The Scoop on Facebook’s Latest Raft of Improvements

In the mercurial world of social media, where a new platform is anointed the hottest every year or so (Snapchat’s the reigning queen bee), it’s impressive how much user devotion 12-year-old Facebook inspires. In January, the site had 1.59 billion monthly active users. 

That’s great news for marketers: Facebook is still the most brand-friendly social channel—allowing marketers to post embedded links, host e-commerce pages, tailor the reach and breadth of advertising, and easily develop and manage business pages and listings. 

And because Facebook is so well-trafficked, it has actually become its own search engine. The site’s content, including business listings and reviews, shows up prominently in Google search results. But keeping up with users’ demands means it’s always adding and upgrading tools and features. 

Improvement is Facebook’s goal, says Jessica Nana, owner of consulting firm Socially Savvy Studio. “They make changes because they put a lot of research into finding out what users want,” she adds. “They call it trimming the fat. Ultimately, they want to make sure that users are seeing active, popular pages in their searches.”

The network has recently rolled out a spate of new and/or improved tools—many squarely targeting the small-business owner. Here are a handful of new developments independent retailers should be aware of:

Yelp-Style Listings

To compete with Angie’s List and Yelp, the network has quietly rolled out Facebook Professional Services, a search engine that lets users find top-rated local businesses—e.g., plumbers, painters, contractors, spas, salons, jewelry repair places. The reviews come up in Google and Facebook when you search. 

Emoji-Face Reactions

In February, the platform added a rainbow of emojilike “reactions” to complement its famous like button. Now users can hit “like” or tap an expressive little cartoon face that represents “love,” “ha-ha,” “wow,” “sad,” or “angry.” Romey Louangvilay, cofounder and chief curator and director of digital marketing for Curate Directive in New York City, says the new emotional shadings allow marketers to more accurately gauge how users feel about things: “We can try to capture sentiments a little more accurately around content.”

Shopping Pages

Facebook has been testing ways for consumers to buy products off the network for years. Late last year it added a small shopping section (where only a few retailers listed products), which Facebook said would eventually be customized for individual users based on their interests. The feature’s still in beta, but the site is dead-set on seeing its users do their shopping under its shingle—and certainly has the resources to keep trying different things. 

Better Search Results

Facebook has made marked improvements in search this year. It used to be that you’d enter a word or phrase into the search bar, and only a few results would come back. Now the site offers up a list of personalized suggestions, including posts from friends who are discussing the same topic. That’s key for brands because “it gets your topic seen more,” Louangvilay says. “You’re still not going to see a post on a Facebook page that’s on a ‘private’ setting, but you can see everything else there is to see on Facebook about your brand.”