Digital Dash (Apr 17): 5 quick-fire stories from this week
1. 5 need-to-knows from Facebook’s F8 developer conference
Every year, Facebook gathers the world’s digital and tech elite for its F8 developer conference – two days of game-changing announcements, and a valuable chance to find out what’s up the company’s sleeve.
2017’s F8 event, which drew to a close yesterday, well and truly lived up to expectations, serving up a healthy dose of jaw-on-the-floor moments.
There’s seriously enough F8 news to take up this entire edition of Digital Dash. But as there’s loads of other news to tell you about too, I’ve whittled it down to the top 5 takeaways:
1) Facebook Analytics: the product formerly known as Analytics for Apps has expanded and will now provide rich audience demographics and customer behaviour insights across channels – including your website – using machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Facebook pixel. Google Analytics just got itself some serious competition.
2) Messenger updates: in short, expect big changes from Messenger version 2.0. Things to look out for include: chat extensions so bots can be added directly to conversations; QR codes that link to bots; a discover tab that will highlight recently used bots and trending ‘experiences’; Smart Replies to help brands answer FAQs; and an updated version of Messenger’s AI assistant, M.
3) Camera Effects platform: the new in-app camera features a host of effects such as masks, frames and interactive filters using the latest augmented reality (AR) tech. Frames Studio allows you to design your own frames, and AR Studio (available for beta applications) can be used by developers to create masks, scripted effects, animated frames and other AR technologies.
4) Facebook Spaces: the virtual reality (VR) app that lets you hang out with avatar versions of friends in a virtual ‘room’ has now launched in beta for Oculus Rift.
Also on a VR note, the company additionally announced two ground-breaking new 360-degree cameras, the x24 and the x16.
5) Building 8: so Building 8 is the product development and research team at Facebook and it has two major projects in the pipeline. Both sound like they’ve come straight out of a sci-fi movie.
The first is a system that lets people type with their brains – a silent speech system capable of typing 100 words per minute straight from your brain.
Still with me?
The second is a project that would allow people to hear with their skin. Just. Wow.
2. Instagram Stories won’t stop, now hotter than Snapchat
After that onslaught of F8 news, we’ll stick to light bites for the week’s remaining top stories.
And on the subject of stories – let’s talk about Instagram’s.
Since launching last August, Instagram Stories has gone from strength to strength and has now hit 200 million daily users. That’s a third of Instagram’s entire user base and just shy of 50 million more users than Snapchat sees.
Word on the street is that advertisers are increasingly deprioritising Snapchat and flocking to Instagram’s seductive shores instead, where Facebook’s mighty ad ecosystem awaits.
To add to the appeal of Stories, Instagram has recently added selfie stickers and new Geostickers.
But it’s not all bad news for Snapchat this week; new data from content network Episode has revealed that 69% (of 50,070 polled) of its predominantly female Gen Z audience said their Snapchat usage has not declined since Instagram Stories went live.
3. Snapchat bids for advertisers’ affection with self-serve platform for Snap ads
Embarking on a major charm offensive to compete with other platforms for advertising dollars and justify its $20+ billion valuation, Snapchat has announced a self-serve platform for its Snap ads product – vertical videos that run between users’ stories or on the Discover section, or both.
The move follows the launch of self-serve sponsored geofilters a few months back and is another step away from the complex, long-winded and expensive Snapchat system of old.
Prior to the announcement, and even after an update in January, buyers had to license partner technology if they wanted to manage ads in-house, and Snap ads had a minimum $1000/day spend. It’s likely that this will be dropped as the new platform comes into play.
4. Dove ‘hacks’ Shutterstock, reminds it what women look like
So you’re working on a project and you need a stock photo of a woman. You scoot on over to trusty Shutterstock and search for a term like ‘beautiful woman’ or ‘real woman’. That should do the trick, right?
In a word: no. Unless a perfectly contoured model, with little in the way of clothing and a lot in the way of airbrushing, is just what you had in mind.
Fed up with the mainstream media’s (mis)representation of women, Dove took action for its latest campaign ‘Image_Hack’. The company collaborated with some of the biggest photographers in the industry to flood Shutterstock with images of “strong, independent and original women in non-stereotypical settings”.
Cleverly tagging each photo, Dove was able to game search results so that the campaign images drowned out the pre-existing ones.
The company subsequently ran a series of outdoor ads aimed at agencies in Denmark, encouraging them to join the movement too and ditch stereotypical visuals for more relatable and empowering representations.
5. Instagram turns on Pinterest, introduces collections
Instagram would be really grateful if you could please just delete every other social media app you own (except Facebook), okay?
