How Facebook Evolved & Stayed One Step Ahead Of Its Rivals

  • Author: Lauren
  • Lauren Fisher,

Whatever way you look at it, 2012 has been an eventful year for Facebook on all fronts. From the introduction of Timeline for Brands to its push towards mobile advertising, the very fabric of the site has greatly changed when you compared it to what it was a year ago. That's without even mentioning its IPO, which was preceded by months of hype and speculation before the day finally arrived. To cope with a changing online landscape, the shift to mobile and the moment that the site reaches the one billion users mark, the company has had to innovate, improve and adjust its strategy to stay ahead of the pack.

Contents

1) Profiles & Pages

2) The Move To Mobile

3) Open Graph Apps

4) Advertising

5) Opinion & Analysis

Profiles & Pages

The past year has been one of great change for Facebook, not only with regards to its financial fortunes and ownership make-up, but also due to the many sizeable changes made to the site's design, and profiles and pages in particular. Since the real-time ticker first started being included on Facebook home pages a year ago

, the site's trademark aesthetic has undergone a major transformation, for better or worse.

The Timeline view encompasses the most sweeping and polarising change made to the site, with many resisting the switch from the traditional feed for as long as possible and bemoaning Zuckerberg and co. for forcing it upon them. Brands, on the other hand, have adapted to the new format very quickly; Timeline has proven very popular among brands since it was made available to them in February.

There have been some new features that have come in simultaneously to Timeline, such as the admin panel, which is at the top of every brand page and only visible to admins, naturally. It is a quick and easy analytics tool, summing up key info very well and presenting it very simply so admins can implement any lessons they learn from it. Brand fans can now send private messages in the social networking equivalent of the suggestions box, making it easier for brands to facilitate customer service. The combination of the admin panel and fan messages is great in allowing brands to make improvements quickly on the basis of statistical and written feedback.

Individual Timeline users have had the ability to highlight posts since last December, but brands are finding this new tool especially useful. Highlighting enables them to enlarge posts they want to promote, whether they are promotions themselves or just of greater importance in general. In addition to highlighting a post, which will widen it to fit the width of the page, brands can also 'feature' posts, which will position a post at the top of the Timeline even if it is not the most recent update. All in all, these changes make it easier for brands to consistently promote their offers and advertise their products.

Noise has become an increasing problem on Facebook very recently with brands vying for users' attention with everybody else in their respective news feeds - friends, family, colleagues, etc. Subscription and interest lists were realised at around the same time that Timeline became popular and helped users to become more discerning when surfing Facebook. Brands turn on the subscription feature and join interest lists so that they are only a click away from users at any one time. People are beginning to filter their feeds in order to help them consume any and all vital information in easy-to-manage chunks.

As part of interest lists, brands can remain in the user conscious without forcing themselves down their throats, while users that subscribe to brands can now be kept up to date on all the latest offers without falling prey to every single banal post a brand may make to maintain their relevance.

The Move To Mobile

One of the major criticisms that Facebook has faced over recent months was its mobile offering. For the most part, it was poor

and there were many problems with the app, the main ones concerning its speed and layout. Earlier in the year, Facebook updated the image layout in the app, which introduced larger images in the mobile timeline. However, the problem was that it didn't get it right as several images ended up appearing out of line with the newsfeed layout.

The other major problem was speed: Facebook's app was known as a slow and frustrating experience, especially when you compare it to rival apps and even its desktop version. Only last month did the app get a welcome upgrade, bringing much needed improvements to the experience. This update was also important as it saw Facebook moving away from HTML5 to a more native iPhone and iPad app.

This change was even highlighted recently by Mark Zuckerberg himself when he was speaking at Techcrunch Disrupt, saying that the company's mobile strategy relied too much on HTML5 instead of native applications. Zuckerberg even hinted towards adding more to the mobile app over the next few months, although these features will probably be created with monetisation in mind.

Perhaps the biggest (and smartest) part of its mobile strategy was splitting up the different Facebook features into different apps. Alongside the native Facebook app, there is also apps for Facebook Messenger, Pages and Camera, which improves the experience instead of fragmenting it. By breaking up its features into different sections, Facebook allows you to access them through one or two taps instead of having to search for it within the app.

Open Graph Apps

Perhaps the most radical change Facebook has made to its formula was the introduction of open graph apps and frictionless sharing. The process took a while to truly come around, but the purpose was to turn Facebook from a social media site into a central hub for internet activity. No longer did user have to open up other sites to read the news or listen to music, you could just access it directly from your news feed.

