Facebook pushes Gifts ahead of holiday

Facebook has been heavily promoting its Gifts feature in the final days before Christmas with banners above News Feed and sidebar modules suggesting friends to buy for.

Starting Friday, users were prompted with notices on the Facebook homepage and mobile feed, encouraging them to “Send a last minute gift.” Because Facebook doesn’t yet offer a way for users to buy a gift in advance and pick a later time to notify the recipient, the banner points out that friends will be notified “instantly.” The social network used to offer scheduled gifts from its virtual Gift Shop, and this is likely a feature the company is thinking about for its new physical gifts business.

Facebook is also promoting Gifts in the sidebar of the site. Some users are seeing a “Send a Holiday Gift” module with a short list of friends a user might want to get a gift for. Other users have gotten a “Give Friends What They Like” module, which highlights a page that a friend Likes as a suggestion of what to buy for them.

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Recent articles module helps Facebook users discover stories about topics they’re interested in

Some Facebook users are seeing a new “recent articles” module that highlights news stories related to a page that a user has Liked.

A Facebook spokesperson tells us, “This unit is a test of a new kind of News Feed story that makes it easier to find content that you might be interested in.”

The unit pulls from a range of sources and includes popular links that are being shared on the social network. The articles do not have to be from social reader applications and they do not have to have been posted by a page the user is connected to. Instead it lets users know about articles they might not have seen already but would be interested in based on their page Likes.

The module is similar to the “most shared articles” feature we found Facebook testing last month. That unit suggests popular articles from news sources that users have Liked.

Facebook has a “trending articles” module in News Feed, which displays activity from Open Graph news reader apps and is not related to Facebook pages that users Like. On fan pages, users can see a list of top related news stories based on Open Graph activity, but that also looks at stories from all time rather than focusing on recent news like the latest News Feed unit does.

As we’ve written about recently, News Feed has traditionally been a place to see stories and activities from friends and pages users have explicitly connected to, but Facebook seems to be experimenting with using Open Graph data and other cues to generate new types of stories. For example, we’ve seen the social network testing “upcoming events,” “upcoming concerts” and “recently released albums” units in the feed. These look beyond the social connections a user has and takes into consideration their interests. We’ve heard complaints from some users who say they don’t want to see items in News Feed that aren’t from friends, but if Facebook can offer relevant recommendations, other users may find these modules useful.

Page owners, however, may not appreciate that they have no control over the unit, which in some situations could show negative articles about their brand.

Thanks to Tom Waddington for the tip and the screenshot.

Facebook tries new tactics to convince page owners to run ads

Facebook is using large banners on its site to encourage page owners to buy ads. One that appears on business pages prompts page owners to create a holiday ad, while another above News Feed seeks to bring users who started an ad back into the funnel to complete it.

The units, which page owners can hide, are new tactics to get more page owners to run Facebook ads for their business. The holiday positioning is clever, though it takes users straight to the self-serve ad dashboard that is not otherwise customized to help someone create a “holiday ad.” There’s a link to learn more about creating successful a Facebook campaign, but that isn’t holiday-focused either. The social network might need to offer more guidance to small business owners and other new advertisers.

To recapture potential advertisers who got started in the self-serve dashboard but didn’t complete a campaign, Facebook is trying a new module that says, “Your Ad Is Almost Ready.” When page owners click “Finish Your Ad,” they’re taken to a simple summary page where they can review their ad and place an order. There’s an option to edit the ad further, which will take users to the main ad creation tool. This could help Facebook complete some sales that would have fallen through otherwise.

Over the past year, the social network has made it easier for small business owners to create basic ads on the site, streamlining the ad tool and introducing the Promote button on pages. Facebook recently said there are 11 million SMBs on the site, 7 million of which have an active Facebook page and 3 million of which make at least one post per week. Converting these page owners into active advertisers — even starting with small budgets — could go a long way for Facebook’s advertising revenues.

Facebook earned $943 million in ad revenue during Q4 last year and has brought in $2.95 billion from ads between Q1 and Q3 2012. This holiday season is likely to be the company’s best quarter yet.

