Facebook on Thursday unveiled a revamped news feed that gives users new ways of filtering content and features a more streamlined, visually focused design across the desktop and mobile devices.
The new look is the first major overhaul of the news feed since it was launched in 2006, bringing changes that could give advertisers richer branding opportunities as well as encourage users to spend even more time on the social network.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has described the news feed as one of the “three pillars of the Facebook ecosystem,” along with newer Timeline and Graph Search features. But the news feed is still the site's defining feature -- the main way people interact on Facebook.
With more photo-centric social properties like Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr gaining popularity in recent years, Facebook wants to ensure the news feed remains a strong draw.
Introducing the updated news feed at a press event at Facebook headquarters today, Zuckerberg explained the redesign was guided by three factors: letting people tell richer “stories,” providing a choice of feeds, and offering a consistent look and feel across platforms.
“The new design today reflects the evolving face of news feed,” he said. Since the end of 2011, almost half the content in the average news feed is photos and other is image-based material.
Beyond offering more immersive visual experience, the retooled news feed also makes it easier for users to track individual feeds sorted by categories including photos, music, all friends, close friends and games. The site already provides some of these content-specific feeds on the left side of the page, but they get more emphasis in the new design.
A new “Following” feed, showing all posts from the pages and public figures someone is following on Facebook in chronologic order could prove especially appealing to brands. It offers the chance for greater visibility and engagement at a time when Facebook has come under criticism for limiting the reach of organic posts in favor of paid ones via the news feed algorithm.
Having the Following feed posts appear in chronologic order could be aimed at sidestepping marketer complaints about Facebook using its algorithm to surface content.
Chris Cox, Facebook’s vice president of product, pointed out that the news feed revamp carried over many changes already made on the mobile side. “A lot of what you’re seeing is a very mobile-inspired Web design,” he said, noting that mobile devices require a cleaner design because of the limited screen real estate.
Cox said people will see the same news feed across the Web, mobile phones and tablets.
For marketers, the news feed refresh makes including high-quality images and videos more important than ever. Facebook has long advised companies that people tend to engage more with photo-centric posts.
In addition, Page Like stories in the news feed will now display the cover photo of brand pages. “That means brands need to focus more on the visual elements of their timeline cover photo, as well as individual posts,” noted Amanda Peters, head of social media at iCrossing. She added that brands often fall back on stock photos, but that generic images don’t help brands differentiate themselves.
In relation to the new feeds, Simon Mansell, CEO of Facebook ad partner TBG Digital, welcomed the Following feed, but raised a question about whether feeds focused on posts from friends only would draw most of users’ attention. “Standing out will be harder for brands as a result, but it’s probably a better user experience,” he said.
Peters also expressed disappointment that Facebook didn’t say more about new ad options tied to the news feed redesign. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see new ad units developed for specific feeds like Photos and Following,” she said. “Advertisers have been looking for more dynamic ad units and I’m confident we’ll see what that looks like very soon.”
Facebook has begun rolling out the updated news feed on the desktop on a limited basis and will begin doing so on mobile phones and tablets in the next few weeks. Cox emphasized the rollout will go slowly, as it tweaks the design in response to initial user feedback before extending the changes more widely.