Facebook News: Subscriber Experience

Providing value for both people and publishers on Facebook News.

Role: Product Design Intern
Platform: Mobile

I had the awesome opportunity of joining the Facebook News Design team in NYC for a summer to contribute to the MVP of the Facebook mobile News product that was set to launch in October. I joined the team at a really exciting time, as they were really ramping up to finalize designs and testing for the product, so I was able to take part in building the foundation of the product. During my internship, I focused on supporting workstreams for user controls within the News surface as well as the end to end subscriber experience.
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Subscriber Experience

The subscriber experience for the News tab is an important feature for the News tab as it offer both users and publishers an additional layer of value for our product. I worked on the end to end experience for publication subscribers on the news tab, which allows people with subscriptions to Facebook’s partnered publishers to have their news subscription transfer onto the Facebook platform. This would prioritize content from subscribed publisher(s) on the user’s News experience, and potentially offer exclusive content on the platform.
My solution for the subscriber experience across News included a roadmap for MVP features to be included at launch, fast follow features, as well as long term vision features. I worked closely with the monetization design team at Facebook and partnered with their product managers, content strategists, and engineers to come up with a unified perspective on the News subscriber experience.

Context

Currently, the subscriber experience on Facebook is limited and does not provide clear value for users. The only way to connect a subscription is through a CTA on the Facebook news feed that appears if a user’s subscription information is already in the system. Once a subscription is confirmed, it will show a confirmation modal with settings to adjust where users can see the publication’s content on newsfeed. However, past this, there is no experience that provides value or clear indication of the user’s subscription on the Facebook platform. Thus, with the News platform provides a perfect opportunity where users can gain value from having their subscriptions linked to their Facebook accounts.

Problem

The current subscriber experience on Facebook is disjointed and provides little value for users and publishers. But, subscriber features on the Facebook News product address a deeper people need than just a functional experience. People receive news in various different ways, anywhere from newsletters to different apps or loyalties to specific publications. Because of the sensitive nature of the News space, we wanted to make sure we were creating experiences that helped people feel entirely in control of what news they were reading on Facebook News. Having a robust subscriber experience gives power users the ability to connect with publishers they care about and feel like their Facebook news is a familiar and safe space.

Milestone P

I began this project with setting goals for what was realistic to accomplish by the end of my 12 week internship. I wanted to make sure I delivered a design spec for something the team could build and incorporate into the first launch of Facebook News, but also reference in the future when more resources could be devoted to expanding the subscriber experience.
I started with far fetched brainstorms with our News content strategy, product, and engineering partners and then began to widdle things down to the most important features, and broke things down to be paired with each milestone of the News product timeline.

Breaking Down the Experience

To have a well designed end to end subscriber experience, I broke the experience down to three stages.
1. Pre-Subscription
The experience for users who either do not currently have subscriptions to news publishers, or do have subscriptions that have yet to be linked on Facebook. The goal of this experience is to give users a simple way to subscribe or link an existing subscription on Facebook if they want to.
2. Linking Subscription
The experience for linking publication subscription on Facebook. This includes the first linking and verification, as well as settings and preferences for it later on.
3. Post-Subscription
The experience for users who have linked and verified subscriptions to publishers. At minimum, this would include a unit in the News tab specific to their subscribed publication, where users could easily access content from their favorite publisher. In the future, this part of the experience has the most room for growth and to provide value for users and publishers.

Considerations and Constraints

Most of the context and information I got surrounding user behaviors for subscriber experiences was from our design partners on the monetization team who shared their experience working on the subscriber experience.
When I first started this project, it seemed like it would be simple to me. Just get a user to log in through a publisher’s site, and *bam* their account should be linked. However, after having conversations with the monetization team at Facebook which currently owns the subscriber experience, I realized there are many technical considerations to take into account.
Linking a user’s publication subscription definitely does not come with a *bam*. Publishers have to actually give Facebook user’s information so that Facebook is able to confirm the subscription. That creates a bottleneck for being able to verify users accounts until the publisher provides the information. This means that for users who are able to link their accounts, the publisher has given Facebook their subscription information beforehand. To have the transaction of information done instantly would be a whole other technical barrier, so we decided to create an experience around users whose information we are able to have first.

