You’ve probably heard that there are some pretty massive changes being rolled out across Facebook and Instagram at the moment, but if you’re only paying attention to click-bait, you would be forgiven for thinking it all relates to the Secret Crush feature (aka Facebook’s answer to a dating app).

Behind the headlines about Facebook revealing to your crush that you might be keen on them are major platform updates to both Facebook and Instagram that will significantly change their look, integration and eCommerce functions.

You might already have seen the difference in the layout of Facebook via the mobile app (or if you haven’t, you will soon – hang in there, it’s coming). These changes will be reflected on desktop shortly also.

This updated fresh, clean look may just look cosmetic, but it comes with a significant shift in direction from Facebook across all of its platforms that will impact the way businesses use the platforms for marketing purposes.

Mark Zuckerberg indicated a few months back that the newsfeed “as we know it” will evolve over time, even hinting that it may one day go away (gasp!). From this latest update you can definitely see that the newsfeed is becoming secondary. Stories are taking top precedence, with groups much more prominent as well.

Here’s a breakdown of the changes that are coming (with some already here) and what they mean to marketers and business pages.

Stories

Once you view the new layout, you really can’t miss the Stories section. They now have top billing, and cannot be ignored (as studies have shown they mostly have been until now). Whether this will actually result in users growing to love stories, only time will tell.

Facebook has clearly evoked a more Instagram-like look to their stories, in an effort to use the platform that is performing much better with young people to funk up their look and perhaps even get those young folk more interested in spending time on Facebook.

Other than the prominence, the only other change to functionality stories is that they will disappear after 24 hours.

As a marketer or business owner, keeping your stories prominent and relevant has never been so important, as this timed-erase feature will impact brand awareness and interaction.

If you haven’t jumped on the Stories bandwagon as yet, then take this as a signal that it’s time to start.

Groups

How people use Facebook has been changing over time and Facebook is updating the platform to reflect this. For example, an increased amount of time is being spent communicating with people via groups and private messaging. Those two channels have been given a facelift to reflect their importance.

Groups are now much more prominent, with a newsfeed all to themselves. Only time will tell as to whether or not this new groups newsfeed will become the primary destination for some users in a similar way that stories may be the primary destination for others.

If you manage a group, please don’t panic thinking that people won’t see your content unless they click on the groups newsfeed button. Groups are meant to be getting more visibility within the main newsfeed alongside these changes as well.

Whether this will be user-generated groups or business page-created groups is yet to be revealed, but we’re hoping this change will be reflected across both business and personal groups. So if you aren’t doing it already, now might be a good time to adjust your Facebook marketing strategy to include interacting with your audiences in groups they are already hanging out in, as well as seeing how you can add value to your products and services using groups managed by your business. 

The updated groups layout now also includes a recommendation tool, that will suggest groups that users should be a part of based on their interests and interactions. Mark Zuckerberg indicated that they will have measures in place to ensure that they are only promoting quality groups. What that means is not entirely clear, but no doubt it means they will have some sort of algorithm applied to determine this.

If you are managing a group, then keeping that group highly engaged, free from complaints and of significant value to your community will be of utmost importance so that your group gains prominence within this group recommendation feature.

Another feature of the groups update will be the ability to share content directly to groups from within your newsfeed, which should entice more interaction and engagement 

To maximise user experience in groups, a range of tools have been developed, including health support groups will have the ability to ask an anonymous question and gaming groups will have an additional chat feature. Buy and sell groups will also include features to allow users to order items and process payments for those items, as well as postage.  

There is also a rumour that group posts may be able to be boosted as ads within the group, but that is still to be confirmed. This will be great for businesses if it is rolled out.

Events

Not a lot has changed in the events space, other than a slightly more prominent position and an increase in the function that connects people with similar interests and locations to nearby events.

Messenger

The messenger platform has been given a makeover to strip back clutter and allow a more user-friendly experience. Facebook announced that they have reengineered the architecture of the platform (internally coined Project LightSpeed for the tech geeks).

The messenger platform has been redeveloped to be faster and more secure, with an emphasis on “more secure” (as they desperately try to claw back some privacy security cred).  

Aside from the updated look and fun features, such as being able to show an emoji status, there is some exciting stuff for businesses and eCommerce.

The updated platform will include authentication tools, lead generation capabilities and the ability to drive in store traffic.

This will allow businesses to easily create lead gen ads within Ads Manager and to accept bookings via Messenger, features that have until now been only available via a third-party application (such as Many Chat).

Another awesome announcement is that there will finally be a Facebook Messenger desktop application – hoorah!

For businesses with multiple admins, a great feature to come is that users replying on behalf of a business will have the option to show their first name and photo, which won’t directly link to their personal profile. This will allow the experience to be much more personalised and help to humanise the relationship, which studies have shown leads to a better ROI.

Market research has shown that users are more likely to purchase a product or service from a business that is Messenger responsive and personalised, making these updates vital for the Facebook Messenger platform if it wants to be the preferred messenger marketing platform for businesses (which of course you know it does).

While all these Messenger features sound great, here is a word of caution – don’t treat Messenger like your email list and spam your Messenger subscribers. Use this platform to give them the VIP treatment, with personalised service and customised messaging.

Instagram

While the changes coming to Instagram are not as major as its older cousin Facebook, there are some pretty cool features coming to this social media playground.

Soon users will be able to purchase products directly from instagram posts, via tags applied to the products shown in the images. For example, if a fashion influencer shares a pic wearing a designer dress, shoes and jewellery, they will be able to individually tag each product and a user can click to purchase via these tags. This function is currently being tested (via influencers, of course!) and will allow users to purchase without leaving the app.

Another feature being rolled out is donation stickers in stories, allowing users to click through and donate to charities and influencers to encourage their followers to support causes.

And for anyone who used to get frustrated that you had to select content first when posting an image or video to Instagram, you will be happy to know that you will now have the option to start in ‘Create Mode’, a tool similar to the Facebook Stories creator. It’s not earth-shattering, but a fun tool to play with for the more creative amongst us.

WhatsApp

WhatsApp (also owned by Facebook) is not missing out on a makeover either.

Facebook has announced that Product Catalogs are coming to WhatsApp. This feature will be rolled out later in the year and is aimed at small businesses that don’t have the budgets for high ad spends. Payments are also coming to the app, and the rumour mill is swirling that ads are next on the WhatsApp agenda as well. Watch this space…

What’s next?

In terms of what’s next for Facebook, who knows!

Mark Zuckerberg led with privacy at the forefront in his keynote speech announcing the changes, but really hasn’t delivered a whole lot in relation to tightening data security.

In terms of what’s next for you in terms of marketing your business, it’s definitely changing your strategy to reflect the way Facebook intends for the platform to be used.

That means embracing stories as a way to showcase live and in the moment content about your business. Get active within groups, both your own and those in which your customers are most engaged. Take a look at your Messenger Marketing and see if there are ways you can become more responsive, as well as share more meaningful content with your Messenger subscribers (without spamming them).

However, if your audience is spending more time on Instagram, then start using the new features on these platforms. It’s the early adopters of these new methods of promoting your business that usually achieve the best results, so what’s holding you back?

Finally, let’s not forget that Facebook has been moving more and more toward a ‘pay-to-play’ platform for some time now. This is clearly continuing, so if you haven’t started using Facebook Ads to compliment your organic Facebook strategy, there is no time like the present to get started.