It’s interesting reading the many discussions on what Facebook will be in 2014. The social network has become an integral part of people’s lives, personal and business, and the latest changes to its NewsFeed, filter algorithms and advertising models have many nervous about what to expect. It’s hard to say whether the changes will have a positive or negative effect on the user experience – which is what the company is touting as the main focus of their changes – though it is clear that Facebook is riding a very fine line between necessary profit growth and ongoing user demand. Here are a few of the major changes and their potential impacts:
1. The addition of play-now video ads in your NewsFeed. This one is being flagged as a major concern from regular, non-business users. The addition of play-now video ads has already begun, with a number of users now seeing these come up. You scroll past them and they mute out and you can go on with what you’re doing, but the potential annoyance factor is high. Annoying enough to turn users away from Facebook? Not likely, but definitely one which would seem to have more impact on the user experience than benefit. This addition opens up a whole new revenue stream for Facebook, so it makes perfect sense that they would be going down this path, but it could be the beginning of the end, depending on how it’s adopted. Possibly.
2. Changes to the NewsFeed algorithms to improve ‘quality’ of user experience. This has been an extremely contentious issue, though one not all regular users are fully aware of. Facebook’sEdgeRank algorithm weights the relevance of all updates that appear in people’s NewsFeeds. This may mean that status update you just posted will not be seen by all your friends, which somewhat goes against the ethos of Facebook in the first place (though the impacts of updates from ‘Friends’ is relatively minimal). Facebook has expressed its intention to create an online newspaper type feel to the site, with the content tailored to you, but a part of that is the addition of, effectively, an editorial process and the rules governing what appears and what does not are tricky. The underlying motivation is that Facebook wants to push businesses towards paying to reach their followers and fans by diluting their ability to connect to those who’ve ‘Liked’ their brand-page organically. This is likely to become more prevalent in 2014, which will drive more businesses to funnel users towards their own websites and away from Facebook. The impact of this is impossible to determine, but it really highlights that fine line Facebook is tip-toeing.
3. The focus on targeted advertising. As with the changes to the NewsFeed, Facebook is hoping more users will interact more with ads to give them more data on what they want, enabling them to improve their individual experience by ensuring the ads they see are of relevance to them. The problem is, most regular users don’t see Facebook as an advertising medium – they want to connect with their friends, not be confronted with sales pitches. Advertising is a necessary part of the business, and as Facebook grows, so does the impetus for increased revenue generation. The underlying idea of targeted ads makes sense, that Facebook wants to ensure they’re not spamming users with stuff their not interested in, but the practical roll-out of this model is problematic. The other potential impact is for small businesses – Facebook has announced that it will focus on small business advertising to capitalise on the millions of small business pages it’s currently hosting – which they, of course, need to do, but as they push towards a paid advertising model, how will those small businesses compete against bigger players for space? And if all of them want to pay for targeted ads, will there be enough room for users to share content with their friends?
No doubt Facebook has some of the answers to these questions, while others will be causing the executives headaches every day. It would seem way too early to be predicting the demise of the largest social network in the world, but some have suggested the writing is on the wall. While the changes will introduce a raft of new challenges for business, they also bring new opportunities which, if utilised well, will remain a key part of any brand strategy. But they also highlight the need to remain active on other social networks and monitor the progress of user migrations, staying in touch with more audience share whilst also leveraging against potential fall-out from ongoing Facebook updates.