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For brands, the biggest positive about the new changes is that there is suddenly more real estate for in-stream ads. Facebook has expanded the size of the News Feed itself and shrunk the right and left rails surrounding the Feed. "Having a larger canvas to work with will be a real benefit to marketers," said Debra Williamson, an analyst with eMarketer. "[Marketers] have always wanted more real estate and Facebook has always been more reticent to give them more play. By expanding the News Feed, that by default gives advertisers more room to play with as well."
A Facebook rep confirmed to Mashable in an email that Sponsored Posts will appear in-stream in the new News Feed just as they do in the current version, only "richer/bigger."
Greater real estate isn't the only big perk for marketers. Facebook is emphasizing visual content like pictures and videos in the feed, which provides brands with the opportunity to get creative. Williamson expects that brands will be able to capitalize on this by increasing their use of imagery in Sponsored Posts and eventually, if not inevitably, turning to video ads. "We didn't hear Facebook talk about video ads in this presentation," Williamson says, "but certainly Mark Zuckerberg has alluded to the fact that there will be more video in the News Feed, so there's an opportunity for brands to display video."
Beyond that, Facebook's decision to streamline the News Feed design across desktop and mobile is also a boon to marketers. According to Dan Slagen, SVP of marketing at Nanigans, this move "reduces friction" for advertisers planning out campaigns for mobile and desktop by ensuring a similar experience on each. "You are able to take one message and put it in the mind of a consumer and you are really able to drive that message home," he says.
However, the situation gets murkier for brands and marketers when it comes to the many new subfeeds that Facebook has introduced. Until now, content from brands and publishers appeared in a user's News Feed right along side posts from friends and family. With the additional feeds, users have a quick way to focus on only what their friends are sharing (through the All Friends category), or even more specifically, on what their closest friends on the social network are sharing. Any user who choose these options is effectively opting out of seeing content from publishers, businesses and influencers whose pages they follow, but who they are not in fact friends with.
"The friends-only feed could get a lot of the volume, which may be a concern," said Simon Mansell, CEO of TBG Digital. "It might affect our ad delivery in the short-term if everyone starts using it." That said, Mansell argues it's a necessary risk for Facebook to take to ensure the quality of the "core platform experience." Marketers may still choose to advertise in those feeds, but Mansell says they'll need to think harder about how to do so: "If you're trying to focus on your friends, you have to be careful how brands interrupt in there."
On the other hand, the additional feeds finally provide brands and advertisers with a way to better target the appropriate audience on Facebook. Before, a Sponsored post from Sony might show up in a user's News Feed regardless of what the user was doing in that particular session. Now, a company like Sony might only choose to place a Sponsored Post on the Music or Games feed, where it's presumably more relevant to that audience. Likewise, if users check their Following feed, it essentially means they've opted in to see content from brands and publishers, which means promotional content placed in that feed might see greater engagement from users.
"With most changes like this, it is always going to affect some people positively and some negatively," said Mauricio Aguayo, senior social strategist with Rokkan. "The user is now much more in control about what they want to see and they will be much more prone to engage with it because they've in essence raised their hand and asked to see this publication. But for awareness purposes and pushing content out, it may be a little negative." Aguayo speculates that Facebook may eventually offer brands and publishers the option to surface their posts in other feeds besides Following for an additional cost.
Facebook, for its part, suggests in a blog post that the new Following feed will benefit brands and publishers: "Thanks to a new 'Following' feed on the right-hand side of the home page, people will be able to discover more content from the Pages they like and the people they follow."
For better or worse, Facebook has also effectively downplayed the presence of ads in the right rail in order to place more emphasis on ads that appear in-stream. Not only is that problematic for marketers who rely on the sidebar ads as a cheaper way to reach users on the social network, but Williamson says it also undermines what has historically "been a pretty big contributor to Facebook's ad revenue."
The assumption going forward, according to several of the marketing experts we spoke with, is that providing more real estate and more prominence to visual content will help Facebook command greater ad rates. While that's good for a public company still looking to show meaningful revenue growth to Wall Street, it also means advertising on the social network will likely become significantly pricier and more competitive in the future. [Mashable]