When 2012 began, Facebook users were just beginning to adopt Timeline and try out Open Graph apps. Over the past 12 months, the company has run thousands of tests, launched several new products, overhauled existing ones and ramped up monetization efforts. Along the way, Facebook went public and passed 1 billion monthly active users.
Here’s a reminder of some of the key innovations and changes Facebook made this year.
Sponsored Stories in the Feed
Facebook kicked off the new year with the launch of News Feed ads, which are quickly becoming a major source of revenue for the company and an effective channel for advertisers. When News Feed ads debuted, they were limited to Page Post Ads to a page’s fans or Sponsored Stories to friends of fans. Since then, Facebook has introduced non-social ads to the feed and iterated on the design of these units.
Open Graph Apps
Facebook launched the Open Graph platform to all developers and began approving custom actions for apps that integrate with Timeline. As part of the announcement, Facebook revealed 60 new partners utilizing Open Graph. Now there are thousands of Open Graph apps in a range of categories from games and entertainment to travel, fitness, shopping, news and more.
Timeline for Pages
Facebook pages got the Timeline treatment many had been expecting after personal profiles switched to the design. With the update, page owners have been able to personalize their pages with large cover photos and milestones, though they lost the ability to set default landing tabs. Pages also gained a way to receive and reply to private messages from users, as well as an activity log feature to better sift through past activity.
Facebook revealed that it would begin allowing ads in the mobile News Feed. Like desktop News Feed ads, these started as a slow rollout with limits on what types of ads could be shown to users who were not already connected to an advertiser. Now, advertisers have more options to reach non fans and non friends of fans, as well as control over which devices and operating systems their ads appear on.
Facebook pages gained a new story type that allows page owners to post offers that users can collect from News Feed or ad units. Unlike check-in deals, which required users to first visit a physical location, offers can be redeemed in-store or online. This started as a feature for premium advertisers, then rolled out widely in May before ultimately becoming a paid feature. Pages must now spend a minimum of $5 to post and promote their offers.
Reach Generator was a premium advertising solution for large clients seeking to reach a higher percentage of their fans, which was scrapped later in the year. Reach Generator allowed advertisers to pay Facebook on an ongoing basis, as opposed to a CPC or CPM basis, to sponsor one page post every day, and guarantee a 75 percent reach of the page’s fanbase over a month-long period. Facebook decided to focus on Promoted Posts and Sponsored Stories instead.
Facebook began offering large premium ads that display on the logout page, immediately after Facebook users log out of Facebook using their desktop web browser.
Open Graph Sponsored Stories and Targeting Options
Facebook expanded the utility of Open Graph for marketers when it began allowing any action to be turned into a Sponsored Story and made it possible for advertisers to target any Open Graph action, including those they did not create.
Facebook launched a feature to give users a way to group pages and public figures into “interest lists” so that they can filter their News Feed by topic. Interest Lists can be shared with others, who can then subscribe to them.
Facebook updated its event creation flow so that fewer fields are required to make a new event. The company also made events more like groups in that posts on an event page are now sorted by activity so posts get pushed to the top of the page when they receive comments.
Groups for Schools
Facebook announced a new groups for schools feature that lets users with active school email addresses join online communities related to their college or university. Groups for schools differ from Facebook’s other groups in that they can be exclusive to students. When they launched, they were the only groups that allowed members to share documents with each other, but that has since been rolled out to all groups.
Facebook began testing a Trending Articles module, which highlights stories that friends and other users have read using Open Graph applications. Facebook iterated on the design of this several times and also tried a Trending Videos module for a while. These modules helped contribute to the rise of social reader and social video applications, but the apps suffered when users complained about how their activity was shared and Facebook pulled back on promoting them so heavily in the feed.
Action Optimized Ads
Facebook changed its ad reporting to help advertisers measure a wider range of actions that consumers take after seeing an ad on the social network. With the change, advertisers are able to see comments, shares, app use and Credits spent, as well as Open Graph actions if they use the API. Advertisers can designate which actions they want to optimize for, allowing for more sophisticated goals beyond page Likes or app installs.
Preferred Marketing Developer Program
Facebook combined the Preferred Developer Consultant and Marketing API programs to create a unified certification process for companies that build marketing tools on top of the Facebook platform. The new program, called the Preferred Marketing Developer Program gives companies badges based on their qualifications in page management tools, ad management tools, app development and insights products. In September, Facebook added a new classification for “strategic” PMDs that work more closely with the social network and have additional requirements.
