“The design of News Feed hasn’t changed much since 2006, but the world has,” says Robyn Morris, product designer at Facebook. So began the redesign of one of the world’s most popular websites, which is changing its News Feed and Timeline to decrease clutter and create a more immersive experience that encourages users to spend more time on the site.
At the moment, a typical user spends 40 per cent of their time on News Feed, and as the changes are rolled out during the next few months, brands will be presented with both challenges and opportunities.
Facebook global head of brand design Paul Adams says the redesigned version should benefit businesses. “People use Facebook for a variety of reasons but the research we carried out showed that businesses and brands were an important part of the eco-system, so we designed it with that in mind.”
He adds that the new look News Feed “celebrates content” in a way that the last iteration did not. One of the key thrusts of this change is the increased emphasis on the visual experience, designed to remove Facebook’s voice and enable the photos people share to fill the frame.
“Photos are bigger and more visually compelling,” says Adams. “They have always had higher than average levels of engagement so we know they’re more interesting to people.”
Used car network Motors.co.uk is one of the brands seeing success with this approach.
The company increased its Facebook following by 316 per cent during 2012, and had 650 per cent more interactions. One of its biggest successes was the launch of its ‘Motors’ Motor’ campaign, which used short videos to generate interest in competitions. The company received 15,000 entries for its competitions during its 2012 campaign, extending its social media reach to more than 4.9 million people.
Despite Motors.co.uk’s success in this arena, marketing manager Stephen Jury says that Facebook has become a very noisy place, especially because of the increase in News Feed stories with photos from 25 per cent at the end of 2011 to nearly 50 per cent this year.
“We will be focusing even more on sharing the right images at the right time to create engagement and cut-through. Social media should be fun and memorable. If you’ve only got two or three opportunities to get in front of customers through their timelines each day, then you need to make sure you stand out and that the brand positioning is appropriate.”
Ensuring the brand positioning is right is a sentiment that Adams agrees is important as the shift to more visual content takes place. “Independent of the redesign, but even more important as pictures get bigger, is that the types of things images relate to have a close link to the proposition of the business.”
He cites the example of images linked to occasions such as Valentine’s Day or St Patrick’s Day: “They often have nothing to do with the brand or business. Brands will see much better results if the content they create is directly tied to their marketing strategy and their tone of voice and brand pillars.”
Autoglass is another brand that has traditionally focused heavily on visual content. The company, which works with LBi, has more than 13,000 ‘likes’ and uses Facebook for both customer service and engagement.
Its content strategy, called Driver’s Companion, focuses on producing topical content around issues such as fuel prices and pot holes to encourage discussion. Autoglass senior ebusiness manager Christopher Smith says part of the company’s strategy is to include an image or video in most posts. “News Feed’s greater focus on imagery means we will have to find even stronger images. If we want to make an impact, we may have to ensure we have images that people want to engage with and share.”
Pictures for perfection
As photos become larger, Facebook is officially encouraging brands to use the highest quality images they can, optimised for both mobile and web browsing, but Adams seems less concerned about this feature.
“What is more important than resolution or how beautifully photo-shopped an image is, is whether it is authentic – it is more important that they are true to the brand.”
The new design also includes some photo page posts being overlaid with a caption or description rather than the text appearing below, suggesting that shorter text on photo updates will be more effective.
While brands clamour to see whether the new design will place greater emphasis on video, Adams is sceptical. “We’ll have to wait and see. I certainly don’t think the new News Feed design is particularly about video. The thing to remember is that with videos, people have to press play so there is a higher level of effort required – it’s more effort than viewing a picture. The reward from watching a video needs to be greater.”
Smith agrees, adding that Autoglass tends to have more engagement from images than video, but he is keen to see if this changes with the new design. “It may open up new opportunities for us to do more video, especially with larger formats.”
The focus on shareable content will become more pronounced with News Feed’s introduction of filters or feeds, enabling users to drill down to specific content. For example, users can see news from ‘All Friends’, showing everything their friends are sharing, or ‘Photos’, featuring only photos from friends and the pages users ‘like’ or ‘follow’.
Ian Moverley, brand director at Hotpoint, which works with social media consultancy Immediate Future, says: “Users will have far greater control over what they see in their news feeds and can choose to see only friends’ updates and effectively eliminate brand messaging unless, of course, that messaging has been paid for in the form of Facebook advertising or has been shared by another friend.”