Facebook module highlights popular links posted by news sources users Like

Some Facebook users are seeing a “Most Shared On” module in News Feed that highlights popular links from news sources they Like.

The module, which began appearing some time in the past few weeks, is a new way for news pages to get their content seen in the feed.

“We’re introducing new kinds of News Feed stories that make it easier to find content that you might be interested in,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an email. “The ‘Most Shared On’ stories appearing in News Feed show the most frequently shared links from a page you have Liked. E.g. If I have liked Inside Facebook’s page, I may see a News Feed item that lets me know the ‘most shared’ links from Inside Facebook that day.”

Users who Like news outlets on Facebook will see a link in their feed under the “Most Shared On” title, with an option to view more stories. The module does not include captions that the page might have included in its original Facebook post, and in fact, some of the links might be to articles that the page has not already shared in a post. The module considers all content from the domain.
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Facebook suggests upcoming events and recently released albums in News Feed

Some Facebook users are seeing stories about upcoming events and recently released albums in their News Feeds, we’ve found.

The new stories are similar to the “upcoming concerts” module that some users began to see last month. Now, Facebook is suggesting some non-music events, as well, based on their location, pages they Like and friends’ plans. Previously these suggestions appeared on users’ event calendars but not in the feed. Users don’t typically visit their events page very often so they were less likely to discover these options. As long as the recommendations are relevant, users may welcome seeing suggested events in News Feed.

A new music-related module highlights a recently released album by an artist that a user has listened to on Spotify. Users can click to begin streaming the album through Spotify. It is unclear whether Facebook is offering the same feature for Rdio users.

[Update 12/6/12 -  We've now seen the recently released albums feature directing users to Myspace. The module now also includes a link to Like the artist's page on Facebook.]

News Feed has always been a place to see stories and activities from friends and pages users have explicitly connected to, but these modules show how Facebook can use Open Graph data and other cues to generate new types of stories. We may begin to see more News Feed items like this, which do not come directly from a user’s friend but might be interesting to users. Trending articles and trending videos were an early example that seemed less personalized, but for example, Facebook could let users know about a new movie opening this weekend if the user watched a trailer for the new release or likes a similar film.

Another benefit of these types of stories that don’t come directly as the result of a user’s friend taking an action or making a post is that they lend themselves well to sponsorship. Upcoming events, recently released albums, the hypothetical movie module or other similar features could easily be options for ads in the future. If Facebook moves toward a feed with these algorithmically generated stories — as opposed to straight friend activity and page posts — new ad units will feel more native. For instance, there could be a “Happy Hour” module for bars and restaurants or “Ongoing Sales” for retailers or online stores. Businesses could pay to be featured among other organic recommendations.

For now, the upcoming events and recently released albums modules are not sponsored. Facebook is likely gauging how interested users are in seeing these types of stories by how frequently they click through. There is not a way for users to provide direct negative feedback on the units, such as hiding them or marking them as spam.

Facebook tests star ratings for places

Facebook appears to be testing star ratings for places, similar to the system it uses for apps.

Some users are seeing a “rate these places” module in the sidebar with the option to give one to five stars to places they’ve been to or Liked. This feature could help Facebook better organize places in search or a new recommendation engine, as it has done with App Center.

[Update 10/30/12: Some users are seeing a version of the module that includes a short note about how a user is connected to the location. After users rate a place, the module refreshes with another location to rate.]

Facebook takes a unique approach to ratings to avoid manipulation. App ratings use random sampling rather than appearing on a static page that anyone can visit. This way, it is much more difficult to game the system and ratings are more reflective of how people feel about an app. Facebook seems to have done the same with places, but we’re waiting to hear back for confirmation.

The social network has a little-known location search feature that could rival Yelp or Google for business searches if the company decided to put resources toward developing it. Star ratings could be the start to an overhaul of the product, which would benefit from a mobile component.

Last month, a Bloomberg Businessweek article hinted that Facebook had a new review feature in the works:

During a meeting in a conference room near his desk, [VP of Engineering Mike] Schroepfer leads a group of engineers in a half-hour debate over the design of a restaurant review feature. Should it have a five-star rating option, a Like button, or both? Should there be animation? Does it feel natural? At the end of the meeting, Schroepfer and one other guy remain at odds over the Like vs. Stars question.

