Facebook tests simpler interface for creating ads, targeting users

Facebook is testing a new self-serve ad interface that emphasizes objectives and gives users more targeting options, the company tells us.

From what we can tell in the following two screenshots provided by Facebook, the new structure seems much easier for non-advertising types to understand. Earlier today, we suggested Facebook take a cue from ReverbNation’s Promote It ad platform that puts advertising and reporting in simpler terms. This beta test shows the social network is already working on something similar. A spokesperson from the company says the redesigned tool is part of a limited test and there is no decision on if or when it will be released widely.

Facebook’s existing ad tool makes users choose between “Sponsored Stories” and “Facebook ads,” and then decide on “story type” (see image at the bottom of this story). This type of jargon makes it difficult for small businesses and organizations to know what to choose, but the new ad creation flow starts by asking a simpler question, “What do you want to promote?” There’s also a new “Objectives” section that lets users choose what action they want people to take from the ad.

Facebook is also using the new tool to test targeting broad categories and precise interests at the same time. In the traditional self-serve ad dashboard, advertisers have to choose whether to target broad categories or switch to precise interest targeting. This is confusing and unhelpful. In February, we learned Power Editor users and Ads API partners could combine the options for more powerful targeting — for example, expecting parents who like Food Network or small business owners who like American Express. Facebook hasn’t added the option to the main ad tool yet, but this latest test suggests it could be coming soon.

As the social network’s advertising options become more robust, it is important for the company to consider the user interface it provides for the broadest range of customer. Large brands can afford to work with Facebook directly or go through an Ads API partner with expertise on the platform, but most businesses and organizations will depend on the self-serve tool. Framing Facebook campaigns in ways they can understand and helping them see results will be key for the company to increase its advertising revenue among the long tail.

Existing Facebook ad tool

Facebook to adjust calculations for total check-ins displayed on place pages

Facebook says it will change how check-ins are calculated so that place pages more accurately reflect how many people visited a location.

According to a post on the Facebook Studio blog, when users check into a place multiple times within a 12-hour period, that action will now count as a single check-in. Previously each check-in was added to a page’s total. Similarly, when people tag a location in several photos, that will only count as one check-in. However, if someone uploads a photo and tags several friends along with the location, each friend tagged and the person who shared the photo will be counted as having been to the location.

This change will go into effect within the next few weeks, and page owners might notice a difference in their total “were here” tally. Total check-ins are displayed less prominently with the new Timeline design for pages — they are written in light gray underneath the page’s cover photo. As we’ve previously explained, by visiting the Likes tab of a page associated with a location, any user can see how many photos have been tagged at a place, the most popular week for check-ins and the largest group check-in. Timeline goes into affect for all pages on Friday.

Facebook gives permalinks to individual comments, hides potential spam

Facebook now assigns permanent links to all comments on the site and hides spam comments rather than just marking them with a darker background. The company announced the improvements in a post on its Facebook + Journalists page.

With the addition of permalinks, users can share a direct link to any comment. When users visit the link, the comment will appear at the top of the page and will briefly appear highlighted in yellow. Previously there was no way to do this, and it could be difficult to find a particular comment among a thread of dozens or sometimes hundreds of others. Permalinks can be accessed by clicking the timestamp of a comment.

Facebook added permalinks to comments in its plug-in for third-party sites last year, but didn’t do this for the main site. Whether this was an issue of scale or lack of demand is unclear. However, with the increase in Facebook activity among public figures, more public conversations are happening on the site and being able to link to comments directly is important. On Twitter, for example, every tweet has a unique URL, making it easy to refer back to specific parts of a thread.

Other features might not be necessary when users interact with their friends on the social network, but as they engage with pages and popular people who allow subscribers, the deficiencies of comments on Facebook.com become more apparent. For example, Facebook doesn’t thread comments or sort them by relevancy on the site as it does with its plug-in. On Facebook.com, all comments are presented in a single thread. There is no way to clearly and directly respond to a comment from another user. Admins can @ tag people who have commented on a post, but users can only tag the names of their friends. (In Facebook groups, users can tag anyone in the group even without being connected as friends.) Comments are presented in order of when they were posted. However, the Facebook comments plugin used by websites including this one shows relevant comments from friends, friends of friends and the most liked or active discussion threads above others.

Comments on Facebook.com do have spam detection. Potential spam comments are not visible to other users, but they used to show to admins with a darker grey background. This would catch moderators’ eyes so they could delete the comment, block the user or unmark the item as spam. Now potential spam will be hidden behind an ellipsis. Page owners can click the ellipsis to see the comments and take action on them.

[Update 3/30/12 3:01 p.m. PT - Vadim Lavrusik, journalist program manager at Facebook, tells us this change is for public comments on personal Timelines that have the subscribe feature enabled, not pages.]

Facebook now features app activity more prominently on Timeline

Facebook has expanded the “recent activity” box on users’ Timelines and added a new “recently used apps” box to give more prominence to Open Graph applications.