He adds that this change has the potential to “seriously impact” the ability of brand updates to get cut-through. Moverley says that producing visually engaging content that drives users to share will become “all the more important” for Hotpoint.
Alex Packham, social media manager at Now TV, the on-demand streaming service launched by BSkyB last year, considers the introduction of the different feeds as a positive move. “It’s likely that posts from a page could be promoted to feature more in certain feeds depending on the message and content, which would be an excellent feature to see.” He says Now TV will leverage these separate feeds depending on which ones prove most popular.
“For example, I would suggest that the photo-only feed will be used more than any other feed, and therefore it will be a better place to push paid content if this advertising feature becomes available. This means we minimise waste in feeds people aren’t using and maximise results on those that are being used.”
In essence, the move simply places more pressure on brands to adhere to one of the golden rules of marketing – serving timely and relevant quality content. Adams is therefore unconvinced that the filters present much of a challenge for brands. “One thing we are talking about a lot is quality not quantity – getting the maximum number of fans is not the goal; the goal is to engage with the maximum number of people who actually care about your brand.
“If you show content to people who really do like your brand and are interested, then you will see really good engagement and that will spread and be shown to more people. It is like a virtuous positive cycle of people saying ‘it’s good content’.”
Another change that will prompt brands to take a fresh look at their strategy is the fact that for both organic and paid page ‘like’ stories, the image that will be displayed in News Feed will be the brand’s cover photo, giving this more prominence. It is therefore even more important that the photo is representative of the brand.
Packham says Now TV will be trying to leverage the cover photo’s increased clout.
“At the moment, our cover photo is updated every Friday to reflect our new releases. With this update, we will be able to increase the reach as the cover photo becomes more prominent, and therefore becomes a marketing feature rather than a look and feel feature on the page. We will also begin incorporating the asset into our bigger campaigns to increase the reach of them on Facebook.”
Overall, brands welcome the redesign as cleaner, more user-friendly and better aggregated, and as Smith at Autoglass says, it raises the bar. “It will prompt us to be smarter and that will hopefully benefit our fans.”
NowTV’s Packham agrees: “[Brands] are going to need to work harder to stand out from the ‘noise’ on Facebook and therefore they will be challenged to create better content. Those that don’t adapt their strategies will be left behind and forced to spend money to reach their consumers.”
Facebook’s Adams believes the biggest challenge for companies is organisational. “Make sure people in your organisation are set up to ensure great quality content with the right media investment. That may mean getting the creative agency, the media agency, the client and even the social agency together and making sure that the organisation is in a place where they can turn around content quickly and adapt as fast as the technology is moving.”
Tips on using the new Facebook
Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg recently said that most of News Feed’s content is now visual. This means making sure all photos a brand uses are of high quality – and marketers must also keep in mind that they will also appear in search.
As the focus of News Feed is now more about engaging content, it is worth having an editorial calendar so that brands can post at relevant times of the year but can also respond to news as it happens. It is also worth encouraging fans to look at their ‘following’ feed.
The new design may take six months to roll out so there is time to plan.
There will be more room in the new design and advertising will show up even when users scroll through their feeds. But it must be noticeable, as Motors.co.uk’s marketing manager Stephen Jury points out.
Brands should make sure they have a plan for how they are going to measure the results of what they are doing. It isn’t too late to start doing this; they will be able to compare the effect of the new design on their Facebook activity.
Be device agnostic
As the number of people accessing the internet on mobile devices continues to grow, the new Facebook design also means users will be met with the same look and feel on mobile, tablet and web. For example, the left-hand menu will be visible on any Facebook page, while users can quickly move to the top of News Feed when new stories arrive.
Now TV social media manager Chris Packham says: “The whole redesign looks like it’s been designed for mobile first and desktop second. This is a huge win for every brand on Facebook. Brands will instantly begin seeing the benefits of increased engagement as the majority of users are browsing the site on mobile in the first place.”
Facebook global head of brand design Paul Adams says taking a device-agnostic approach has been a big focus. “No matter what device people use they will have the same experience – that was a really big goal for the redesign. For brands, that means they don’t have to think about these things anymore. Hopefully we have helped them remove some of the process, and all they need to care about is creating great content and great visual imagery – stuff that is on-brand and on-message.”