Facebook never stops, and neither does their dev team. Every week – almost every day – there’s another new feature spotted in test mode, another new tool in development.
The momentum makes sense – Facebook knows that to maintain its market-leading position, it needs to stay ahead of the pack. But with so many different tools and updates being developed, it can be hard to keep track of them all, and to understand what they might mean for future strategic direction.
To help with this, we’re putting together weekly updates on the various Facebook tests and changes we see, each of which may not necessarily be worthy of its own, individual post, but is a relevant consideration nonetheless.
This week, we’ve already seen a raft of updates in test mode, including private profiles, ‘Instant Videos’ and new business awareness tools.
This is an interesting, yet unsurprising one – Facebook’s reportedly working on a new option which would enable users to search by image on the platform.
The options opens up various possibilities, but most notably, the tool could be used for product and brand-related searches, adding another way for users to connect with relevant information, quickly and easily.
It’s unsurprising because Snapchat and Twitter are also working on the same – Snapchat filed a patentback in 2015 which outlines how their idea for image-recognition triggered content would work, while Twitter, at an event last November, showed off their image-recognition ads, which would enable users to unlock exclusive content based on the image.
As such, it’s little surprise to see Facebook working on similar - image recognition tools are already proving popular, with Pinterest’s Lens being the standout, and it provides a new range of possibilities for products discovery and access.
There’s not much information to go on with Facebook’s option, but you can bet that image-recognition based discovery will become a much bigger consideration for social media marketers in future.
Watch this space.
Another new option Facebook’s looking into is ‘private profiles’, a means to create a smaller circles of friends with which to share specific updates.
Facebook’s also working on a similar tool for Instagram, though that version's focused on lists. The idea behind the option is that it caters to user demand for extra privacy, while still enabling them to experience the full benefits of being active on a single platform (as opposed to skipping off to, say, Snapchat, where your parents and relatives aren’t present).
Indeed, Instagram’s data shows that users often prefer more private sharing – internal insights show that 85% of people’s direct messages on Instagram go to the same three friends. Adding new ways to cater to this use may help Facebook, and Instagram, enhance the user experience and keep people on-platform for longer.
It’ll be interesting to see, if Private Profiles get rolled out, how people warm to them on Facebook proper.
Here’s a particularly interesting one, from a marketing perspective. User Alex Pettitt has noticed a new feature in his Facebook chat sidebar on desktop which recommends businesses you might want to chat with, based on your activity.
This is a key area that all brands need to consider – with the growth of virtual assistant tools, like Facebook’s Messenger bots and similar, so too will we see an increased emphasis on ‘virtual assistant optimization’ to ensure our brands are the ones showing up in these types of recommendation listings.
Facebook’s also introducing similar in Messenger, and it won’t be long till these types of personalized recommendations become a more significant consideration. And with the prominent screen real estate they take up, you’ll want your brand to be up on that list.
How can you ensure your business is listed? It’ll mean boosting connection with your Facebook audience to ensure there’s a clear connection between you and them. It’s hard to say, definitively, what the key factors will be, but as Facebook usage grows, and more people come to rely on digital recommendations like this, it could become a much more significant factor in future.
Facebook’s also testing out a new active users notifier in comments, with a green dot appearing next to those online.
This is a fairly common platform notifier, of course, so it’s probably not adding a heap of functionality, but it may lead to more conversations on-platform if you were to be aware of the person’s presence on the other end of the connection.
The same type of indicator is already visible in the chat sidebar, of course, and Facebook’s been actively trying to prompt messaging on brand Pages by adding a pop-up notifying you when a Page admin is active.
The tool appears to be along the same lines, prompting more immediate engagement by alerting you to more people’s presence.
And the final Facebook test seen ‘in the wild’ this week is a new ‘Instant Video’ option, which, like Instant Articles, would enable viewers to more easily, and quickly, load and view video content.
The option’s aimed at helping those in areas of low connectivity – when you’re in a Wi-Fi connected area, Facebook would pre-load certain videos and keep them cached, so that if you were to go to watch one of these videos later, when you’re out of Wi-Fi range, it’ll still load and play quickly, without eating up all your allocated data.
Given Facebook’s expanding focus on video, it makes sense for The Social Network to explore new video sharing options to maximize consumption. This'll be particularly relevant as Facebook looks to rollout their new ‘Watch’ video platform to more users.
The option further underlines the Facebook video shift, and the need to consider your video options on the platform. More and more video is being consumed on Facebook every day, and you can bet they’re going to keep adding more tools to make video easier to consume for all users.