Last week Facebook announced a redesign of the most traveled page on their site — their homepage or user news feed. This is the first major overhaul for Facebook since September 2011 when they rolled out their Timeline design for profiles followed by brand pages. More than a new look, this redesign impacts both form and function by reworking the area of the site individual users and brands interact with most. But what does this new Facebook news feed redesign mean for your brand?

During their media event, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlined this overhaul using three key core concepts — visual, feeds, and mobile. Using this framework, let’s take a look at these news feed updates by category and explore their impact on your brand.

More Visual Stories

Like all things social, Facebook’s news feed is getting a whole lot more visual. More than a trend, this is a direct response to how people are using the network today. Facebook officials noted that 50% of the content shared in the news feed today is visual. As Zuckerberg himself added, “the stories around you deserve to be displayed with more than just text.”

facebook news feed visualSo what does “more visual” mean? Photos in the feed are even bigger than ever, while also leaving ample room for white space. However, brands need to take note of a reverse implication here: with this increased real estate, the content you create must pack a powerful visual punch to both stand out and entice others to share your work. Thumbnails just won’t do anymore. You need to have a big featured image to fill this large social real estate or your brand will be lost in this visually stunning new feed.

Integration with other social networks also shines brighter in the updated news feed. Shared pins from Pinterest are larger and more inline with what the images look like on the popular social bookmarking site. Instagram photos and video links also enjoy a boost in size.

Of note to businesses, Facebook ads are also bigger now too — especially large, photo-based ads. The enhanced image size offers marketers even more space to tell their story. Brands need to remember that with great power comes great responsibility. If you have stellar content with engaging design, it will shine. If you push misleading link bait, you won’t have as much vagueness to hide behind.

Another cool visual social feature? When you and your friends share the same link, your avatars will all appear vertically stacked next to the shared item (see the example above). While this feature may appear to have negligible business impact, putting a face with a name adds to the social proof behind the share.

One last thing that got more visual? The Facebook brand itself. The new news feed layout quietly replaces the full wordmark version of the logo with an understated iconic ‘F’ a la Twitter swapping their wordmark for their bird last year. While this really doesn’t impact your business it is an interesting trend and definitely one that reinforces social media’s emerging visual direction.

Personalized Feeds

Beyond what the news feed looks like, Facebook is also experimenting with changing the fundamentals of how it works as they strive to make the network “the best personalized news paper.”

facebook news feed feedsOne of the marque new features is that users now have more control over their updates by managing multiple feeds. Many of these self-identify based on the content you check most, including mainstays such as All Friends, Photos, and Close Friends as well as newcomers Music and Following, which offers a reworked approach to the previous Pages feed. For those less enamored of EdgeRank’s interpretation of your feed updates, a chronological view is also available.

Of course, the downside of greater feed control for businesses is that it’s even easier for users to shut out branded updates. It’s also unclear how multiple feed activity works with the platform’s paid or “promoted” posts. Facebook is also making a bigger play toward capturing trending content by displaying recent articles about celebrities, topics, or brands that you have liked on the network.

Mobile First

facebook news feed mobileFor Facebook, mobile has long been an afterthought, with limited features and stripped down functionality. The new design was created with a mobile-first mindset promising a more platform-agnostic user experience. With an increasing number of mobile users this strategy is a “need to have” for the network not a “nice to have.”

This new design is best illustrated through visuals like this one (right), showing the same content across platforms from phone to tablet to desktop. Currently these interface views vary. The redesigned news feed brings an aligned cross-platform look, making the user experience solid across devices. While the brand impact here could seem minimal, consistency should enhance user interactivity, which should in-turn enhance brand-driven behaviors as well.

Another mobile-focused update is that check-ins now display larger maps to better direct other users to where you are. This could be useful for driving additional foot traffic to local, retail-focused businesses.

News Feed Next Steps

Social media has gotten incredibly visual over the past year. From the emergence of Google+’s field of white space and iconic design to Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram, images continue to get bigger as their role in what users and brands are sharing increases even further.

All of this has led to a visual arms race with implications for brands as well. For example, almost every social network of note now features a cover photo with each striving to out-do the other in size (just last week Google+ attempted a bit of news-jacking by inflating their cover images up to the largest of any social site).

Like the Timeline rollout, Facebook is releasing the news feed update in phases starting now. They want to test the new layout in limited stages and iterate as needed based on user response. You can get on their waiting list — similar to Facebook’s Graph Search — by signing up here. If you have access to the new layout, you’ll see an icon and message at the top of your current Facebook news feed.

What do you think? Is the Facebook news feed redesign significant or is it just window dressing? What impact do you see these updates having on your brand and your industry? We’d love to hear in the comments below.