This Week in Social is a weekly digest of some of the biggest stories in social media marketing news. These stories are the show notes for the Brave Ad World Podcast. Each story is discussed at a deeper level on the podcast.
Snapchat May Make Some Snaps Permanently Viewable
Snapchat is currently mulling over the possibility of removing one of its most iconic features—ephemeral messages. This means public snaps may become permanently viewable in the near future, so for now at least, this would only be limited to publicly available “Our Stories."
“Our Stories” are used by publishers, so this may be an olive brand to them as a way to generate additional ad revenue with content that doesn’t disappear. It would also help Snap in its quest to make Snapchat content more pervasive outside of the app itself. Snap’s “Stories Everywhere” effort is all about taking UGC and putting it in the hands of publishers to include on their websites as well as other partners like the NFL to put Snaps on in-stadium signage. There’s been hesitancy to use “Stories Everywhere” because they disappear, so incentivizing partners to make more use of it would make Snapchat a broader part of culture.
This move is significant because of its philosophical shift from Snapchat’s ephemeral roots, but the scope of this effort would be limited. I liken it to Twitter’s move to lengthen the character limit of tweets. Yes, users can tweet longer, but the majority of tweets are still within the original character limit. A move like this makes the platform more malleable to be used in more places.
Still, Snapchat’s user base is very vocal as we saw from the revolt against the app’s redesign last year, so whatever Snapchat does, it needs to bring its users onboard or risk alienating them once again.
Facebook Launching Content Oversight Board
Facebook has announced that it will be organizing a board of independent experts to provide oversight for its decisions on what content should or should not be allowed on the platform.
Right now, the decision to launch the board has only gone so far as a charter, which also stated some lingering questions, such as how many members will the group have, how long will they serve and what criteria will be used to determine which issues should be brought to the board. Each of these questions will be answered in collaboration with experts and organizations over the next six months in workshops held around the world. Experts brought in to help answer these questions will specialize in free expression, tech, democracy, procedural fairness and human rights.
Facebook has come under increasing pressure over recent years about which content is and is not okay. While some content has been allowed for arbitrary reasons, other users have found their content removed for similarly arbitrary reasons. At the very least, the board may be able to provide a level of transparency and consistency that’s been lacking in the past.
Reddit Launches CPC Ads
Reddit’s joining countless other platforms in offering performance-driven advertising with cost-per-click ads. The move will allow advertisers to turn to Reddit and optimize their campaigns for offsite conversion. Up until this point, it’s primarily been limited to view and impression-based metrics.
Now, it can be used for the following objectives: reach, video view, traffic and conversion.
Reddit has a lot of potential for marketers given its scale as well as the specific affinity groups that have been developed through the site’s subreddits.
What’s most notable about this move is how long Reddit took to employ such a commonly used offering for advertisers. But it’s part of a larger effort by Reddit to make itself more attractive to advertisers. Obviously, the site’s scale is attractive, especially when advertisers consider how dedicated and engaged its visitors are. But there have been questions regarding just how safe Reddit is for brands.
This effort, at least partially, helps to make Reddit a more attractive pursuit for brands who have dismissed it in the past.
Facebook Reports Strong Earnings
There’s a drug that we can’t seem to quit no matter what we hear about it. Yes, it’s Facebook earnings time, and once again, the social network is doing very well. Revenue came in up 30% over last year to $16.9 billion, and profits came in at a record $6.9 billion (a jump of 60% over last year). Facebook jumped to 2.32 billion users from 2.271 billion in the previous quarter, with strong growth coming from Asia.
The news isn’t that shocking. Facebook appears to be made of rubber. Reports of questionable ethical practices or mismanagement of user data are something everyone gets upset about, but at the same time, they’re checking Facebook.
Users and brands are still flocking to Facebook. Users seem to be undeterred with reports over what Facebook is doing with their data and their psyche. Perhaps, they feel reports of Facebook having negative affects on their mental wellbeing applies to others but not themselves, or maybe they’ve resigned themselves to the fact that their data is already online. And advertisers continue to see Facebook delivering on both scale and brand objectives.
Facebook is the social network we can’t quit, no matter what it does.
To be fair to Facebook, it has made some significant shifts in its business practices to quell the spread of misinformation on its platform and to provide additional, while imperfect, transparency in its data practices. It’s been able to do all of this, while continuing to grow its business, which is impressive. Facebook seems to be firing on all cylinders, and really, any struggles it's had have been from its own doing.
Mark Zuckerberg said it best. “A lot of our business challenges have been self-imposed.” Yep.
One of Facebook’s main contributors to a successful quarter is in Stories. On Facebook’s previous earnings call, Mark Zuckerberg stated that advertisers should expect a greater emphasis on the ephemeral content sharing feature, which was already seeing great success on Instagram and WhatsApp. Now, it’s even picking up on Facebook’s core app.
Zuckerberg stated that as things accelerate on Facebook Stories advertisers can expect to see ad prices going up there as well. Right now, Stories are competitively priced compared to ads placed in the News Feed, where demand is still the greatest, but as Stories continue to grow in popularity, demand will bring Stories prices up.
Facebook didn’t provide specific numbers on Stories usage in its main app, but we do know Instagram Stories are viewed by 500 million people each day. This should be a sign to advertisers that Stories ads aren’t going anywhere. They appear to be picking up steam from a user adoption perspective and performing well enough that Facebook is prepared to stake a good portion of its future on them.
