5 Facebook changes that flew under the radar

Take note, social media managers. These unheralded changes to brand pages could affect the way you communicate with your audience.

Typical Facebook. You wait for a new or significant change to emerge and then all of a sudden, a number of them are revealed at once. The social network has a habit of announcing new features shortly after it holds a major event like its recent page redesign. Now that’s been followed by a number of new additions and changes to its desktop, mobile, and advertising products, which you may or may not have kept up with. It’s been an eventful month for Facebook; here’s what you need to know. Cover photos now allow calls to action Facebook has run a pretty tight ship in the last few years. In a bid to get more advertising revenue from users, it’s relied more on brand pages using sponsored stories and ads to build up their fan count. This meant clamping down on other areas. It made these ads the only prominent way of promoting a page. This is still the case, but Facebook has become less stringent with the rules governing cover photos by updating its guidelines. First spotted by Hugh Briss of Social Identities and Andrea Vahl of Grandma Mary – Social Media Edutainer, the new guidelines took effect on Mar. 6. Originally the guidelines regarding cover photos said:

“All covers are public. This means that anyone who visits your page will be able to see your cover. Covers can’t be deceptive, misleading or infringe on anyone else’s copyright. You may not encourage people to upload your cover to their personal timelines. “Covers may not include i. images with more than 20 percent text; ii. price or purchase information, such as ’40 percent off’ or ‘download it on socialmusic.com’; iii. contact information such as a website address, email, mailing address, or information that should go into your page’s ‘About’ section; iv. references to Facebook features or actions, such as ‘like’ or ‘share’ or an arrow pointing from the cover photo to any of these features; or v. calls to action, such as ‘Get it now’ or ‘Tell your friends.'”

If you check Facebook’s page guidelines, the majority of this language has been removed so that it reads:

“All covers are public. This means that anyone who visits your page will be able to see your cover. Covers can’t be deceptive, misleading or infringe on anyone else’s copyright. You may not encourage people to upload your cover to their personal timelines. Covers may not include images with more than 20 percent text.”

In short, rules ii. to v. have been removed from the guidelines entirely, giving cover photo content a bit of breathing space. It’s a welcome change for marketers who may have felt constrained and can now be more experimental with their covers. The change ties into the new Facebook redesign, which brings cover photos to the news feed, placing a greater focus on them. The image below is what it looks like in the current format. Before you get too excited, the 20 percent rule remains, meaning you’re still limited with what you can include. If you need help with your cover photo, this handy tool will show you roughly how much text you can fit into your cover photo, and whether your current image adheres to Facebook’s guidelines.

RELATED: How to size images on social media: a cheat sheet

Introducing lookalike audiences Last week, Facebook introduced lookalike audiences, a targeting feature that the social network says will help advertisers reach new customers and grow their business. The idea is that through this feature, you can reach audiences that share characteristics similar to your current audience, such as interests and demographics. The larger the customer list you load, the more accurate the results. There are also ways to optimize your lookalike audience, but the more specific your search, the less accurate your results. The feature is available to all power editors. To access it, select the “Audiences tab” from the left menu of Power Editor. According to Inside Facebook, there is no additional cost for creating or using a lookalike audience, but the targeting is only available for ad campaigns, not page post targeting. Facebook Messenger calls expand In a move to take on apps such as WhatsApp and Viber, Facebook introduced free calls to its U.S. users. Now U.K. users will get a slice of the action, as Facebook introduced the free calls to Great Britain. To make the free calls, users must have the Facebook Messenger app on their iPhone, iPad, or iTouch. It immediately makes communication between users in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. easier. While this doesn’t have any immediate benefit for marketers, the expansion shows just how serious Facebook is about mobile and how far it will go to become the dominant service across all platforms. Hashtags ahoy? The Wall Street Journal revealed that Facebook is experimenting with hashtags in the news feed. Similar to hashtags on Twitter and Google+, the feature will likely help organize conversations and topics. Considering the difficulty of finding relevant posts and status updates on Facebook, this update would provide an easier way to search the site and give Facebook a better way to graph post updates. It would also help advertising. The potential exists for Facebook to introduce a system similar to Twitter’s Promoted Tweets. As always, the possible introduction of a new feature on Facebook will be followed with talk of advertising, but because Facebook hasn’t officially confirmed anything yet, this is mostly speculation. Threaded comments Facebook is rolling out threaded comments to pages and popular profiles to help boost interactions with fans. In the past, page owners could not reply directly to a comment. The only criterion for pages to use the threaded comments is that they must have more than 10,000 followers. Currently, pages can opt-in to the feature if they wish. The new feature should help page managers deal with large number of comments as well as allow users to better understand the context to each comment. This way, it’s easier to follow the conversation, and gives brands a chance to respond directly to complaints or compliments.

RELATED: Facebook says brands can now put targeted ads in news feeds

Quinton O’Reilly is a writer of social media/tech stuff for Simply Zesty, where a version of this story first appeared.

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