Facebook pages are back!
Technically Facebook pages haven't gone anywhere. Marketers have been able to operate their own Facebook profiles since 2007, and 45 million businesses actively do, according to Facebook. But Facebook pages haven't had a major overhaul since 2012, when Facebook was very much a desktop-based social network, and their luster hasn't been so bright lately.
On Tuesday Facebook announced a wave of updates to pages that seek to make marketers' social profiles as useful for doing business as for connecting with customers. The updates also aim to modernize pages for the mobile world. In the three years since the last pages overhaul, attention has shifted to mobile, where the news feed figures more prominently.
Even still, more than 1 billion people check out at least one Facebook page a month, and the number of messages sent between people and pages has nearly doubled year-over-year.
"We haven't really made a big announcement on the pages platform since 2012," said Benji Shomair, Facebook's director of product marketing for pages. He cited two reasons for this latest update. People interact with pages differently on desktop than they do on their phones, where in particular they message brands more. And brands haven't been able to tweak their pages to fit their business needs.
In addition to starting to let pages set up e-commerce shops on their pages, Facebook is testing the ability for pages to list the specific services a business provides, such as auto repair, spa care or insurance coverage. Marketers will also be able to more prominently feature links atop their pages, links that people can click to call a business, message a business through Facebook Messenger or fill out a form with information for the business to use when contacting a customer.
Facebook appears to be looking at pages as a way to siphon people away from searching for businesses on Google. Mr. Shomair cited numbers from a Forrester study that claimed that apps account for 85% of the time people spend on their smartphones and that identified Facebook as the app that people spend more time with than any other. Marketers can develop their own mobile apps, of course, but small- and medium-sized operations can find that too hard or expensive, he said.
"That puts us in a position to be part of the solution: how can we help small businesses be found and reach the people they want to reach on mobile," Mr. Shomair said. "We think Facebook pages can be that solution."
To adapt pages to the smaller screen, Facebook will add new tabs later this year that will appear atop pages and let people click to navigate to specific sections on a page, as opposed to scrolling down to find what they're looking for. "If you think about the mobile surface, you can't show too much information because you don't want to overwhelm the visitor," Mr. Shomair said. For now the tabs will appear horizontally in the order that the sections appear vertically on the page. Facebook is still deciding whether it will eventually let marketers rearrange the order of these tabs, he said.
Those tabs will grow in importance as Facebook allows marketers to add more sections to their pages. Facebook plans to add more sections to pages over time, but the initial list is limited to shopping and services. As was previously announced, businesses that have set up e-commerce shops using Shopify software can port their product catalogs to Facebook and sell directly there. Facebook doesn't take a cut of the product sales or put any limits on how many products can be included in the catalog, Mr. Shomair said.
While people will be also able to check out which services a business offers -- and how much each service costs, if a business opts to add that information -- they won't be able to book a service through the Facebook page, Mr. Shomair said.
Facebook is also using Tuesday's announcement to highlight changes that were announced last month around how people can communicate with companies through their pages. The company is rolling out "very responsive" badges for pages that are quick to reply to people's messages -- answering within five minutes for 90% of messages received in the prior week.
In another new feature, Facebook is letting business use their pages reply to people privately, which could be useful when more information is required than a consumer would want to post in public. And pages can create a list of saved replies that can be used as templates when responding to people's messages. Facebook isn't providing templates, so businesses will be responsible for drafting their own replies.
The updates to pages are rolling out to mobile first, but will eventually apply to the desktop version as well, Mr. Shomair said.