What this did was turn the news feed into something more than just status updates and photos, it made it into a hub for sharing. Now you could see what music your friends liked, what tv shows they enjoyed watching, and the type of articles they would read. The feed became more personable and with it, allowed you the opportunity to experience it yourself, meaning that content was shared further, more exposure for said apps and ultimately more time spent on the site.

While the introduction of apps changed how users interact with the site, there was no central hub to discover these apps, as the number of apps grew and users needed another way of discovering new content.

To solve this, Facebook introduced to its site is the App Center. Originally available to U.S. users in early June before making its way to the UK a month later, the App Center was finally opened to all worldwide on August 1st. Instead of having a traditional search bar, the App Center focuses on personal recommendations so the main apps you see will be either the ones that your friends already use, or apps that developers want advertised.

While its purpose is to help group together all of the site's apps, it is heading more towards monetisation. While there aren't any paid apps in the center - a wise move as the center isn't established enough to venture down that path - in-app purchases are becoming more popular. The freemium business model is finding a place on Facebook and it wouldn't be a surprise if it would head down this route and take a small commission whenever a purchase is made. The App Center is still very much in its infancy so the remainder months and 2013 will see Facebook develop this further, especially since it now has mobile to play around with.

Improving Advertising

Ads In The Newsfeed

At the beginning of the year, Facebook made what is easily its most aggressive move to date by putting advertising into the most important and until then sacred part of the site: The news feed. Although Facebook was quick to highlight that users would only ever see a maximum of one sponsored post in their newsfeed per day, it has been a big move for users to get used to. In recent weeks, as Facebook steps up the search for new revenue streams, the ads in the stream seem to be becoming more frequent and prominent, which is a worry. While most users don't even know the ads are there (the word "sponsored" is not exactly in your face), Facebook is treading on dangerous ground. Too many ads and users will start to revolt because in the mind of users, it's a social network first and not a brand tool.

Facebook Offers

This is the part of the site that we are most excited about here in terms of a first layer of social commerce coming to Facebook. We wrote about the hotel that was driving over one million dollars in potential

revenue a couple of months back, but Facebook has been incredibly slow in rolling this out to all its users. It's still testing it out, taking a very softly, softly approach, which is a shame because there is huge potential here. The deals will be free to run, but Facebook will no doubt be charging pages to promote them in the news feed and make the deals more prominent. Log-out Ads

Log-out ads is another area that Facebook is experimenting with. The main advantage that it has to other ads is that they're big, colourful and will definitely catch the eye. At its fMC conference back in February, Facebook executives said that 37 million U.S. users log out daily so there is much potential there. However, few brands have used this option due to the high price tag (said to be around $700,000 per day), but the fashion site Fab.com has taken out a log-out ad

so if the experiment is successful, Facebook will be plugging it by offering it as a case study in the hope that other brands will follow. Advanced Targeting

This year has seen Facebook rolling out more targeting options as it starts to share more of our info with advertisers and brands. There is the new addition of postal codes to improve local advertising and even the option to target women who are pregnant. The biggest change came a few weeks ago though when it started offering the ability to add things like mailing lists and telephone numbers, which is some of the most advanced targeting to date.

Mobile Revenue

One of the biggest problem with the share price over the last few months has been the amount of users moving from the desktop to mobile and it has been a problem that Facebook have been trying to address. While users rejoiced the moment Facebook finally launched an updated version of their app, the main reason for this was to get more ads into the feed of users. Open your mobile app and you won't see any display ads with everything appearing right within the one feed. Mobile is both the biggest opportunity for Facebook, while also being the biggest threat.

At the moment, Facebook is losing out to Twitter when it comes to mobile revenue - a caveat to that fact is that while Facebook's mobile advertising has been only out for two to three months, Twitter has been around a lot longer. However, Facebook's social advertising hasn't been doing as well as Twitter's as advertisers and users adjust to the new format. However, the site is countering this by offering new mobile ads for apps, which run through its self-service ad platform. This is currently in beta mode and businesses can sign up to take part and promote their app.

Opinion & Analysis

Since it's by far the biggest social media site, Facebook gets a lot of coverage. Here are some of the more recent pieces discussing it.

- With Zuckerberg recently saying that relying on HTML5 was Facebook's biggest mistake, GigaOM look at how it's still very much responsible for the company's success.

- Here's the real reason Twitter's mobile ad revenue is crushing Facebook's in 2012.

- Here are Facebook's 7 biggest problems, according to its top ad product exec.

- A steep climb back for Facebook's stock.

- Inside Facebook's push to woo big advertisers.

- Could Facebook save developers from Twitter?

- The Facebook distribution dilemma.

- Why brands are looking more like people on Facebook.

- Facebook and Twitter are hurting the startup ecosystem - and developers won't stand for it.

-  Facebook's stock crash has created a bunch of new problems for the company...

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