The Future of Facebook & Instagram

Alexandra Watson

In March of 2019, Facebook announced that the company will undergo a series of changes in the near future to accommodate a major shift in business strategy. This will impact Facebook as well as its other owned social properties: Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger. Facebook will increasingly shift its platforms’ focus away from public posts to encrypted, ephemeral communications on its trio of messaging apps (WhatsApp, FB Messenger, IG Direct).

Mark Zuckerberg stated, “today we already see that private messaging, ephemeral stories, and small groups are by far the fastest growing areas of online communication.” In his words, the changes to the social experience will feel less like a town square (yelling in public) and more like a living room (private conversation with friends). 

What does this potentially mean for business Pages, advertisers, and agencies? Ultimately, that Facebook will be morphing its products to be more like a private Snap(chat) group, and unifying its messaging applications into a more closed & data-secured experience.

 

This will help to stay ahead of the curve as changes to the platforms slowly roll out, and enable businesses to continue to reach and engage with key customers and prospects.

AN OUTLINE OF CHANGES ACROSS FACEBOOK-OWNED PLATFORMS

  • Data will be encrypted (end-to-end), preventing businesses (and governments) from seeing and analyzing message content. Zuckerberg has already noted this may lead to Facebook being banned in certain countries internationally. This will likely make post analysis more difficult outside your own business Page, so analysis of competitor’s Pages or of top trends won’t be as easy to come by.
  • Stories and video content will gain prominence across the new user experience. Across all platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp) contacts and friends will be organized by Groups and act as a hub to share Stories, Memories, Status updates, and watch shared Videos. 
  • The Facebook app has undergone a major redesign “to make communities (groups) as central as friends”. This centers around a completely redesigned Groups tab, with new Groups discovery tool to connect people with Group suggestions.
    • In our analysis, we believe the platform will likely move from its current advertising model of selling page-space on News Feed to a Groups-based experience (think Snapchat) with an ancillary marketplace for goods & services (capitalizing on the popularity of FB Marketplace). WhatsApp is already scheduled to open up ads soon as Facebook’s next platform for ad placements.
    • The News Feed will no longer be the most important section of the site. As the move to a more private, Groups-based experience takes hold public posts to the News Feed will be featured less and cause further drops in reach. Businesses will have to focus on quality engagement over quantity of exposures (impressions and reach).
    • Will Groups become the next area available for ad targeting? That remains to be seen, as that option has not yet been added to targeting options. But it’s possible that ad placements could shift from the News Feed into Groups pages too.
  • Instagram will explore a “rethinking of fundamentals” like Profile, Follower counts, and Post Likes. What remains to be seen is how this change to its vanity metrics display will impact interaction on Instagram – in other words, how users will respond differently when the popularity of a Page, Post, or Influencer isn’t as readily available and visible.
    • They are already beta-testing a Profile redesign that makes Follower count much less noticeable.
    • They are already beta-testing new “Private Like” feature that hides the Like Count total visible per post! Instead you’d see a sampling of Profile thumbnails of those that Liked the post (and you could manually calculate the total). Only the account owner would see a Like total per post, and even then “only if they ask” through back-end reporting. This is rolling out in other countries before the U.S. It remains to be seen how this will play on the psyche and impact interactions with posts and profiles. See example below:
  • Facebook Messenger will be “a dedicated place for your closest connections” – not only to text and call Facebook Friends, but also contacts across WhatsApp and Instagram. This hints at a move to one unified Messenger application in the future. More “ephemeral” messaging means that posts will likely have an expiration time from posting, rather than sticking around permanently in the app history.

 

ASSESSING THE IMPACT TO SOCIAL MEDIA USAGE FOR BUSINESSES

VIDEO

Think of ways to harness the power of video in your social content strategy, from organic posts to ad units! 

  • Video content on Facebook includes direct uploads to the platform as well as Live-streaming video feeds. SproutSocial research indicates that “85% of its videos are watched without sound” and that “those who watch video (on Facebook) will spend three times as much time on a Live video than a produced one”. According to a 2018 Buzzsumo study, the optimal length for video on Facebook to maximize engagement rates is under 4 minutes. 
  • On Instagram, longer form video (up to 60 minutes long) can be featured in vertical or horizontal formats on IGTV.  SproutSocial reports that video content on Instagram receives “38% more engagement than image posts and 2.1x the amount of comments”. 
  • Need help? GTMA has a variety of video and visual production packages (inc. custom “Snackables”) that can be booked as a proactive step to garner both awareness and engagement. 

Using video across the social experience on both Facebook and Instagram (in News Feed posts, in Stories, in ad units) is worth experimenting with to gauge reach and interaction with your target audience. Also consider creating custom retargeting lists based on video viewing activity. 

STORIES

The “story” format was originated by Facebook’s social rival, Snapchat. Stories are essentially short user-generated photo and video collections that can be viewed a limited number of times and which disappear into an archive within 24 hours of creation, unless they are “pinned” and saved to a Profile as a featured “Highlight”. Use of Stories centers around the in-app camera, where people can overlay and apply fun stickers, text, geolocation tags and photo filters to their content. Story content can be accessed from within the main Facebook and/or Instagram app from the top of page as a secondary visual News feed. See Buffer’s guide to Facebook Stories here

The bottom line: Shifting strategies from that of public Newsfeed-only Posts to Stories content on Facebook and Instagram will garner attention and create a sense of urgency. Stories’ limited-time nature lend a sense of excitement and freshness that you don’t get in the more evergreen posts of a News feed. And Stories are allow users to curate their own content of interest, which is a great way to build community and engagement for businesses. 

GROUPS

Finally, embrace the segmentation and micro-targeting possible through participation in Groups! Business Pages can now join and engage in Groups, and Groups are also being rolled out as a targeting option with Custom Audiences. Consider Groups that would be relevant for your Facebook page(s) to join and contribute to, whether that be local municipalities or neighborhoods, community Groups, or ancillary interest Groups in categories like Shopping, Health/Wellness, or Gaming.

IN CONCLUSION

Social media is ever-evolving, and the opportunities for exploration and growth are therefore endless. Stay connected to where your target audience spends their digital time, and work with your GTMA team to explore ways that you might flex and adapt your content marketing strategy to these technological developments and consumer trends. 

  • Data will be encrypted (end-to-end) on Facebook and its owned properties
  • Stories and video content will gain prominence across the new user experience
  • A completely redesigned Groups tab will make communities (Groups) as central as friends

 

Alexandra Watson

Press Release: Welcome Alexandra Watson

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