News Quick Hits
Facebook launched a new Privacy and Data Use Business Hub on Data Privacy Day, which was Monday of last week. The hub is meant to be a resource for businesses to review and use to make sure they’re protecting user data, including following GDPR. We also found out that Clear History will be available “in the coming months.” This will let users see which information and apps are connected to their accounts and delete it.
Facebook is launching an election war room ahead of 2019 European Parliament Elections. The goal of the war room will be to remove fake news and prevent voter suppression on the platform. The team will be based in Dublin.
TikTok is quietly testing its first ad unit. The ad appears shortly after launch and is about five seconds long, but users are able to skip the ad via a skip button. It’s basically an app launch pre-roll ad unit.
This week we found out about an iPhone privacy bug that let users call each other on FaceTime and then immediately hear audio on the receiver’s end before he or she accepted or rejected the call. Basically, the feature let anyone eavesdrop on anyone else. Obviously, this is a major flaw, but it also comes at an inconvenient time for Apple, which has staked its position as being the digital brand that protects user privacy. Apple has taken the feature that enabled the bug offline as it gets addressed.
Facebook has blocked plug-ins from organizations including Pro Publica that allow them to see what political ads users see on Facebook and what targeting criteria was used. The goal of the plug-ins are to research Facebook ad targeting. Facebook said it blocked the tools in an effort to prevent the abuse of ad blockers and other web crawlers, but the move also signals Facebook’s desire to clamp down on additional transparency. This tool revealed targeting information, but Facebook does not reveal targeting information in its political ad archive. Maybe it just doesn’t want to for some reason.
The rumors of Apple’s upcoming streaming service have been pervasive, but a launch date has been elusive. Now, we may be a bit closer. According to The Information, Apple’s streaming service will launch several weeks after mid-April, which is when the service is expected to be ready. Apple is allegedly planning to let users subscribe to other services (e.g., Showtime) in addition to its original content offerings, which is a play Roku recently started employing. The move is inline with Apple’s recent moves to evolve to become a services company as much as, if not more than, it is a hardware company.
Facebook is employing a program that pays teens and adults between 13 and 35 years old to download its “Facebook Research” VPN. The VPN gives Facebook access to online user behaviors, which may be in violation of Apple policies. Users who install the app have been paid up to $20 per month since 2016. The program is also available on Android. Facebook said it would pull the Apple version of the app, but Apple beat them to it. Once the VPN was reported, Apple revoked the certificate that lets Facebook use Apple’s Enterprise Certificate Program, disabling the app. It also made all of Facebook’s other pre-release beta iOS applications stop working as well. It did the same to Google’s Enterprise Certificate, breaking its internal apps as well. Google had an application similar to Facebook for tracking users. Apple eventually restored access, but this may be the first of many instances of Apple playing the role of corporate data police.
Twitter is testing a feature that places news stories at the top of user timelines first thing in the morning. The goal of the test is to provide users a snapshot of the news they may have missed since last logging into Twitter. Twitter already has a “while you were away” feature that provides users an algorithmically-generated digest of the most popular tweets from users they follow.
Reuters is reporting that Pinterest has brought on Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase to take point on an IPO for the company in 2019, likely in the first six months. Pinterest has not confirmed the report.
Mark Zuckerberg clarified plans to merge messaging between Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram. We now know that any such merger will take place in 2020 or after. “There’s a lot more we need to figure out before we finalize the plan,” stated Zuckerberg.
BuzzFeed, Group Nine Media and Vice are coming together to build a new set of standards for measuring digital media across the Internet. The publishers are working with Tubular Labs to measure just how media, particularly video, influences audiences. The goal of the project is to develop holistic measurement and effectiveness standards for the Internet as a whole. Content is served up differently in YouTube versus BuzzFeed, for example. How can you compare assets apples to apples? That’s what the group aims to uncover.
Digiday acquired a pitch deck from TikTok outlining its planned ad formats. What brands can expect are Brand Takeovers that give brands high-profile visibility in the app, In-Feed Native Video that places full screen skippable ads on the ‘For You’ page, a Hashtag Challenge that encourages users to create content around the brand and Branded Lenses that can be 2D, 3D or eventually, augmented reality.
Snopes announced that it will no longer work with Facebook on its fact-checking program. They said Facebook’s fact checking program was a bandaid to larger issues Facebook has yet to address.
Facebook and Twitter removed multiple fake accounts that were linked to Iran. The goal of the accounts was to influence political discourse in countries around the world. According to Facebook, it removed 783 pages, groups and accounts. Twitter suspended 770 accounts. Accounts linked to Russia and Venezuela were also removed.
Hulu has announced pause ads that display on users’ screens whenever they hit pause. The ads are only appearing on select content for users who are subscribed to the ad-supported version of Hulu, and they display on the screen until users resume. The ad units will launch in Q2 of this year.
Amazon is officially the third-largest ad business, just behind Google and Facebook. Amazon brought in $10 billion in advertising for 2018, which is impressive considering it only just recently started to aggressively build out its ad platform. $10 billion blew predictions out of the water. eMarketer was predicting $2.8 billion in ad sales for Amazon at the beginning of 2018.