Facebook 2012: A Year in Review

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.

January

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.

February

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.

Mobile Ads

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.

Offers

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

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.

Logout Ads

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.

March

Interest Lists

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.

Events Update

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.

April

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.

Trending Articles

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.

May

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.

June

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.

App Center

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 Exchange

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

July

Start Now

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.

Event Calendar

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.

Sponsored Results

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.