The Pre-subscription Experience

For users who either don’t currently have a subscription with a publisher or do and want to link their accounts, I identified the most likely entry points for these use cases. On case is when a user sees an article on their News tab from a publisher they already have a subscription with, they would go to the publisher page to try to link their subscription, but this is an extremely high intent use case (and less likely.) Because this is a less likely use case, we decided to slate this as a later feature.

The second use case I identified is based on need, when a user would most need to have their subscription linked. This would be if a user hits a paywall on an article. However, because it is unclear how often a user would hit an article paywall due to some articles on Facebook news being Instant Articles and some being redirected to Mobile Web, we decided this feature would be best saved until more data can be gathered post launch.

The third use case I identified is the most likely to occur and most likely to be effective, which is what I continued to iterate on for the MVP of the subscriber experience. This is considered a “natural entry point” where we surface a CTA to link a subscription if a user is browsing an article from that publisher. One option is for users whose information we already have backfilled, and we can suggest to them to connect their subscription when they are reading an article from that publisher. The other would be for later down the line where we would be able to link and verify a subscription for any user immediately.

My suggestion for the MVP of the news surface was to incorporate this solution for the process of linking subscribed users. A CTA would appear on the News surface because that is the most frequented place, but only for users who are already subscribed to the publisher. We had to be careful with our communication strategy here as to not come across as “creepy” for having users’ information ready to go.

The linking experience

As for the experience of actually linking a user’s subscription, I initially started by making design changes to the current linking modal according to what was appropriate for the News product specifically. However, after discussing with our design partners on the monetization team, we decided for the MVP it would be best to stick with what already exists to avoid going through many rounds of changes to make sure any changes we made were appropriate for other parties who would be using the same modal. In the future, it would be great to have a simplified modal with preferences that are more clear for the News experience specifically.

The post subscription experience

The post-subscription experience is what really provides value for users and publishers on the News surface. For users, it’s an area where we can clearly help them control what they see in their news experience and ensure that they’re seeing content from publishers they trust. To brainstorm for potential post-subscription experience features, I hosted a brainstorm with my design, product, and engineering partners to determine what some high level ideas were as well as some more granular and more realistic features we could expect to build in the near future.
In the end, we decided for the MVP it would be most realistic to include a subscriber unit in the news surface where users would receive news from that publication directly. I explored a few variations on how to incorporate the subscriber unit into the News surface. In designing the subscriber unit, I wanted to make sure the unit followed the existing designs for other units in the surface, but stood out enough to the user so that they would know why they were receiving this specific unit. In these variations, I explored different ways of displaying the publisher’s logo to show the credibility of the unit and establish why it’s there.

The linking experience begins with a CTA in the news surface and takes the user to the existing subscription confirmation page, and surfaces the new subscriber unit at the end.

Some other ideas I explored around post-subscription experiences include an Offline Mode that would sync content from a user’s subscribed publishers so that they can access it anywhere, anytime.

Hand-off

At the end of my internship, I finalized my suggestions for the News subscriber experience with features for the MVP and explorations and tests to run in the future. I think even though the solutions we came up with for the MVP will only affect a small percentage of users, it will be a great way to see how creating features that help users customize their News space can influence their perception of the space.

Takeaways

This project really allowed me to dive deep and really feel a sense of ownership for a part of the News tab. I feel so lucky to have been part of a team at such a unique time, as I realize how rare it is to work on a project so new that will impact so many people’s lives. Because the News product had yet to launch when I was on the team, it was crucial for me to gain context and learn from teams who worked on related products to learn from their experiences. This saved me plenty of time researching and trying to find the right information, as I was able to learn from their thought processes and get tips on what was most likely to work and not to work.
In retrospect, I learned some really helpful lessons with this experience that has shaped a lot of how I’ll approach projects in the future. Here are some of the main ones:
  1. Build collaborative relationships with related crossfunctional teams
  2. Most things are more complicated than they appear
  3. Establish a realistic perspective for each stage of the product
  4. Use data and research to answer open questions