September: social media roundup

Twitter doubled its character limit! – In case you haven’t noticed, Twitter is trialling what may be the biggest change since launch. The social network has doubled some users’ character limits from 140 to 280 characters, in a test that may be rolled out more widely if received well. Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, broke the news in a tweet that used 228 characters. The reasoning behind this significant update is so that “every person around the world [can] easily express themselves on Twitter”, and affects languages impacted by cramming (i.e. all languages except Japanese, Chinese and Korean). Twitter found that “the character limit is a major cause of frustration for people Tweeting in English, but it is not for those Tweeting in Japanese”, and that more people tweet when they don’t have to cram their thoughts into 140 characters. It’s evident that this update is intended to draw more people into using Twitter, but given the widespread use of ‘tweetstorms’ and threads, whether 280 characters will actually encourage more people to post remains to be seen.

Is WhatsApp stepping into advertising? – Facebook-owned WhatsApp is experimenting with giving businesses verified accounts, in the way that Facebook and Twitter do. The company notes that some business accounts will be displayed with a green tick badge next to them – which denotes that the social media platform has ‘confirmed’ that the phone number is linked to a business account. Currently, verification is limited to a very small number of companies in a pilot programme. The next question is whether this is a step towards monetising the messaging app – given that more than 1.3 billion people use WhatsApp on a monthly basis, this seems to be the next logical development. The company’s CEO has confirmed that there won’t be adverts within the app, so this could be a way of making money without serving potentially off-putting ads to users. However, businesses sending mass marketing messages to users from a verified account may just be seen as advertising in disguise.

Facebook and Twitter further pivoted to video – As part of ongoing efforts to share videos on their platforms, both Facebook and Twitter have continued to push into TV-like content. Facebook announced a new partnership with the NFL, and Twitter has confirmed that the 16 live shows it announced in May have now received advertiser commitment and will be produced. As the most effective form of online content with the best response and engagement, video holds huge potential for digital advertisers. Facebook’s partnership with the NFL gives the platform distribution rights for official NFL video, including recaps, highlights, and NFL-created programmes that will be uniquely packaged for the network. The NFL Page has almost 16 million followers, presenting businesses with significant advertising opportunity. In turn, the popularity of NFL content means that more users will watch videos on the new Watch video platform, raising awareness of Facebook’s exclusive video content. Twitter’s live shows will span sports, news and entertainment, giving businesses access to TV-type advertising in specific areas that companies may want to target. Brands that previously couldn’t afford traditional TV advertising during sports matches or entertainment broadcasts will now be able to gain visibility amongst these audiences.

Instagram Stories can be shared straight to Facebook – It’s not surprising that Facebook-owned Instagram is being drafted in to help struggling Facebook Stories. To boost the popularity of the feature in Facebook, Instagram is testing the option to allow users to share their Stories directly to the main Facebook app. Given Facebook’s own version of Stories hasn’t been received quite as well as Instagram’s, this could be a simple way to make the most of users’ willingness to use the latter’s. However, this would be a substantial step towards integrating the two networks – which have remained largely separate since Facebook bought Instagram five years ago.

And…Facebook aligned itself even closer to Instagram – Facebook has confirmed that it is rolling out the option in the main navigation menu on mobile to include a link to users’ Instagram accounts. This will appear just below the link to the user’s personal profile and above links to any managed Facebook Pages. If clicked, the Instagram app will be launched and the user will be taken to Instagram’s main feed. This is another move by Facebook showing its desire to keep users within its own mobile properties, rather than losing them to other networks such as Twitter or Snapchat. It is also likely that this move is to encourage its 2 billion users to use Instagram rather than other networks with similar functionalities such as Snapchat, where younger users are choosing to go.

Instagram expanded access to Branded Content tools – Instagram is continuing to work on its influencer capabilities and is moving towards a new transparent and simple way to show followers that there is a paid partnership involved. The platform has granted access to Branded Content tools, making them available to influencers, public figures, publishers and business accounts. Influencers can tag a business partner in ‘Advanced Settings’ as long as they have a business profile set up. Posts are approved by the business partner before going live, after which the company has the option to remove the tag and access Insights – both for regular posts and Stories. Stats available to businesses are reach, taps forward, taps backward, replies and exits, and this information is made available for 14 days after posting.

