10 Facebook features to watch in 2016

An internal communications service, shopping tab, integration with outside apps and other features are pushing Facebook well past its competitors. Here’s what communicators should know.

A recent Cornell study describes how people are becoming increasingly dependent on Facebook’s usefulness.

The study asserts that users don’t leave Facebook for lack of utility; they leave for fear of addiction.

Though Facebook’s propensity to cause addiction is questionable, its usability isn’t. Facebook’s ecosystem (which includes Instagram and WhatsApp) offers unprecedented usefulness, and the social media giant is expanding its native services substantially in 2016.

The upcoming changes are new to Facebook, but not to the social media landscape. Facebook appears to be borrowing the best aspects of other popular social networks.

For communications professionals, this means that the ways you can communicate on Facebook are expanding. Imagine a platform with all of the functions of Facebook, Periscope, Yelp, Google, Yammer, Uber, Amazon Marketplace, Evite and Razoo. That appears to be what Facebook hopes to become in 2016.

Start watching for developments of these new features:

1. Facebook Live Video

Comparable services: Periscope, Meerkat

Some of the most talked about apps these days are live-streaming apps such as Periscope and Meerkat. However, not too many people use these services, which may give Facebook Live Video an opportunity to become the go-to live-streaming app.

You don’t need an additional app to use this feature. In Facebook’s mobile app, the Live Video content prompt is located in the “Update Status” prompt.

Facebook introduced this feature exclusively to public figures in August, but it has since started a small rollout to U.S. users, and it just introduced the service to verified business pages.

Expect the service to expand to more users in 2016 and for brands to begin experimenting more with live video.

Multiple studies conclude that video engagement is higher on Facebook than on any other platform (including YouTube and Instagram), so pay attention to this in the coming months.

2. Facebook Professional Services

Comparable services: Yelp, Google reviews (also known as Google My Business)

If you haven’t noticed, Facebook prompts you to review places you’ve visited. If you check in or tag a location, it’s likely that Facebook will ask you to share your experience.

Of course, this has a purpose. The Facebook brass wants it to be a recommendation engine. Mark Zuckerberg alluded to this before he rolled out the first iteration of Google Search, suggesting that a Facebook user could search for a sushi restaurant and get recommendations from his or her contacts.

Facebook Professional Services recently soft launched, and it’s more akin to Google reviews than Yelp’s robust reviewing community. When I searched “Indian Restaurants in the Cincinnati area,” there were more Facebook reviews than Yelp reviews. (Yelp’s stock price decreased upon announcement of Facebook Professional Services.)

3. Facebook at Work

Comparable services: Yammer, Slack

Facebook at Work (currently in beta) is Facebook’s enterprise solution, and it has a compelling sales pitch. It’s an enterprise social media solution with functionality that most people are familiar with.

For communicators, this means that in the near future, internal communication opportunities might develop within a closed Facebook ecosystem.

Weber Shandwick is one of Facebook at Work’s beta testers, and the PR firm’s initial impression is that the workflow isn’t as clearly delineated as it is in Yammer or Slack, though ease of use and collaboration are among its strengths.

Expect to hear more about Facebook at Work, as stockholders envision higher profitably with a strong enterprise-level product.

4. Improved search

Comparable services: Google, Bing

When Facebook quietly dropped Bing as the provider powering its Internet search, few people suspected Bing’s replacement would be Facebook itself.

In October, Facebook rolled out an improved search function that opened up all public posts and provided personalized results. For communicators, this means public posts are more accessible to the Facebook community.

5. Uber/Lyft integration through Facebook Messenger

Comparable services: Native apps for Uber/Lyft

Facebook recently integrated Uber and Facebook Messenger, so users can now request an Uber ride through the Messenger app. Similar integration with Lyft is said to be in the offing.

Though the communication implications of this additional feature are slight, it’s worth noting that Facebook users might start using Messenger instead of Uber’s and Lyft’s native apps.

6. Shopping tab

Comparable services: Google Shopping, Amazon Marketplace

In July, Facebook launched a “buy” button and enabled e-commerce partners to sell products on Facebook through Shopify. Though the results were disappointing for Facebook this year (as well as for Pinterest and Twitter), the social media platform appears poised to expand its e-commerce offerings in 2016.

Facebook has begun to roll out a shopping tab to a small number of users. The results are similar to Google’s shopping tab.

Communicators should partner with marketers to use this feature to increase sales.

7. Instant Articles

Comparable services: Apple News, Snapchat

In May, Facebook introduced Instant Articles for iOS, a feature that enables publishers to distribute and view their content within the Facebook app. (Instant Articles recently expanded to Android devices as well.)

Designed to mimic Snapchat’s agile, unique content (provided through publishing partners), readers can view Instant Articles on nearly all mobile devices with greater reach than Snapchat or the similar Apple News app.

Communicators have to understand that readers will consume brand content on third-party platforms. This could have ramifications for measuring and monetizing branded content.

8. Events

Comparable services: Google Events, Yelp, Evite

Facebook Events has been around for a while, but it hasn’t been an especially popular or impressive feature. By contrast, Google Events (which was once integrated with Google+) was impressive, though equally underused.

The new Facebook Events allows you to do all of the following in a user-friendly environment:

  • Browse invitations
  • Accept/decline invitations
  • Bookmark events
  • RSVP
  • Fill out calendar entries
  • Buy tickets
  • Check in
  • Post photos

For communicators who coordinate events, Facebook Events might be a straightforward and accessible way to manage them.

9. Nonprofit crowdfunding

Comparable services: Razoo, IndieGoGo

There are a host of great crowdfunding sites, all with varying degrees of distribution. For 501(c)(3) nonprofits, Facebook could be the best option for crowdfunding campaigns.

Through Facebook’s platform, distribution and “Donate” button, nonprofits might be able to conduct fundraising efforts more effectively than on other crowdfunding sites.

10. Music Stories

Comparable services: Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer

Facebook recently rolled out its “Music Stories” feature, which enables users to preview songs from Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, NPR and other sources. It’s currently available only for iOS but will become available for desktop use soon.

Though this might not be important to communicators now, there has been some speculation that Facebook is interested in developing a music-streaming product.

Any communicator tasked with distributing audio content ought to pay attention to this feature.

Facebook is the most exciting social media platform right now. There are newer, shinier platforms, but none that can rival Facebook.

Some of Facebook’s innovations might be derived from other platforms, but as is evident with Live Video, Facebook’s distribution gives a product significant power.

Jim Dougherty blogs at leaderswest. His areas of interest include statistics, technology and content marketing. Find him on Twitter @jimdougherty. A version of this article originally appeared on the Cision blog.


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