Last week Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg announced a revamp to its homepage News Feed feature, with plans to roll it out to users across the world, across multiple devices in the coming weeks. In this post we give an overview of the changes and examine some of the implications this will have for brands and digital marketers.

This latest update to the News Feed is perhaps Facebook’s biggest ever overhaul of its homepage. Facebook has made changes to the News Feed before, not all of them welcomed by its users. The changes in this update, amount to more than a visual refresh, substantially altering the functionality of the homepage. These changes can be divided into three areas: changes to the visual layout, menus and use of space; convergence of aesthetics across devices; and the introduction of ‘Streams’ or themed feeds. Zuckerberg stated that they aimed to; “give everyone in the world the best personalised newspaper we can”.

Increased visual impact.

Facebook says that the main drive behind these changes is a desire to declutter.

It’s true that over the years a number of features have been added to the News Feed with only minor cosmetic changes to accommodate them. Now the left-side bar has been drastically reduced in size and Facebook have opted for a collapsible tray of bookmarks and groups, which also incorporates the Chat feature. The right-hand sidebar, former home to various notifications, suggestions and ads, is now a streamlined gateway to the News Feed Streams.

The upshot of this is much more screen real estate in the central column, which Facebook has used to “take these tiny little thumbnails and blow them up” allowing for richer, bigger and more visually-oriented posts. At the launch, Mark Zuckerberg noted; “now that we all have cameras in our pockets, news feed has become primarily about visual content. Almost 50% of content in the news feed is visual.”

The redesign puts more emphasis on what friends are sharing, with a more consistent feel across content, whether it is sharing a brand page, a location check-in, or an external news article.

A consistent user experience.

Facebook has also taken the decision to rationalise the design of the News Feed across devices. The left-hand collapsible tray, an element found in its mobile apps, now features on larger-screens, meaning that the experience feels the same across devices. This is important, not least because, in many parts of the world mobile access to Facebook far outstrips that of desktop. It also encourages users to continue their engagement with the site wherever they go.

Enhanced user content control.

Facebook has gone to great lengths to remove many of the visual bells and whistles, which make the current homepage feel cluttered. However, in doing this it is debatable as to whether they are making the functionality of the page more complicated with the introduction of sub feeds (the jury’s out on what to call them).

The four main feeds are All Friends, Photos, Music, and Following, with the addition of any other list, group or network you might be part of. The rationale behind these categories is clear - Facebook needs to find a way to compete with the likes of Twitter, Pinterest, Flickr and Spotify - and it wants to overcome criticisms that users don’t have enough “control over the stories that they see.”

What does this mean for brands?

These changes have the potential to make a big difference to how brands and advertisers operate on the platform, despite the fact that Facebook have played down any suggestion that they are designed to keep users online for longer and therefore increase advertising revenue.

Content is King.

Firstly, the visual changes - big images and big videos - mean that brands have more room to get creative. Not only is there more opportunity, there is more impetus to come up with higher quality content. Also, as visibility of brand posts increases so does the need to become even more relevant. Page Cover Photos are now displayed when it is shared or liked by a friend.

The emphasis on sharing, and the equality afforded to different kinds of posts and shares, means that brands now have to compete for attention. Users can now filter out brand pages using the All Friends Feed, so increasingly brands will rely on creating engaging, sharable content in order to appear in this feed.

With the new News Feed, Facebook may be changing the way that it chooses featured posts and articles, basing it more on the quality of external content such as blogs, the relevance of links, and the recommendations of friends. Brands will have to balance the quality of posts with the frequency to ensure that they are both relevant and visible.

What does this mean for advertisers?

The redesign means big things for advertisers, too. There is a clear de-emphasis of sidebar ads in favour of in-stream advertising.

New advertising formats.

Sponsored posts are not new, but they are now given equal weight and real estate as user posts. Research has shown that the modern web user’s eyes are trained to avoid sidebar advertising. Inline sponsored ads have been shown to be more effective and a greater revenue stream for Facebook, but they are more expensive. Consequently, advertisers will have to be very careful, and more creative, about the design of ads to reduce interruption to the user.

Facebook has learnt from the success of in-stream advertising across its mobile platform. Implementing this design across devices should make it easier for marketers to plan more holistic and efficient campaigns. Facebook will aim to extend the variety of paid mobile offerings, sponsored stories, page post ads, and app install units to desktop and beyond.

Filtering down to user’s interests.

Facebook is taking a risk with the introduction of filters that separate friends’ posts from those of organisations, but it’s a strategy designed to reassure users, at a time of increasing monetisation of the platform.

However, this might benefit savvy advertisers, who could creatively target ads, for example, displaying certain ads when viewing the music or games streams. Also, advertisers can be more confident that users will be receptive to their advertising messages when specifically opting to view the Following stream.

One to watch.

Little has been said about how video might feature in future Facebook advertising strategies. There has been talk of auto-playing and interactive videos, which open up further opportunities for creative advertising and marketing.

What’s next?

Facebook has been noticeably coy about what impact these changes may have on brands and advertisers, preferring to emphasise the improvements to user experience. However, it is likely that advertising features and packages will be discussed more in the coming weeks. We’ll make sure to keep you up-to-date as more details are released to help you make the most of Facebook to connect and engage with audiences online.