Snapchat and Amazon are pulling out the stops to woo influencers – Influencer marketing is continuing to grow in popularity, and Snapchat and Amazon don’t want to miss out. Facebook and Instagram have both announced new tools to facilitate better influencer systems, improve transparency and offer more detailed and accessible analytics. Snapchat is expanding its verification programme and Amazon is opening its influencer option to more social stars. Snapchat’s expansion of ‘Official Stories’, which have long been a home for celebrities, now encompasses platform influencers. (Although a few influencers have been able to use Official Stories for a while now, this update is a step up in terms of the network’s efforts in the influencer space.) This follows the inclusion of links in Snaps, and is the latest development from the social network to lure influencers away from more popular platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. The benefits of being included in Official Stories include a chosen emoji symbol displayed on the user’s profile, the ability to connect directly with the profile through Live Stories, a custom filter for any special occasions and improved discoverability in search results. Similarly, Amazon is opening its Amazon Influencer Program to YouTube stars, taking into account the fact that YouTubers are powerful influencers. Previously, influencers could apply to join the programme by filling out an online form. This a clear first step into being able to tap into the power of social media to drive sales. The influencers involved will get a customisable page and an easy-to-remember vanity URL so they can share product recommendations with purchasing information, for which they will earn a commission on qualifying purchases.

Snapchat works to make ads more interactive – Snapchat is working on a way to make its adverts a little more unique. The social network is working with 14 new Creative Partners to build custom games, interactive videos, gyroscope-powered experiences, lead generation campaigns and pre-loaded Instant Apps that users will be taken to from ads. The Partners will also help connect advertisers to influencers. Examples of this type of content include Budweiser’s Super Bowl campaign which involved a playable American football game, as well as the keepy-uppy football game created for Adidas. It is evident that Snapchat is making the post-swiping up experience more enjoyable for its users, and this in turn could train people to click on adverts rather than just skipping them. Additionally, these more immersive adverts will lead to longer time on-site, better user engagement, and increased recall of advertisers.

Also…Snapchat opened 3D World Lenses to brands – Snapchat is offering its 3D augmented reality World Lenses to companies as an advertising product. This feature will be launched in partnership with Warner Bros and Bud Light, both of which will debut branded 3D World Lenses as part of their advertising campaigns. This means brands can try to create their own viral sensations, reminiscent of the dancing hot dog, to encourage Snapchat users to use their filter. The first two partners have their own creations that users can add to real-world scenes. Warner Bros is including the ‘Spinner’ car from the new Blade Runner 2049 film and Bud Light is offering a beer vendor from its current TV campaign. World Lenses give companies a chance to add their brand into real-world interactions in a relatively natural way, and Snap has also pointed out that these can work for product discovery and trials (essentially like a virtual showroom for a new product). Advertisers are also able to run national campaigns, or target specific audiences by age, gender or interest.

LinkedIn extended its ad reach beyond its own network – LinkedIn’s new Audience Network expands the reach of adverts on the platform by working through Microsoft’s expanded network. The social platform will now have a broader reach than it did previously, by making use of MSN and Outlook, giving advertisers more ways in which they can re-target users outside LinkedIn. The network has said this will enable advertisers to reach users on “thousands of premium partner apps and websites where LinkedIn members spend their time”. This is already possible by advertising through Google or Facebook, but the advantage LinkedIn has is that its dataset is unique: to reach people with a specific job title, those who work for a particular company, or decision-makers in a certain sector, LinkedIn is strides ahead of the other two in terms of reaching professionals. Another advantage is that LinkedIn users tend to keep their profiles more up to date given its use as an online CV.

Twitter introduced Popular Articles – Twitter has launched a new feature: a Popular Articles feature that features stories being tweeted about by users’ followed accounts as well as articles that are popular in their location. This feature has now been rolled out to everybody following testing. Popular Articles are found in the Explore tab of the app, and users can open the news stories within the app by clicking on the headline. This is just another step along the path Twitter is forging for itself, wanting to be seen as a news app rather than just a social network. Along with live streaming partnerships with news networks and trending topics, Twitter really is becoming the place to find out about breaking news and widely-discussed topics.

Facebook looks to help users enjoy videos without data – To prevent users from burning through their mobile data, Facebook is testing a new feature called Instant Videos. Using this, viewers can download and cache Facebook videos to their phone when using WiFi, so that they can watch them later for free. Those using this feature will see lightning bolt icons on pre-loaded videos. This calls to mind Instant Articles: Facebook’s own hosted content format that loads far faster than mobile website so that users don’t drop off while they’re waiting for an article to appear. Videos load even slower than web pages, and so Instant Video is likely to draw in publishers wanting to ensure maximum viewability for their clips. The feature could also benefit Facebook Watch, so that users can pre-load videos and watch them later.