It’s Pinterest’s toes being trodden on this time, thanks to an update to Instagram’s bookmarking feature that allows users to organize their saved posts into groups, i.e. makeup, holiday, design inspo. That kind of thing.
According to the company, 46% of users have used the bookmarking tool since it launched a few months ago, and collections is likely to increase the feature’s popularity in a major way.
It’s super simple to use collections: just tap on the bookmark icon under any post and then either save it to a new collection or add it to an existing one.
1. Snapchat gives brands valuable offline insights with new Snap to Store tool
Thanks to cookies and pixels, brands can easily track users from the point they see an online ad right through to a website visit or purchase.
Online to offline attribution however, is a different ballgame.
There are relatively few ways to reliably tie an online ad view to a visit to, or purchase made, in a physical store – Facebook offers one, and as of this week, Snapchat another.
But while Facebook’s system can track footfall and purchases using either location or store/loyalty, Snapchat’s ‘Snap to Store’ only measures store traffic, matching the footfall data to a record of who has – and hasn’t – seen an ad for a particular brand.
There’s a catch though.
For someone to be registered in a specific location (e.g. store or restaurant), they have to actively use the Snapchat app while there. If it’s merely running in the background, that won’t count.
This could put many businesses off – but truth be told, limitations kind of come with the territory right now. Also, Snapchat’s core users don’t usually leave the app unattended for more than, oh, about 8 seconds anyway.
To add to increased offline attribution efforts, Snapchat is also updating its targeting to include more sophisticated location-based options. These include: new categories, enhancement of existing categories and the use of data from location-based analytics firm PlaceIQ.
2. Google’s new doodle bot makes everyone a clip-art creator
Google has just introduced the world to AutoDraw – a very cool automated bot that uses machine learning to identify basic doodles, then transform them in real time into lovely little clip-art style drawings.
Here it is in action:
As you can see, you start out by drawing a rough outline of anything you want. AutoDraw then analyses it, offers suggestions, and when one is selected, autogenerates a replacement (and much more impressive) version using the work of an artist.
The AI toy is free to use and now accessible via mobile or desktop web.
3. Instagram Direct update merges temporary and permanent messages
Until this week, ephemeral Instagram DMs (photos or videos sent to an individual or group that disappear after 24 hours) were separated out from regular DMs.
This meant you could have two message threads from the same sender: one for disappearing content, one not.
But thanks to a new Instagram Direct update, all messages now appear together in one unified inbox.
The ephemeral content still vanishes after 24 hours (otherwise the name would be pretty misleading) but it will initially appear in a chain along with the permanent text and image messages. Once it’s gone forever, you’ll still be able to see when it was sent and what type of content it was.
The rejig is yet another swipe at Snapchat, and another reason for users to choose one app or the other, not both.
The announcement of the update immediately resulted in Snap Inc’s share price dropping by 2.79%.
4. Walmart tries to out-discount Amazon, cuts prices by 5% for order pick-ups
Walmart and Amazon are not friends. The two are involved in a packaged goods bargain battle that’s seeing prices dive and sales soar.
Actually, the battle is fairly one sided.
Amazon has just stepped up its best-price-around game a bit, while Walmart’s scrabbling to keep up and stick to its ‘Everyday Low Price’ guarantee (which aims to have the lowest price on 80% of sales).
While the resulting price drops have not been fun for other suppliers, the opposite’s true for consumers who are literally loving life right now.
And now there’s even more good news for Walmart customers, with the retailer announcing additional online discounts of up to 5% (on certain items not available offline) for those willing to pick up from store.
It remains to be seen if the 5% saving is enough of an incentive, but if it proves to be, this will be a very clever move on Walmart’s part. More trips to store means more impromptu shopping trips – none of which home delivery could have… delivered.
5. Kayak covers for work-hours visitors with spreadsheet version of site
Guilty of ditching the spreadsheet for a sneaky travel site surf every now and again? You’re not alone.
If you don’t believe me, just ask Kayak – a travel metasearch engine – that, after finding out that Tuesday 11am – 3pm was a peak visiting time, casually built a new version of its website which looks just like an Excel doc.
Visitors can now wanderlust at work while appearing to be knee deep in number crunching. Cunning.
Let’s just hope the idea doesn’t backfire though. Getting rumbled by your boss for being distracted and devious would be less than ideal, although ironically you may end up with a hell of a lot more free time for travelling.
1. Meet Mastodon – the Twitter rival that’s better than Twitter
You may or may not know that Mastodon is a prehistoric mammal.
And also a heavy metal band.
And also a new social network started by a 24 year old, which has become so popular it’s temporarily blocking new sign ups.