Promoted Page Posts
Facebook began testing Promoted Posts as a way for page owners to reach more of their fans and friends of fans through News Feed posts without having to create campaigns in the main ad dashboard. Instead, page owners can click the Promote button on their posts before or after they make them. This has since rolled out to most pages on the social network and replaced the Reach Generator program. Facebook has even made it possible to create Promoted Posts via mobile. Promoted Posts are the company’s first ad product for which this is available.
Promoted User Posts
Shortly after Promoted Posts for pages started to roll out, Facebook began testing a similar feature for personal profiles. Originally called “highlight,” the feature is now also called “promote.” Users can pay a few dollars to promote their status updates and other posts to the top of friends’ feeds. After a limited test in New Zealand, this was rolled out to the U.S. in October.
Mobile Feed Redesign
Facebook introduced a new design for its mobile News Feed that displays posts in individual boxes similar to how they appear on Timeline. As part of the redesign, photos now appear three times larger than before, making browsing more efficient since there is less need to tap to see an image fullscreen. Fewer stories are visible at one time, but each one stands out more now that Facebook has added a light blue background to the feed.
Mobile Camera App
Despite acquiring Instagram, Facebook released Camera, a standalone iOS app that lets users take photos, add filters and share them on the social network. It also includes a photos-only feed. Many of the app’s features have been brought to the main Facebook for iOS app, including photo editing and easy multi-photo uploads.
New Admin Tools and Mobile Pages Manager App
Facebook launched a standalone page management app for iOS devices, giving page owners access to page notifications and insights on the go. With the m.facebook.com and the main Facebook iOS and Android apps, page admins can access their pages and write on their Timelines as a page, but there was no ideal way to get notifications or analytics without a third-party service. Facebook continued to add features to the app throughout the year, but it has not yet offered an Android version.
Later in the month, Facebook created fives different levels of page admin privileges so that businesses can assign roles to different people without giving up full control of their pages. The social network also introduced a feature that allows page owners to schedule their posts without using a third-party app.
News Feed Redesign
Facebook refreshed its desktop News Feed design with a larger font and two times larger photos. The change gave page posts parity with user posts, whereas previously photos from pages appeared much smaller than photos from users.
Facebook launched App Center, a personalized dashboard that aims to improve app discovery across the web and mobile devices by sorting Facebook-connected apps by category and user ratings. App Center replaces the Apps and Games Dashboard, introducing more visuals and an improved permissions authorization flow. There’s also an option for users who discover a mobile app from the desktop App Center to select “send to phone,” which will send a push notification that includes a link to Apple’s App Store or Google Play.
Facebook announced its Facebook Exchange, an advertising system that allows third-party platforms to place retargeting ads on the social network after users visit external websites marked with cookies. FBX came out of beta in September, but only a limited number of partners have access to the exchange. Retargeting data cannot yet be combined with Facebook’s demographic and psychographic targeting options — nor can it be used for social ads like Sponsored Stories or page post ads in News Feed, but many expect these will become features of FBX in the future.
Credits Phase Out and Subscription Billing
Facebook announced it would phase out Credits in favor of a user’s local currency — dollars, pounds or yen, for example. This gives developers the option to set more granular and consistent prices for non-U.S. users and price the same item differently on a market-by-market basis. The social network also began to support subscription billing for apps on its platform
Some Facebook canvas games implemented a new “start now” function to let users begin playing games immediately without the roadblock of a permissions dialog. Game developers Zynga, Kixeye and EA signed contracts with Facebook similar to deals the company made with Instant Personalization partners like Yelp and TripAdvisor. These developers can access a user’s basic profile information and friend list without requesting permissions in order to help bring users into their games.
Facebook redesigned its events dashboard to include new calendar and list views that help users see upcoming events and friends’ birthdays more efficiently than before. Now all of the events a user has RSVP’d to, has been invited to and has been suggested are included on the same page, either in a calendar or a list.
Facebook introduced “Sponsored Results” ads that allow advertisers to promote their business in the social network’s drop-down search results. Rather than broad keywords, advertisers bid against specific pages, apps or places. Facebook’s other demographic and interest-based targeting can be layered onto these ads as well.
Facebook publicly launched the Recommendations Bar plugin, which serves up recommended articles to readers as they finish reading another. The plugin, which was first released in beta in September 2011, previously integrated the social reading and sharing capabilities of Open Graph, so users could post what they’ve read to Timeline. But Facebook changed directions and now the plugin doesn’t work as a social reader.
Page Post Targeting
Facebook began allowing pages to target their posts to new subsets of their audience, including fans of a particular age range or gender. Some advertisers and marketing developers were told about this feature at the end of July, though it began rolling out more broadly in late August.
Mobile App Install Ads
Facebook introduced a new type of mobile ad in the News Feed for developers to promote their apps. The ads link directly to an app download page in the Apple App Store or Google Play. Because they can use Facebook’s demographic, interest and other unique targeting options, they allow developers to reach more specific audiences than any other channel can offer.