From what we’ve seen, pages still have Like buttons and the modules have stars, but it’s possible Facebook is testing different variations.

On place pages themselves, users can already leave “recommendations” in a module on the timeline. Facebook also tested a “favorite places” module in the sidebar last year. These units would show users two places they had checked into and ask “which place do you like better?” Users could click a “see your favorites” link in the module to see a ranked list of all the places they voted for, but this hasn’t been available for a year or so.

Thanks to Ryan Plant for the tip and the top screenshot.

Facebook updates mobile fan pages to include pinned posts, store locator, popular songs, activity log, other Timeline features

Facebook continues to roll out the Timeline design to fan pages on mobile devices, and now we’ve gotten a full look at what’s available. Updated mobile pages include most native Facebook features that are available on desktop: cover photo, friend activity, pinned posts, store locator, events, popular songs and more.

The social network began upgrading mobile fan pages in July, but the process has been gradual. Our own accounts were updated this weekend. Page owners — especially those running mobile Sponsored Story campaigns – will appreciate that the mobile experience is coming up to par with the desktop version, though many might be disappointed that their third-party tab applications are still not available.

Here are the key features that appear on updated mobile pages across iOS and Android.

Cover photo and more info

Similar to user profiles, mobile pages now include cover photos and info boxes. This additional context is likely to help convert users who see mobile Sponsored Stories to Like or interact with the page. Screenshots of the previous version of mobile Facebook pages are available here.

Page owners should be aware that designs that work on desktop may not work on mobile devices.

Place pages include additional information, such as whether the location is open, as well as a button to call the business.

Native Facebook tabs

Now in addition to info and photos, mobile pages display native Facebook tabs for events, locations and Likes. Custom tabs that pages build or buy are not accessible from mobile. Like on personal Timelines, users can swipe to the left to see more tabs if pages have more than three.

Social modules

Users are now able to quickly see how their friends are connected to a page, whether through Likes, check-ins, page activity or things they’ve mentioned in personal posts. Previously, users could see some social activity on place pages, but now this is available for any fan page. And rather than being in a separate tab, it is in-line with Timeline.

On artist pages, users can see which songs are most popular and then click on them to play the songs through the Spotify app. This feature was brought to desktop in June.

Place recommendations, which used to be in a separate tab, have also been brought in-line with Timeline.

Pinned Posts

Users with the updated mobile page layout will also be able to see pinned posts. Previously, posts on mobile were in reverse chronological order. Now when a page owner designates a post to appear first on desktop, that will also appear first on mobile. This is especially important for pages running mobile Sponsored Stories so that users who visit the page for the first time see the most relevant post first.

Admin features

Page owners with the new layout can now view the activity log and see which voice they are publishing from: theirs or the page’s. However, there doesn’t seem to be a way to switch voices from the mobile app like there is on desktop.

The activity log is useful for seeing the most recent fan activity and being able to quickly scroll back and find an action that happened years ago. There is an option to delete any activity from this section of the app.

Have you discovered other new features for pages on mobile? Let us know in the comments or send screenshots to mail [at] insidefacebook [dot] com. 

Facebook pushes users to add location to more photos with News Feed and sidebar prompts

Facebook is encouraging users to tag the location of their photos through sidebar modules and News Feed stories, likely to build better profiles of where users have been.

A new module in the site’s right-hand sidebar prompts users to add location to specific photos they have taken. Facebook suggests a place based on the GPS location information stored in the EXIF data of the image. Users can also select another place to tag if the suggestion isn’t accurate. After clicking “add location,” the location and photo will be added to a user’s Timeline map.

The social network also continues to run stories in News Feed about friends who have added photos to their maps. The story includes links to a user’s own map where they can tag the location of their own photos and friends’ photos they’ve been tagged in.

Smartphone photos often include the GPS coordinates of where the image was taken, but since many people might not know this, Facebook has to be careful not to make users uncomfortable. Clicking the question mark in the top corner of the sidebar module brings users to the Help Center, which explains how cameras include date and location information for each photo. There is also an option to provide feedback about Facebook’s location tagging.

