for delivering a better experience and more impactful messaging.
Here’s what marketers should take away:
- Mobile is leading. Facebook’s update shows that mobile is leading its decision-making as the updated News Feed closely follows its mobile counterpart. This creates a seamless experience for users and helps marketers better plan campaigns with the knowledge that the experience will be same no matter where it’s viewed.
- More engaged audience but fewer eyes. User attention will be more fragmented as they spend their time in different News Feed sections. A user who just wants to view content from Facebook friends won’t see a brand’s messages in that section of the News Feed. This will likely decrease the reach of brand posts. Although, this will also mean the users who choose to interact with the feeds that do feature brand content will be more engaged and open to brand messaging.
- Brand messages carry more weight. The updated News Feed increases the size of everything, which means a brand’s messages are also bigger, including the ads. This will increase engagement with branded content.
- Facebook just answered its News Feed algorithm critics. Facebook has come under fire from brands and users for not displaying all of their content in the News Feeds of fans and friends. Facebook’s sections feature changes all of that and allows users to see what they want to see, not what the algorithm deems they should see. Now, it’s up to marketers to make sure their content is what their fans want to see and then seek out.
- Images are more important than ever. Images were already important and this makes them all the more critical. With photos already nearly 50% of News Feed stories, photos will only continue to grow in importance. Marketers should invest in high-quality images. Not only does this help them stand out in this new format, it also allows their content to be displayed in more than just the “Following” section; they will also display in the “Photos” section. This also means making sure your brand page’s cover photo is eye-catching as it will be pulled into user News Feeds when people interact with your page.
- Timing is key. The “Following” feed is now chronological, which means brands should consider posting more frequently and also benchmarking content performance based on time posted. That will ensure content is delivered at the best time possible.
- Consumers will need a reason to engage. Brands will need to give users even more reasons to see what they’re up to. Users can more easily tune them out, which means sharable, compelling content is essential to 1.) get them to check their “Following” section and 2.) generate engagement from fans that will show up in their connections’ “Friends” section.
- Ads will be essential for attention. Users now have more tools at their disposal to avoid brand messages and the 1 billion users on Facebook are still very attractive for marketers. This means marketers will likely need to consider ads to overcome the lost reach as the audience fragments itself across different News Feed sections.