Facebook announced a new design and features for its messages product on the web, including a two-paned layout and keyboard commands. Overall the design allows for faster browsing and makes the product feel more like an email client than it did in the past.
iPhone App Overhaul
Facebook released a much-anticipated update for iPhone that makes loading News Feed, photos, messages and notifications significantly faster. Previously, Facebook built its mobile apps with HTML5, but the user experience suffered because the app was so slow compared to native apps. The company decided to rebuilt its mobile apps from scratch, launching the iOS update in August and the new Android version in December.
Custom Audience Targeting
Facebook opened up new opportunities for ad targeting with Custom Audiences. Advertisers can upload files of email addresses, phone numbers or user IDs, which Facebook will hash and then match with its own hashed database. Ads can be targeted to the matches. The option is now available in Power Editor and via the API.
Facebook unveiled Facebook Gifts, a desktop and mobile feature that allows U.S. users to buy products for their friends. Because the recipient enters their mailing information, the sender doesn’t need to know a friend’s address. Facebook continues to add partners to offer greater inventory. Companies like Starbucks, Apple, Gap, Brookstone, Mondavi Wines and Fab.com are already selling items through the platform.
Mobile Ad Network Test
Facebook began a test to allow its unique targeting data to be used for mobile advertising in third-party apps and sites. This seemed like the beginnings of a mobile ad network, but the company later said the test ended in December. Facebook says it is focusing on its own native mobile ads for the time being.
Facebook started testing a Pinterest-like feature called “Collections,” which allows retailers to post product photos with buttons to save the items to a wishlist, as well as links to buy from their sites. The first test, which included seven retail partners, ended later in the month, but Facebook began another test in December with 14 retailers. We’ll likely see the full rollout of the product in the first half of 2013.
Facebook announced “global pages,” which allow international brands to maintain a single fan page with localized experiences for users in different countries. Global pages have a unified Like and People Talking About This count, but the language, profile image, cover photo, posts and tabs can differ by region. Users who visit a global page are automatically directed to the version specific to their region, but they can access any regional or global page through a drop-down menu.
Facebook removed the Questions feature from users’ News Feed publisher, leaving the product only available to groups and pages.
Mobile Share Button
Facebook updated its iOS and Android applications to include the long-awaited share button and in-line tagging for all posts, status updates and comments so users can mention their friends.
Facebook made it possible for apps and games to create and manage groups for users. This was billed as a way for game developers to help players connect around clans, alliances, guilds or other game communities, but non-game apps could ultimately find use in the API as well.
Mobile Photo Sync
Facebook rolled out its photo sync feature that uploads and stores a user’s mobile photos in a private album on the social network for quick sharing later. The company began testing photo sync for Android in August, but didn’t launch for iOS until November.
Facebook redesigned its “friendship pages” to show two users’ history on the social network in Timeline format. Friends can now customize their pages with a cover photo and highlight important posts or memories.
After a Hackathon, Facebook began testing a service that allows local businesses to offer customers free Wi-Fi after checking in on the social network. Facebook supplies the router but businesses provide the Internet service. When visitors check into a location on Facebook, they are redirected to the business’ Facebook page and can continue to browse the web for free. Page owners will be able to track how many new Likes they received from people who took advantage of this service.
Facebook launched Nearby, a new local search and discovery feature in its iOS and Android apps. Users can search for specific places, browse categories or see broadly what’s around them, organized by their friend’s recommendations, check-ins and other social cues. The feature offers business information and an option to rate and recommend places.
Facebook announced a small test that allows some users to pay to send direct messages to another user’s inbox rather than their “other” folder. Senders whose messages would have appeared in a recipient’s “other” folder will be prompted with the option to pay $1 to have the message routed to the inbox instead. If the sender chooses not to pay, the message will still be sent but not to the main inbox. For now this is a limited test among U.S. users.
Redesigned Privacy Controls
Facebook made a number of changes to improve the usability of its privacy controls, including a redesigned activity log, a two-step app permissions process, a new request and removal tool for photos, and more user education throughout the site.
Phone-Only Login for Messenger
Facebook now allows non-Facebook users to sign up for its standalone Messenger app on Android to send messages to the contacts in their phonebook who are on Facebook or also use Messenger. This could help people who are not on Facebook communicate with their friends who are. It might also encourage new users to join the social network after they begin using Messenger.
Just ahead of the holidays, Facebook released Poke, a standalone app for iPhone that allows users to use its famous Poke feature or send messages, photos or video to their friends for a designated period of time. After a few seconds, messages disappear from the app, similar to popular app Snapchat.