By Amy Peterman, Associate Media Director, and Karri Wells Wane, Senior Community Manager at 360i
Facebook’s biggest News Feed change in years reflects the platform’s attempt to evolve from content aggregator to the world’s biggest and best “personalized newspaper.” The more visual, organized and platform-consistent facelift ushers in an improved user experience that is designed to make all content more engaging — including ads.
The latest News Feed update establishes Facebook’s vision to create a one-stop social publication where users receive real-time information across a variety of topics from various sources — quality content from established sources and social content from family and friends. Facebook has been moving in this direction for quite some time, as aggregating so much content within a single feed has created a cluttered environment that has presented challenges for brands and users alike. Larger content types will lead to a more focused layout above the fold and filtered feeds will give users more control to drill down into the specific content buckets of their choice.
The facelift will provide a more streamlined experience for users, improving their experience within the site and possibly encouraging them to interact with more content. As the platform moves toward a more visual design, content strategy will be as important as ever for brands. Advertisers will also welcome the new canvas, which will allow them to serve their ads within larger units — and in the future, perhaps reach consumers through newly unlocked inventory.
What’s New with the News Feed
Facebook has outlined three key changes that come with the revamped News Feed:
Richer stories, meaning more vibrant and visual posts in the News Feed. Facebook is increasing the size of shared photos and allotting more real estate for shared articles through larger thumbnail images and longer descriptions. Places check-ins will also get a visual facelift — and will now include a map and description so users can better explore their friends’ locations. Third-party applications like Pinterest will receive the same visual treatment and stand out more prominently within the page.
Facebook will even mimic newspapers in that the most important content will be highlighted via larger images and thus receive greater prominence within the feed. Content shared by multiple friends will stand out more within the News Feed, and it will be easy to toggle and review friends’ comments about the popular topic.
“Choice of Feeds,” organized by topic or media type. Users will now have their choice of feeds — really filters — from which they can browse content. Feed types include expected buckets, such as Events, Sports, Photos and Music — and even Friends and Following (posts from Pages and public figures). Content within the Following feed will be organized chronologically, and the feed listing itself will be ordered based on how often the user browses each feed. The main News Feed will continue to function as it always has — serving content that is most relevant to that user — and will be the default view each time a user opens Facebook.
Cross-platform consistency. Facebook is more closely mirroring its desktop UI with that of its mobile/tablet experience. Visual cues and the general design aesthetic across all devices will be uniform.
Implications for Content & Community Management
For brands, the more visual, magazine-like design places greater emphasis on content marketing strategy. The ability to filter the News Feed gives fans more control over the content that they are served, so brands should strive to continue to develop interesting and engaging content that will increase visibility across filtered feeds via the “Choice of Feeds” option.
The same rules still apply: focus on engagement and content. Engagement — liking, commenting and sharing — will help surface content across other feeds. For instance, if a user shares a post from your brand, it will appear organically in that user’s Friends feed. Moreover, content is still king. Brands should consider investing in higher premium content as richer images and video content will draw more attention in the main News Feed. Strong photos will be critical to stand out within the dedicated Photos feed.
EdgeRank still matters — and, more than ever, so does timing. Facebook’s News Feed is changing but its News Feed algorithm is not. Content served within the main News Feed will have a new look, but the way content is surfaced will not change. Beyond the main News Feed, content shared within the Following feed will be served in chronological order — similar to a Twitter stream. Since content is displayed differently in this feed, brands may consider increasing their posting frequency and thinking more deeply about how they can participate in cultural conversations as they happen.
Make cover photo updates as needed. Page Like Stories (organic and paid) will now display the cover photo of your brand’s Page to provide more content about the community. Given this update, brands will want to utilize cover photo imagery that visually represents the brand.
Remember to test and learn as the platform continues to evolve. Facebook’s new format for presenting, sorting and discovering content may impact how users engage with branded content. As a result, Page admins and content creators should continue to use past performance data to inform content strategies, but also experiment with different types of content and publishing frequency. In the immediate future, brands will likely see no significant impact on reach or engagement, either positive or negative, as Facebook has indicated that it will gradually roll out and monitor how the aesthetic changes impact key metrics. Of note, Facebook states that, “Any change we make to News Feed is always meant to increase user engagement with Facebook and with content.”
Implications for Media
The aesthetic changes to Facebook’s UI will have little immediate impact on the way media is bought and delivered within the platform. Although users now have the option to browse content by filter type, the default view will continue to present the same general News Feed as users are accustomed to seeing. What will change — and for the better — is the way in which media is displayed.
Bigger content will lead to bigger ads in the general News Feed. Facebook assumes users will interact most with the general News Feed — and that’s good news for advertisers, whose ads will be even more prominent via larger, more eye-catching images. Page posts, ads and sponsored stories are also becoming more visual, giving marketers a larger creative canvas to reach people in the most engaging placements of the site. Ads on the right-hand side will also be wider, with clearer calls to action.
The new News Feed filters will be ad-free — for now. At this time, no ads will appear within the new filtered feeds (i.e. Photos, Friends or Following). Paid opportunities are also not currently available in the Following feed — where only organic Page posts will appear. Advertising opportunities there could become available though later this year.
Facebook’s revamped News Feed will roll out in phases, so advertisers will likely see no immediate changes to ad distribution and volume. The mobile app roll-out is expected to be complete in March, and the Desktop view will be more slowly introduced to users as Facebook determines its affect on engagement. The update does not involve Graph Search, and thus Sponsored Results will continue to operate as they do currently.
With this latest News Feed redesign, the company that first introduced “It’s Complicated” is making the browsing experience simpler — or at least more manageable — for users. By promoting more discovery and easier navigation of content, Facebook is hoping that the update will keep users within the environment for longer periods of time and encourage more frequent visits. If user behavior follows this hypothesis, brands will see more opportunities to reach highly targeted users that are engaged within the platform through both paid and earned media.
While the announcement upholds current best practices when it comes to content and community management and revealed no new advertising opportunities, some important questions remain for marketers. From an earned media perspective, marketers will be eager to see how the “Choice of Feeds” menu will impact consumer behavior. Will users spend more time within these niche feeds, or continue to spend most of their time within the general News Feed? From a media perspective, the presence of niche feeds seems to unlock new inventory for advertisers — and though nothing has been announced, recent developments such as the testing of auto-play video units could signify more high-impact advertising opportunities ahead. Moreover, niche feeds could open the door for additional user behavior insight and placement targeting opportunities for advertisers. User behavior will always be valued by the algorithm for ad delivery in News Feed, and advertisers now will be able to expand on those learnings.