Towards the end of completing my masters in business administration, I decided to take the UX leadership course where we were assigned a project that entailed applying design thinking to improve Facebook’s news feed advertisement. Everyone involved had a UX background, and the majority of the work was done remotely.
Initially, we did not have any assigned roles. It became evident that we lacked a leader in the group, and I organically came to assume the leadership role and made sure everyone got to express their opinions and ideas at our meetings. In addition to playing the leadership role, I also played an active role in the execution of the project. Finally, I took on a larger role with regards to the research, concept design, and presentation of the project. While having active engagement in almost all aspects of the project, I did not do any of the graphic design for the presentation.
Facebook’s news feed ads are the primary revenue stream for the company. This section is a vital part of the Facebook business model. At the same time, ads are the part of the Facebook experience the users do not like. Because of this, Facebook aims to create “ads as good as organic” – i.e. creating ads that are as good as the normal content your “friends” generate.
Therefore, our challenge was to create concepts of how Facebook could improve the ads to be worthy of belonging on the users’ news feed.
The initial meeting
At our initial meeting with Facebook, the focus was to get a better understanding of current limitations and how Facebook viewed the future. It became clear that we did not have as many limitations in carrying out the project. Still, it was strongly recommended that we focus on mobile usage since it is the primary mode of Facebook exposure.
Brain dump to clear our minds
The project undertaking began by allowing each individual in the group to “dump” their ideas by writing them down and presenting them. This exercise was not meant to generate groundbreaking ideas or concepts. The goal was to free up people’s minds so that they could focus on research without having their minds occupied with ideas. After the “brain dump”, we sorted the ideas into categories to make it easier and more efficient to go back and review them if we felt the need to.
To gain a better understanding of the users, we focused on mapping emotions in relation to Facebook’s news feed ads. After mapping all the negative emotions we could think of, we attempted to couple them with the opposite positive emotions. We left this mapping of emotions as it was with the intent of utilizing it later on in the ideation phase.
To gain a better understanding of users, we conducted ethnographic research where we observed their behavior. One of the main takeaways from these observations was the endless scrolling. If something was interesting they stopped and interacted for a limited period of time before resuming scrolling behaviors. This meant that users not only scrolled past many ads that showed up, but also past content that they found uninteresting.
In addition to the observations, we also conducted informal interviews. The interviews supported the observations. For example, some participants did not even know there were any ads since they just ignored them. In addition, there were also some new insights from the interviews that we did not catch on our observations. For example, users could not distinguish between specific company content posted to their news feed because they had “liked” a company page versus ads posted in their feed from advertisers. It also became apparent that users did not know how to use the functionality of letting Facebook know an ad was uninteresting to them. This feature is somewhat hidden and may not be obvious, so that it is easier for the user to just scroll past it.
To gain insights from the advertisers’ point of view, we watched Facebook’s F8 conference and talked to some small business owners. From this, we discovered that advertisers have a hard time generating valuable content for the users. Reasons that were identified were either lack of time and money to generate valuable ads or lack of experience or knowledge to create something valuable for the users.
Update of the problem
After investigation, we had a better understanding of the problem and the roles of varying stakeholders in the Facebook eco system.
- Users want valuable content and want it to be effortless.
- Advertisers want effective ads, but do not always know how to generate them.
- Facebook wants ads that are highly valuable for the users and that generate business for the advertisers so that they find the Facebook ad platform valuable.
Ultimately, all three entities want the same outcome, to generate valuable content, but encounter the problem in different ways.
We then ideated through an online brainstorming session. It was more challenging to brainstorm through an online conference call, but all in all, we were able to surpass the obstacles. It turned out to be effective and efficient. To fuel the creativity, we looked at the problem statement, the research, and the emotions we uncovered. For the emotions we had mapped, we posed the question, “how can we turn the negative emotion into a positive one?”
After the brainstorming session, we grouped the ideas into categories and thereafter started to evaluate them critically. After much discussion, combining ideas, and a final round of voting, we ended up with 6 concepts that we wanted to explore further. Before we sought user feedback, we enhanced the concepts and made sure everyone was on the same page.
Much of the validation was done by telling stories, and some was done by explaining the concept and asking for feedback. We gained a few surprising insights. For example, one of our concepts was built around tracking user behaviors and emotions to help provide better content to the user. We expected this concept to get a lot of negative feedback, but it turned out there were two different user groups. Some users reacted as expected and did not like it at all, but there was another smaller user group that considered a cost/benefit analysis. In other words, so long as the value outweighed the invasion of privacy they were OK with the concept.
Presenting to Facebook
After refining the concepts, we created a PowerPoint presentation with focus on our top 3 ideas and placed the remaining 3 in the appendix. Three of us presented, and after the question session, Facebook representatives were eager to hear the other 3 concepts we had created. The discussions following the presentation were very engaging, and the presentation went over time due to the massive interest.
Our project was successful in that we accomplished the goal of generating new concepts for Facebook, while exceeding expectations and generating a lot of internal discussions about how these concepts could be implemented and improved.
As of right now, I do not know the final outcome after the presentation. With the interest shown during our presentation, I believe that Facebook considered our work as valuable, and could imagine these concepts being refined even further. I hope to see the implementation of our ideas on their platform in the near future.