Mastodon (named after the heavy metal band not the mammal) has racked up over 40,000 users since creeping onto the social media scene six months ago. Its popularity has been spurred on massively this week following the (not at all well received) change to the way Twitter handles mentions.
The distributed open source platform looks and acts a lot like Twitter, but with key differences that most would consider big improvements:
- Free from advertising (… for now)
- Character limit of 500
- Open API
- Reverse chronological and public timeline
- Very strict guidelines to prohibit offensive or abusive content
Users can choose an existing Mastodon server, or create a new one and host their own ‘instances’ – with the platform working in the background to connect them all i.e. people are free to build, or use, a version of Mastodon that works for them, while still being connected to all other users.
The company’s founder Eugene Rochko decided to build the platform after Twitter kept disappointing him. He said: ‘I bought all my friends to Twitter back in the day […] I really loved the service. But it continuously made decisions that I didn’t like. So in the end I decided that maybe Twitter itself is not the way to go forward.’
2. LinkedIn gets Lead Gen forms (and advertisers’ attention)
LinkedIn has just cloned one of Facebook’s most useful ad formats – Lead Ads – making the platform much more interesting to advertisers.
Just like Lead Ads, LinkedIn’s all new Lead Gen Forms help businesses collect data while overcoming a massive conversion killer – manual form filling – by letting users autofill required fields using information pulled in from their profiles.
Nowhere is it more important to make forms simple and easy to complete than on mobile, where smaller screens and tiny buttons can make the process a nightmare.
And when you take into account that 80% of engagement with LinkedIn Sponsored Content occurs via smartphone, you realise that Lead Gen Forms are a seriously valuable addition.
3. Poor reviews prove powerful (in a bad way), online shoppers shun anything below 4 stars
An analysis by Yotpo of over a million reviews across multiple ecommerce sites, has proved beyond doubt that online reviews are worth their weight in gold… and then some.
Just look at the graph below, which shows what happens when products have a star rating of less than 4. It’s a drop so steep, even most hardcore rollercoaster enthusiasts would shudder.
94% of all purchases were made for products with an average rating of 4 stars or more, which goes to show just how influential reviews really are.
Buying something that has a ton of bad ratings takes a lot of balls, and the vast majority of us aren’t anywhere near maverick enough to go against the crowd and risk spending hard earned cash on something that’s probably going to disappoint.
But it wasn’t only our buying habits that revealed our sheep-like tendencies during the study. Really interestingly, it also found similarly crazy correlation between star ratings and the number of reviews. As you can see below, there were 174% more for products with an average rating of 5 stars than for those with 4.
4. Facebook raises a cheer with new fundraising features
Taking a swipe at GoFundMe and co., Facebook has branched out into personal fundraising, now allowing U.S. users to create campaigns within the platform (previously, only nonprofits or individual users collecting for them could use the feature).
Personal campaign pages have space for users to explain their goals, and also feature a real-time progress bar to keep track of the amount they hope to raise.
People can view and share the page, and donate, all without leaving Facebook. The catch? The platform takes a 6.9% + $0.30 fee for each donation (a cut below GoFundMe, which takes 7.9% + $0.30).
Thankfully, there are limitations in place for personal campaigns – which should stop ‘need new Louboutins’ or anything like that from making its way onto your News Feed.
To get the go-ahead, users must choose from six key categories: education, medical, pet medical, crisis relief, personal emergencies, and funeral and loss. Each of these comes with an additional set of restrictions, and Facebook currently has a 24-hour review process to ensure fundraisers meet category and community policies.
The company said it hopes to expand the category list over time.
Not stopping at personal accounts though, Facebook also added a new fundraising support tool for business Pages too this week – a ‘Donate’ button for live video broadcasts.
5. Snapchat brings search to Stories + adds new features for advertisers
Snapchat users (based in select US cities) can now search through over 1 million public Stories by keyword, place, topic etc.
The move is a big step forward for the app’s main feature, as previously you could only see Stories from others you follow or those published by Snapchat itself – drastically limiting reach.
The search bar is impressively advanced and powered by unique machine learning technology that scans not only the captions of Stories but also elements of the imagery itself, to determine what it’s about and show you content that matches your query.
Snapchat also added two new features for advertisers this week:
- App-install ads
- Retargeting to people who’ve engaged with previous ads
Bonus bite: Instagram ‘story ring’ now visible in home feed
The colourful ‘story ring’ that surrounds profile pictures of people who’ve published a Story will now be visible on posts that appear on your home feed. You can view it by simply tapping on the profile photo, then swipe back to return to the post.