If it hadn’t been a day full of disruptions -- school delays, rescheduled meetings, and a cat that can’t decide whether to stay in or go out -- I might have spent much of it refreshing Facebook to see if the new Newsfeed, announced yesterday, has presented itself to me.
So far, it hasn’t.
Because that’s the case, what follows is wildly speculative, but, hey -- everything else that’s been written about Facebook’s new Newsfeed is wildly speculative, anyway. So here I go with a few thoughts on what the Newsfeed could mean for advertisers and media companies.
First, let me describe how the new Newsfeed will work. The first of two changes users will first notice is that, with its new Newsfeed, Facebook has officially become platform-agnostic, with a tilt in the direction of mobile. Even on the desktop, the new Newsfeed will feature that black nav bar that pops out on the left on mobile devices -- one part of the mobile experience that’s just always been better. The second obvious change is that everything visual (including ads, of course) in the Newsfeed will be bigger, in an affirmation of how the Pinterests, Tumblrs and Instragrams of the world -- aided and abetted by smartphones -- have made social an increasingly visual medium. (Fascinating factoid about the old Newsfeed: it took up less than 40% of the screen, even though we all know that’s where the action is.)
That said, I couldn’t help wonder how other aspects of the new Newsfeed, which aren’t quite as readily apparent to the user, will change how Facebook works for advertisers and media companies. For the first time, Facebook will allow people to easily segment their Newsfeeds, in categories ranging from “All Friends” to “Photos” to “Sports.” As Debra Aho Williamson rightly told Ad Age, it’s unclear how popular that feature will end up being.
But, after watching the press conference yesterday, I came away thinking what a fascinating intersection between the social graph and the interest graph this could end up being for advertisers. Facebook will order the different newsfeeds according to which one each user uses most. So, in case there was any doubt, Facebook will have one more way of tracking who loves sports, and also a way that didn’t exist before of placing ads in contextually relevant locations. Surely, sports-related ads could be served to Facebook’s cadre of sports fanatics anywhere in their experience on Facebook, but in a digital world ruled by behavioral targeting at the expense of context, a combination of the two could prove powerful -- even if more segmented feeds, once again, rewrite advertising metrics on Facebook so that advertisers don’t necessarily get the reach they are accustomed to.
I wasn’t expecting several changes that could turn out to be significant positives for media companies because, without paying a dime to Facebook, the new Newsfeed gives them more prominence. It’s probably no coincidence that, if you watch the news conference, you often see the presenters slipping into media metaphors. Mark Zuckerberg talked about the new Newsfeed as “a personalized newspaper.” Director of design Julie Zhou talked about how, from now on, when content from publishers is shared, it will resemble “the table of contents of a well-curated magazine”: big headlines, big photos, even the media company’s logo. Further, content from the same publisher will be packaged together, making for a much more powerful presence for publishers whose work is most shareable.
The redesign also gives more prominence to content that is going viral. Of course, anyone’s content has that potential, but this also plays into the hands of media companies who make truly shareable content. Not a bad deal.
To close, I’ll mention that it also occurred to me that the more hierarchical Facebook content becomes, the more likely that some content will be more popular than ever before -- while, on the other hand, more content will likely be relegated to obscurity. After all, if Facebook is doing a better job of surfacing and packaging really popular content, and giving users more control over what they see in their Newsfeed, it should have major ramifications for content distribution.
Or maybe I’m just flat-out wrong. At least I said early on in this column that it was highly speculative.