Facebook's redesigned and filtered news feeds have failed to draw major accolades or critiques, but numerous questions as to what the changes portend for Facebook's future linger. Beyond the obvious improvements to the user interface, the most pressing questions following last week's news revolve around the need for new revenue, and for Facebook that means advertising.
If Facebook truly wants to become a "personalized newspaper," as CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during the press briefing, it will have to fill more space on those virtual pages with ads. And although Zuckerberg says Facebook doesn't want to "push more stuff into the home page" because the site is already running at the optimal ratio between ads and content, brands will certainly want to take advantage of the more immersive timelines with equally engaging ads.
"We haven't changed anything in regards to advertisers other than what the stories look like, and that wasn't necessarily due to advertisers," Julie Zhuo, director of product design at Facebook, tells ClickZ following the announcement. "It's just that across the board we wanted to make the stories richer and more visual, and we think that's what users will like so all stories are going to get that richer treatment."
By enabling users to filter news feeds by content type or source, Facebook could eventually be opening up the more targeted feeds to ads, but there are no immediate plans to show ads outside of the primary news feed. Leaving the news feeds - friends, photos, music, and following - unchanged means users now have access to ad-free timelines of content that they've implicitly requested to receive on the platform.
While Chris Cox, VP of product at Facebook, says it would be easier to have ads appear in all the feeds, Facebook is still thinking about how it can allow advertisers to place media in certain feeds based on their target audience. He declined to provide more insight into how Facebook might leverage the custom feeds for new ad revenue, but did not dismiss the notion outright.
"I think that companies always play a very delicate dance between user experience and ad dollars," David Steinberg, founder and CEO at XL Marketing, tells ClickZ.
"If you look at what's happening right now, Facebook and the ecosystem that exists around it is totally and completely focused on building a better user experience," he adds.
Steinberg also takes into account the numerous features that Facebook borrowed from its mobile products for the redesigned news feeds. "I don't think they're reorganizing for a mobile-only experience, but I think they're reorganizing for a large percentage to be mobile," says Steinberg.
Although mobile ad revenue "might not catch up" with online ad revenue "for a very long time," Steinberg says that Facebook has also "rolled out this new platform that allows you to do a better job of behavioral targeting in mobile."
Instead of highlighting how the redesign might impact a particular ad product, Steinberg says advertisers are more interested in how Facebook is improving its ability to track and target behavioral targeting overall.
"Visual content is extremely important for brands on Facebook, and these changes emphasize this even further. Images will now be much more prominent, challenging marketers to stretch their creativity," notes Jordan Stone, strategy director at We Are Social. "That said, increased visibility means that brands need to be more relevant than ever. They still need to work hard to make the experience more immersive and engaging. A stream of irrelevant content or ill-conceived sponsored posts will be noticed quickly by consumers."
While Facebook's latest moves may have little to do with brands or advertising on the surface, marketers and other executives in social media are filling in the blanks and focusing on Facebook's need to maintain its leadership position in social without alienating its core user base.
"They're evolving their product based on users," says Damien Patton, CEO and founder of Banjo. "Most people have tried Facebook that are going to try Facebook, and now it's about retaining those users."
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Matt Kapko has been writing about mobile since 2006, before it became cool. Based in Long Beach, CA, he has covered mobile entertainment, digital media, marketing, and advertising for several business media outlets. A former editor and reporter for RCR Wireless News, paidContent, and iMedia Connection, Matt is a regular freelance reporter for ClickZ. You can follow Matt on Twitter at @MattKapko or drop him a line at email@example.com.