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Facebook 2015: The features you should be using now and the outlook ahead

In the last few months Facebook has listened carefully to publishers around the world to better understand how it can help them connect with its users.

The important changes

In a note at the end of last year, Product Manager Holly Ormseth outlined the goal for these new tools and resources:

“Over the past few months, we’ve listened to publishers around the world to better understand how we can help them connect with people on Facebook. As a result, we’ve created new tools for media publishers, made improvements to Insights, and have added more resources and communication channels for publishers.”

Three new features immediately stand out:

1. Interest Targeting

 – To help you reach precisely the right people, Facebook now offers publishers the ability to target posts to a subset of people that like your Page. For example, a publisher can use Interest Targeting to post a story about a sports game that will only be shown to people that like the teams playing.

2. Post End Date

 – Page admins can specify a day and time to stop showing a post in News Feed. For instance, a publisher can use this to remove yesterday’s weather report to stop out of date posts appearing in the News Feed.

3. Smart Publishing

 – Until now, it has been challenging for large publishers to predict which stories will resonate with their audience. Smart Publishing is a new, optional tool that identifies and publishes stories that are popular with users on Facebook. Once you enable the setting, frequently shared links to your website can appear in News Feed for people who like your Page.

Learning from the competition

This is a clear move towards capturing all content created online with Facebook opening features to publishers that were historically only available to advertisers in the past. Furthermore, Facebook continues to play offense against new platforms by allowing publishers the opportunity to mimic new user experiences from other platforms such as ephemeral messaging (a direct challenge to Snapchat).

At the start of 2014, we saw the arrival of trending topics on Facebook. The social network is now using trending topics to take advantage of its wealth of structured data about what people like and who they’re close to so it can inform these trends.

The introduction of Post End Dates outlined above may be a direct response to Snapchat who recently turned down a $3bn acquisition from Facebook. This is the first time ephemeral messages will be available in a similar vein to desktop users on any social media platform on the web. The weather example is just a small peek into the enormous potential this feature could have from exploding offers, competitions, live updates or flash campaigns plus countless others that we can expect to see in the future.

Facebook vs Dark Social 

However, one area Facebook isn’t doing as well as it could be is distribution – especially in comparison to Dark Social. Dark Social is used to describe any traffic you get to your site, the origins of which your analytics cannot correctly identify. In response to this, Facebook has created a dedicated Tor link which ensures that people who visit the site from the anonymous web browser won’t be mistaken for bots.

Now, Facebook is the first website with a Certificate Authority to launch a dedicated Tor URL and certified connection through the browser. While you may think of Facebook as the pioneer of invading your digital privacy, it is good to know that this social networking behemoth is using some of its mountains of cash to make the internet a safer place.

What will 2015 look like?

In short, Facebook is building on their “move fast” mantra to continuously explore options that enrich their platform, as well as their users’ experience. This can mean a few things:

1. It might mean alternative revenue sources.

There has been substantial debate these last few years around the decline in organic reach, with Facebook being accused of purposefully tweaking the News Feed in order to make brands invest heavily in its advertising business. By shifting to a more publisher-led model, Facebook could explore alternative revenue sources that go beyond the News Feed, improving the user experience and avoiding death by advertising.

2. It’s a clear offensive move against Twitter and it will not stop there.

It’s been said that “news no longer breaks, it tweets”, but Facebook clearly wants a slice of that pie. By introducing more tools that make use of real-time events, it wants to position itself as a de facto platform for commentary on current affairs, and not just pictures of your friends’ amazing vacations.

3. That being said, the News Feed experience might change inevitably.

The algorithm-ruled News Feed currently considers factors such as past engagement levels and how many of your friends interact with a certain piece of content to understand if you might be interested in it. By aiming to be a more real-time platform, contextual relevance might become a key variable in determining that what you see is not only based on what you’ve seen before, but also what you might have missed that’s happening right now.

4. For people like us, it means more second screen opportunities.

Twitter is still the godfather of branded real-time content. If Facebook’s strategy works, it means we’ll have a new, major platform that’s built for public sharing around current events, especially as Facebook rejuvenates their search product. The social graph might be enriched with a powerful layer of discoverability, and that’s too big an opportunity to dismiss.

Contrary to what many people said a year ago, Facebook is most definitely not dead; in fact, it’s taking a big new breath.

Co-author: Roberto Estreitinho