Company / division: Facebook
Analyst firm eMarketer has revised its usage forecasts for Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat for the coming year, and although there’s lots of data there, the point the media has latched onto is that it’s predicting use of the core Facebook app among US teens will fall this year. Though I have to imagine eMarketer is basing all this on some kind of survey of teens (notoriously difficult to do), there’s no mention of any such survey in the article from eMarketer, so I’m curious to know precisely what the foundation is, especially given that falling Facebook use by teens has been talked about for years but never seems to have materialized in a discernible way in Facebook’s reporting. None of this, though, is all that surprising, given that Snapchat and Instagram between them seem to have a lock on teens’ social media use, both driven by the increasingly raw and personal sharing these platforms enable in contrast to the broadcast nature of most Facebook sharing. While Facebook has steadily embraced its identity as a time sink filled with content loosely connected to people you know, these other platforms continue to major on true social interactions and therefore are more appealing to those at a stage of life where that’s the most important aspect of social media. Without Instagram, Facebook would potentially be staring a massive liability in the face at this point given that all its organic efforts to compete with Snapchat have crashed and burned, but with it, the company has managed to participate in rather than merely suffer from this trend among teens. And it’s now seeing the upside at least as much as the downside, with several times the user base of Snapchat overall and nearly equally high engagement. As such, I’m not sure any of these needs to be a worry for Facebook even if it’s true, as long as the trend doesn’t spread to older age groups and lead to broader disengagement from Facebook, and as long as Instagram is able to continue to capture its share of teen social media use.
Facebook has Sprawling, Unfocused Plans for Marketplace (Aug 18, 2017)
Based on observations of the new method in the wild, Marketing Land says Facebook appears to be testing showing people ads on Facebook based on the physical retail stores they have recently visited, leveraging location data from the Facebook app. If people already think that being retargeted on Facebook based on shopping on other sites is creepy, this is going to blow their minds, especially because many people may not realize that Facebook is even able to track their location when they’re not actively using the app. That background location tracking is used to power some services in the app, and in the iOS privacy settings, Facebook can be set only to use location while in the app, but there doesn’t seem to be a similar option on Android, where all I can see is a single on-off location toggle per app at an OS level. None of this should surprise us, however: the name of the game in advertising is targeting, and the more available the better as far as these companies are concerned. As long as there’s some disclosure somewhere of what’s being gathered and why, and consumers have an opt-out option, they’ll feel they’re covered. But between Snapchat’s recent moves in the opposite direction and this testing by Facebook, it feels like we may be about to wade into our first real set of privacy concerns around major social networks in several years, after companies pulled back significantly a few years back following something of a backlash. Users have been like the proverbial frogs in boiling water since, with the erosion of privacy so subtle and incremental as to never present a single step big enough to warrant objections, but I suspect that may be about to change.
via Marketing Land
Facebook Quietly Tests Chinese App Waters with Moments Clone (Aug 11, 2017)
Facebook Acquires Tech to Add or Remove Objects in Videos (Aug 11, 2017)
Right after both Business Insider and Mashable posted sourced stories about it launching tomorrow, Facebook appears to have decided to take the wraps off its new video tab today instead. That this was coming was widely reported, and now we just know a few more details – the new tab in Facebook is called Watch, and will showcase lots of different kinds of videos, although the focus appears to be on personality-driven stuff of the sort that dominates the more popular YouTube channels. In general, the model here feels very YouTube-like, with a subscription model, though Facebook’s apps for TV platforms in recent months have signaled the broad structure and interface, with a combination of videos recommended or liked by friends, things you’ve saved, things that are popular on the platform, and so on. What I don’t see much of in Facebook’s announcement today is the longer form, more produced stuff that’s supposed to be coming too, probably because it’s not ready yet. There will be some other content in there too including the live MLB coverage Facebook acquired rights to a while back starting next season, but in general this is a hub for all kinds of video on Facebook, from professionally produced stuff to the stuff your friends share. Simply calling out video into its own tab, though, is going to raise its profile and thereby push people to spend more time in videos, where they’ll see ads only every few minutes, as opposed to scrolling through the News Feed, where they’ll see ads every few seconds. I’m more and more convinced that’s a risky move for Facebook, because all the anecdotal evidence I’ve seen so far suggests people are really put off by interruptive ads in Facebook videos (I certainly am too), and this whole effort could end up backfiring. That’s something I’m hoping to write about soon. Update: Variety has a listing of additional shows from professional producers which wasn’t in Facebook’s blog post.
Facebook has begun inserting posts from local elected officials into users’ News Feeds in the app as part of a test it’s running, the latest in a set of moves over the past year to increase the visibility of political and election-related content on Facebook. This is one of those things that simultaneously feels like a great idea and fraught with problems. On the one hand, allowing local officials to communicate more effectively with their constituents at a time when news consumption is becoming more polarized, thanks in part to Facebook itself, seems like a great idea. On the other hand, local officials are also candidates in what sometimes seem like permanent election seasons in the US, at least for certain offices, and if Facebook only promotes posts from elected officials without promoting those of their opponents and rivals in elections, that’s an enormous issue. Of the two screenshots in the Recode piece linked below, one feels relatively apolitical while the other is clearly more political in nature, and a user who was shown only that one and not also something from a representative of a different political party would be getting only one perspective in a way that would be almost impossible for others to address without resorting to paid advertising on Facebook. The approach would massively favor incumbents over their challengers, something the US political system already does to a great extent. So although the effort seems like it has worthwhile elements, it feels like the potential for harm is significant, and I would guess that there will be a big backlash from politicians who feel they’ve been discriminated against if this test moves to a widespread rollout.
A year ago today, Instagram debuted its Stories feature, which took Snapchat’s feature of the same name and adapted it slightly, something I criticized at the time in a blog post, arguing that the sheer brazenness of the copying should be beneath Instagram. Whatever the ethical shortcomings of such a move, it’s clear that it’s been very successful, with over 250 million daily users of the feature a year later, and Instagram hasn’t been shy in gloating about its milestones, especially where they make for favorable comparisons versus Snapchat. We’re getting more of that today, with Instagram offering up new data on time spent in its app among different age groups, which again compare nicely with Snapchat’s equivalent metrics. Snap Inc said on its Q1 earnings call that its users spend on average over 30 minutes per day in the app, up from a range of 25-30 minutes described in its S-1 filing a few months earlier. Instagram, meanwhile, says that under-25s now spend an average of 32 minutes in the app per day, while older users spend an average of 24 minutes per day. That’s very close to Snapchat’s numbers, but of course at rather larger scale: Snapchat’s most recent daily active user number was 166 million, whereas Instagram now has 700 million monthly active users, meaning that total time spent on Instagram is vastly higher than on Snapchat. All of this is making life tough for Snapchat, which has grown much more slowly since Instagram’s Stories launched, and which will continue to struggle to convince advertisers that it’s worth spending money on reaching its narrower audiences with inferior ad tools versus reaching Instagram’s much broader and larger audience with better targeting, tracking, and ultimately results.