The changes make stories more visual and as a result could help users discover new applications and pages through their friends. However, users have limited control over how these boxes display on their profiles, and Facebook should be mindful of how it implements features like this.

User Timelines include boxes for individual applications like Pinterest or Foursquare, as well as boxes for categories like music, games, video and news. Previously, Timeline included a small section for “most recent activity” that displayed users’ actions on Facebook and Open Graph apps along with small icons. Now that box has more prominence and includes larger thumbnails next to stories. (See comparison images below.)

There’s also an additional box called “apps” that clearly identifies what a user has interacted with lately. This could lead friends to try new apps and remind users to return to games and apps they’ve used before.

The new boxes take up additional space on the right-hand side of users’ Timelines, pushing down posts they’ve actively created — i.e., posting a link, sharing a photo or making a status update — and posts their friends have shared with them. Users can click an X in the top right corner of the apps box to hide the module, but it’s unclear whether it will reappear at some point after a user tries new apps.

Users can hide stories from the recent activity box, but after refreshing the page, older stories populate that space. There is not a way to remove the boxes for games, videos, news or music, unless a user makes all their app activity visible only to themselves and not others. However, if apps are explicit about the type of activity they will share, users will only add the apps they want to display on Timeline and won’t consider these stories to be spam.

Old ‘recent activity’ box

New activity box and apps box

Facebook amends S-1 filing to note Yahoo patent suit, Ceglia updates

Facebook today made an update to its S-1 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission to reflect the recent lawsuit Yahoo filed against the social network and the current status of proceedings with Paul Ceglia who claims partial ownership of Facebook.

Facebook says it intends to “vigorously defend” itself against Yahoo, which is claiming infringement on 10 patents related to advertising, social networking, privacy, customization and messaging. According to the filing, Facebook has not yet asserted any counterclaims or filed an answer to the suit.

The company did not make specific mention of the recent lawsuit from telecommunications company Mitel, which claims infringement of two patents. It did however add an update about the case with Paul Ceglia. Earlier this week, the company provided the court with more than 200 email exchanges between CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Ceglia in 2003. According to the latest S-1, Facebook filed a motion to dismiss Ceglia’s complaint and a motion for judgment on the pleadings on Monday. The company says, “We continue to believe that Mr. Ceglia is attempting to perpetrate a fraud on the court and we intend to continue to defend the case vigorously.”

Facebook did not amend the document to note its most recent purchase of patents from IBM. We received confirmation from Facebook that a sale did occur, but a spokesperson would not provide further information about the number of patents or price Facebook paid. According to unnamed Bloomberg sources, the social network bought 750 patents from IBM to help in cases of intellectual property. The company also added corporate and patent counsel to its job listings last week.

 

Users spent more than 10.5B total minutes per day on Facebook in January, not including mobile use

Facebook users spent more than 10.5 billion total minutes per day on the site from personal computers in January, according to an updated S-1 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

With 845 million monthly active users, that’s an average of 12.4 minutes per user per day. The number of minutes per user per day is important to Facebook’s display advertising business. The more time people spend on Facebook, the more likely advertisers are going to be to allocate budget to the platform. According to Facebook, aggregate minutes per day increased 57 percent year over year since January 2011. Since the social network simultaneously expanded its user base, the actual average minutes per user per day increased 14 percent during that period.

The filing does not include information about time spent on Facebook through mobile devices. The company previously noted that had 432 million mobile monthly active users as of Dec. 31, 2011, and that 58 million of these users accessed the social network exclusively through mobile devices. In today’s S-1 amendment, the company said the number of mobile-only users increased relative to the previous year. Facebook also indicated that users in the U.S., India, Brazil and Mexico were key sources of mobile growth in 2011.

In February, the social network announced it would display Sponsored Stories in the mobile News Feed, however we have still not seen a live example of this. A key point for investors will be whether Facebook can successfully monetize mobile activity as users spend more time on phones and tablets than personal computers.

Facebook reminds page owners of pages they haven’t posted to lately

Facebook is testing a new notification that seems meant to get page owners to re-engage with pages they have neglected.

The notification shows admins how many posts and views their page recently received. Previously, page owners did not see alerts for page views. This notification was also unique in that it appeared among other personal notifications. Typically users only see notifications about page activity when they choose “use Facebook as a page.”

The prompt appears to be an effort to remind admins of pages they haven’t posted to in a while. The page we got notification about hasn’t made a post since January. If page owners know how many people recently viewed their page, they might be more likely to make a new post, update information or respond to comments. With the mandatory switch to Timeline on Friday, it is especially important for page owners to review their presence on the social network.

According to Facebook, there were more than 37 million pages with 10 or more Likes as of December 2011. Many of these are updated only sporadically, if at all. But to truly encourage page owners to engage with their fans, Facebook will have to do more than let people know how many views they’re getting. Many businesses and organizations create Facebook pages, but then don’t know how to build an audience or what type of content to share. Facebook has done outreach and provided resources on how to use page tools and ad products, but many page owners would benefit from learning more about how to decide what to post, develop a voice and build relationships online.