The social network has previously offered location suggestions based on the plain text location included in an album’s description.

In April, Facebook said that 200 million users were tagging 2 billion photos and posts with location each month. That number is likely much higher now as Facebook offers these kinds of prompts and more users switch to Timeline, which includes the map view. Facebook also recently added the option for page owners to tag their posts and photos with location, but we haven’t seen similar suggestions for pages to add location information to photos they uploaded in the past.

Earlier this week we discovered Facebook testing a new mobile module that prompts users to Like a page moments after they check into a location. The company is likely working on a location-based ad product, and so it would want to get users into the habit of including their location with all their posts and photo uploads.

Facebook prompts users to Like pages they check into; could it foreshadow a new location-based ad type?

Facebook appears to be testing a new mobile module that prompts users to Like a page moments after they check into a location.

The module, which appears on Timeline and in News Feed, suggests the page that users just checked into. For now these seem to be organic results, but this could be an early test for a new location-based mobile advertising product.

[Update 7/6/12 2:22 p.m. PT - A Facebook spokesperson tells us, "We launched a feature that allows people to Like a Page after they check in. This is currently not sponsored."]

We previously heard from sources that Facebook was working on a type of real-time location-based advertising, but did not get details on how it might work. Based on this latest test, we wonder if businesses will soon be able to show ads to users who make posts at or near their location. Because they are served within seconds of a user indicating that they are at a place, the ads could be highly relevant. This would also be useful to local businesses and retailers who currently can’t send messages to users who check into their location. However, if businesses can get users to Like their pages, they can remarket to them with posts in News Feed.

At the end of June we saw Facebook testing a “Pages You May Like” module in the mobile feed. The unit originally included organic page recommendations, but last week began showing Sponsored Stories. This could be a similar situation, with Facebook running tests to see how users react to having page recommendations based on their check-in activity. The company is also likely testing users’ reactions to having this type of module in News Feed and on their personal Timelines, as seen to the right. If the test shows that users click the units and do not complain about the placement, then Facebook could begin working with a few partners to test the module with paid results.

While growing its mobile revenues, the company must be careful not to interrupt the user experience, which is why it seems to favor new ad types that some users might not even recognize as advertising. For example, Sponsored Stories promote the organic actions of a user’s friends. Facebook has been slowly rolling out Sponsored Stories to mobile devices since the end of FebruaryLast week was the first time we saw Facebook showing more than one mobile Sponsored Story at a time.

We have reached out to Facebook for more information about the latest test that recommends pages that users have checked into.

Facebook creates new feature to announce weddings and engagements on homepage

Facebook today announced the launch of a new weddings and celebrations feature to make it easier for users to see important events in their friends’ lives and share their congratulations.

When someone changes their Facebook status to engaged or married, it will display to all of their friends in the sidebar next to News Feed. Users can check for birthdays, events, engagements and marriages at the same time. They can then click on the engagement or marriage announcement to write a congratulatory post on the couple’s Timeline. If a user is not already friends with both partners, they can add the other person without being directed to another page. The main benefit to the new feature is that a friend’s big announcement doesn’t get buried in News Feed.

On Wednesday, Facebook updated its event dashboard to include a calendar view for users to see all of their events and friends’ upcoming birthdays. Facebook told TechCrunch that they were holding off adding weddings and celebrations to the calendar. The engagement and wedding announcements are currently limited to the homepage.

The social network often tests new ways to promote activity and help users connect more easily. In 2010, the company introduced a News Feed story for when multiple friends write on a friend’s Wall for their birthday. This helped users remember to send birthday messages to their friends. Last year, Facebook made this even easier with a way for users to write Happy Birthday on a friend’s wall without leaving the homepage.

Also last year, Facebook tested a feature called Big Events, which would update users on a big event happening in their friends’ lives. The module would appear on different pages across the site, not just News Feed, and it prompted users to use Facebook messages rather than Wall posts.

In the future, we might see Facebook expand the weddings and celebrations feature to include when users have a new baby or indicate another important life event on their Timeline.

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