Facebook’s face lift still doesn’t cover the scuffs

With the arrival of new visually striking social services such as Instagram, Pinterest and even Google+, Facebook’s news feed had started to look a little dated. In a bid to fill up some of the empty white space with prettiness, make the desktop site more consistent with its mobile apps and encourage users to stay on the site for longer, Facebook last night (7 March) unveiled a major overhaul to the News Feed, the site’s homepage.

Lara O'Reilly

It gives more prominence to the videos and photos users and brands post and allows users to filter the content they see such as news from “all friends”, or updates just about pages, photos, music or games.

By giving more real estate to brands’ posts – which in turn they can pay to promote and become ads that appear in the News Feed – Facebook is hoping the enlarged size will result in higher click-through rates. Various studies suggest brand posts which include photos garner anything from two to three times the engagement rates than text alone on the site.

On the surface the changes look positive for marketers, but there are still some niggles.

One of the more worrying changes for brands is that the new News Feed gives users the options to ignore their messages altogether. The “All Friends” filter could prove to be popular for users fed up with seeing content they didn’t feel they’d asked for. The sidebar of ads – which also has been given a slight refresh – will still remain and this isn’t to say Facebook will not eventually input sponsored posts into such feeds, but it does appear to put across the idea that some posts (those from brands, in the All Friends case) are less important than others. It also puts the emphasis once again on buying ads rather than creating page content designed to be shared organically.

While Facebook has been given a bit of a facelift, some of the crap elements of news feed – and ultimately ads in the news feed – are still there. You can dress them up, give them a bath, ask them to pose at a slightly different angle, but at the end of the day they’re still a bit crap.

A report from the Pew Research Center in the US found 61 per cent of Facebook users had taken several weeks away from the site recently as Facebook fatigue begins to set in. It appears while users originally flocked to the site to catch up with best friends and get updates about major life moments from others who aren’t so close, they have become tired of the constant invites to partake in social games or incessant updates about toddler potty training (admittedly, those two are a little anecdotal).

Those irritants won’t go away and what’s worse, on the visual front, those grainy pictures of “Poppy’s first potty poo” will be maximised for everyone in the office to see. As with Facebook’s announcement of Timeline in 2011: Mark’s Zuckerberg’s Facebook looks beautiful, full of hi-res images of beautiful holiday resorts and intellectual commentary from the world’s greatest minds, whereas our own are littered with blurry camera phone photos taken in nightclubs and ironic brands we once liked to make our profile pages look witty which at the time we didn’t realise would be updating us with daily product news later down the line.

On the ad front Chris Cox, Facebook’s vice president of product, said nothing about ads in the feed is changing apart from their size – and presumably their price later down the line if CTRs do start to increase. This seems a shame because as much as Facebook tries to convince the world every sponsored post is a “story”, there are still little options for interaction beyond a like, share or comment. In fact, the ads still seem to be behind display as far as innovation is concerned – where are the interactive, clickable, gamifying features?

Ultimately, Facebook hopes the changes will increase users’ time on the site, which will in turn plumpen up its attractiveness to advertisers. The makeover of News Feed certainly looks visually appealing but the site may need to ensure being beautiful does not come at the cost of its relationship with brands.

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