Clickable releases new dashboard tool to visualize Facebook, search campaign performance

Facebook Ads API partner Clickable today introduces a dashboard to its ad platform that allows users to track campaigns across Facebook, Google and Bing.

Clickable’s widget-based reporting dashboard is customizable so account managers, clients and C-level executives can have different views of data that is most relevant to them. The tool is meant to reduce the amount of work marketers do in spreadsheets and over email. Reporting can be a tedious part of any campaign, so Clickable has the potential to save marketers some time once they organize and built the widgets they need.

Clickable was one of Facebook’s earliest Ads API partners. It offers a software license for its Clickable Pro Tool and provides managed services for campaigns, similar to Adaptly, GraphEffect and AdParlor, for example. Clickable Vice President of Marketing Max Kalehoff says ad management has become commoditized and companies are mostly competing on price at this point. He says when Clickable realized its own strength was in reporting, the company got to work on the dashboard.

The dashboard is clean and easy to understand. Users can drag and drop widgets to monitor goal performance and budget, along with any custom graphs and data tables they  create with the widget builder. We like how one user can create a widget and share it with a client or other people on the team.

Kalehoff tells us Clickable will soon integrate the Facebook Insights API, as well as data from DART, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare. Many ad platforms are incorporating Facebook page insights as Sponsored Stories and ads from page posts become more popular among advertisers. Brighter Option (now owned by Buddy Media), GraphEffect and TBG Digital have all done this in the past month.

Although the tool is behind in adding page insights, Clickable differentiates itself in how it puts search and social campaigns in a single dashboard. This gives marketers a more complete view of their efforts and allows them to compare budget and performance across platforms. Kalehoff says the company is working to develop algorithms that make recommendations for marketers based on the information in the dashboard.

In October 2011, Clickable raised a $12 million Series C round of funding led by distribution partner American Express. Amex white-labels Clickable software and offers it to its small business card members.

Facebook adds contact form to ad dashboard, aims to respond in 4 hours

Some advertisers are seeing a prominent new “contact us” button in Facebook’s self-serve ad dashboard. According to the site, the global marketing solutions team will strive to respond to all questions within four hours.

The button, which appears above campaign information, leads to a short form and includes a note about the team’s business hours. This effort comes at a time when many small and mid-sized businesses feel Facebook is too focused on the interests of major brands and is ignoring their own. If Facebook becomes more responsive to these advertisers, even through email, it could improve perception and solve some of issues that prevent businesses from spending more on the platform.

It is unclear how many advertisers have the new contact option and whether ad spend has an effect on who sees it. The account we saw the prompt with has already spent thousands on the site, but nowhere near the hundreds of thousands required to be considered a “premium” advertiser. Another account, which spent less than $100, did not show the contact form.

Facebook has expanded its sales and marketing staff considerably in the past year, and it has more than 100 open positions related to account management and client support. With more people on the team, the company will be better suited to handle the load of questions advertisers have and provide additional resources for businesses of all sizes — for example, creating an ad demo tool for non-premium ads. As advertisers come to better understand the platform and see evidence of Facebook serving their interests, they will be more likely to run paid campaigns on the site.

[Update 3/27/12 11:54 a.m. PT - According to AllFacebook.com, some page owners started seeing similar prompts on their homepages late last year.]

Facebook expands Sponsored Stories in News Feed with image, more social context

Facebook has significantly expanded the prominence of Sponsored Stories in News Feed with a new “Page Like” unit that includes the page’s profile image and thumbnails of more friends who are connected to the page.

Previously, “Page Like” Sponsored Stories were very subtle in News Feed and many users were likely to skip over them. The new version is larger and shows additional context that might make users more likely to click the ad, such as a description of the business and more friends who Like the page. The social network also changed the wording on these posts from “Featured” to “Promoted” so that it is more explicit that companies are paying for this content to appear in the feed.

This is a “Page Like” Sponsored Story from February:

Here is a full size image of the ”Page Like” Sponsored Story we saw today:

Even though Sponsored Stories are now eligible to be displayed on mobile devices, we did not see the Target ad on the mobile site or the iOS app. It is worth noting that the item was the top story in News Feed even though it was an hour old when we accessed the site. As of press time, dozens of stories appear above it, but we can scroll down and find it in the feed. This is different from traditional Facebook ads that change with each page load.

The main image included in the story is the page’s profile photo. Advertisers cannot select another image to appear here.

Interestingly, Facebook added a “Find More Pages” link to Sponsored Stories. This takes users to the page discovery browser, which presents other pages users might be interested in. It seems adding this link to the Sponsored Story is Facebook’s attempt to make the story more useful and less ad-like.

Unpaid “Page Like” stories continue to appear in the feed, though perhaps less frequently than in past years as the number of other stories (check-ins, song listens, etc.) increases. See an example of an organic “Page Like” story below:

[Update 3/27/12 2:27 p.m. PT - A Facebook spokesperson says the change is not only in effect for Sponsored Stories. All "Page Like" stories, whether sponsored or organic, will now look like the Target story above, she says. We have not yet seen any live examples in our feed.]

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