Google is helping publishers with their subscriptions – For the first time, Google is choosing to work alongside publishes to improve their subscription services. The company is using data and artificial intelligence to help news organisations generate revenue from their journalism. Currently in discussions with News Corp, the New York Times and the Financial Times, Google is developing new AI tools to make it easier to market and sell online subscriptions – Google user data will be able to recognise potential subscribers and tailor subscription offers to them. This also relates to the end of the ‘first click free’ programme, whereby Google lets users see three stories hidden behind a paywall without needing to subscribe. This was supposed to generate more subscribers, but hasn’t proven successful. For this reason, the company is now extending its hand and offering to help in another way. It’s clear that the big companies, including Google and Facebook, are working on improving their relationships with publishers – Facebook has said that it will start testing the support of paid subscriptions within Instant Articles. This also gives an indication as to the future of traditional media and how print publications may continue to generate revenue in a heavily online world.

YouTube launched ultra-fast live video streaming – YouTube has launched a new technology to improve viewers’ viewing experiences. Creators will now be able to choose a new, ultra low-latency option when broadcasting their live videos, allowing for almost real-time interaction with their viewers. This means there will be no more pauses or silences between the questions being sent and answers being spoken, as well as no need for creators to invest in expensive software and hardware. This new update will make live content creation easier and more accessible. It means there will be a couple of seconds of latency – as opposed to previous latency times as high as 10 seconds – so the broadcaster will have time to see questions and take viewer input into account before answering or commenting. Some other tools have been introduced to make live chat moderation easier including inline moderation by using the “alt/option” button to pause the chat feed, the opportunity for streamers to hold potentially inappropriate messages for review, and shared hidden user lists across comments and live chat.

Facebook introduced Camera Effects for events – Some events pages on Facebook are prompting users to ‘use Camera Effect’, suggesting that the social network is pushing its filters and tools as more of a promotional tool. By using the Camera Effects Platform, any user can create a video mask or overlay for a specific event, which is a fantastic way to encourage people to share user-generated content and to get involved in the event in question. If Facebook continues to push these tools, it could add pressure on Snapchat which has long been the go-to for this type of promotional activity. By encouraging more event organisers to create customised visual promotion tools, Facebook will be able to keep more people – both creators and users – on the platform and away from Snapchat.

Facebook added to Stories capabilities – Facebook Stories have not been as popular as perhaps anticipated and are lagging behind Instagram and Snapchat’s similar functionalities. With this in mind, the social network has focused on its full-screen Camera feature, adding the options to live stream, film two-second GIFs and share full-screen text posts on coloured backgrounds. These posts can be shared to Stories, through Messenger or posted onto the News Feed. It seems that Facebook is now trying to take on Snapchat’s popular function directly as opposed to fighting by proxy through Instagram. These features bring Facebook Camera more in line with Instagram’s Stories’ capabilities. Combining augmented reality face filters with Facebook Live may mean users are more likely to broadcast in real time if they’re able to hide their face. However, some critics have asked why Facebook needs to copy its own – and incredibly successful – Instagram Stories. Currently, take-up of Facebook Stories seems low. Perhaps these updates are what the function needs to flourish.

Snapchat is collaborating with Apple and Google – Snapchat is creating partnerships with Apple and Google, potentially leading to future opportunities for the social network. Apple is creating new face-tracking and image enhancement tools, working with Snapchat to develop Lenses and visual additions based on this. Additionally, as part of Google’s ‘Made with Code’ education programme, the company is collaborating with Snap on a competition that gives teenagers the chance to tour the Google and Snapchat offices and create their own Lens, which they enter by submitting their own Geofilter. The partnership with Apple could lead to huge benefits for Snap – most Snapchat users have iPhones, and with early access to Apple’s AR features, the app could get the upper hand when it comes to developing new tools and features. Google and Snapchat’s competition partnership highlights the benefits of coding knowledge in a more fun way, and shows how these skills can be used to develop features teenagers know and love. Whether these partnerships have an effect on Snap’s performance will not be clear for a while, but they may have significance in the app’s future evolution.

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