Facebook is preparing to roll out a new feature on Pages and popular Profiles that will help increase interactions with fans and readers: Replies. Up to now, visitors could comment on a post but others, including the Page owners themselves, would not be able to respond directly to them in cases of multiple people commenting on a post. Facebook has been running tests of the new feature since November last year; now a source tells us it will be rolling out the feature more formally as an opt-in on Monday, March 25, before turning it on for everyone in July.
Update: Facebook has now confirmed this story and rollout plans. “We think this update will allow for easier management of conversations around posts, which is a better experience for people interacting with Pages and public figure profiles,” a spokesperson said. (original story continues below)
Another feature that will be launched at the same time is active-thread sifting, which also had been in beta testing. Here, the most active conversations will be ordered at the top using an algorithm to appear higher in the posts.
Replies and the algorithmic sorting won’t work everywhere. They are being rolled out only to Page posts and Profiles with more than 10,000 followers, not personal accounts. Also, they will not work on mobile, although the intention is to make Replies part of the Graph API and mobile in the future.
Replies are already a part of Facebook’s commenting plug-in, which runs on third-party sites (TechCrunch used to use it; it doesn’t anymore). But this is the first time Replies will be appearing across Facebook itself.
The most important reason for introducing Replies is that it gives Page owners the ability to engage directly with individual commenters, and other Page visitors will then be able to see the most active conversations. This will not only improve the quality of the conversation but will mean more engagement for the Page posts overall. Engagement remains a key metric for Facebook as a way of quantifying how much time users spend on the site, important data for those deciding how to invest marketing budgets.
Facebook will let Page owners opt in to using the new Reply feature from March 25, and it intends to make the change universal by July 10.
In a FAQ that Facebook has been circulating, it gives a little bit of an explanation about how the conversation threads will work, and it’s a little more sophisticated than simply putting the comments with the most replies at the top, and ties in with how Facebook generally prioritizes content for you based on your own social network and likes.
They “may appear differently to each person based on their connections,” Facebook writes. So, for example, if you as a viewer happen to know some of the people in a particular thread, that thread will jump to the top for you, as Facebook assumes you’ll be more likely to want to jump into that conversation.